FOOTBALL IS NOTHING WITHOUT FANS”  – JOCK STEIN, CELTIC FOOTBALL CLUB

I read Andy A’s piece for TF last week and couldn’t disagree with a word – click here 

Andy got it absolutely right about the finances of Premier League football clubs and the pre-eminence of TV revenue as well as the diminishing importance of what comes through the gate for every PL club. We all know this and understand the financial reality. As a fiscal means of putting pressure on Mike Ashley, boycotting football matches in the Premier League would have, in the strictest sense, a limited impact.

I think we have to understand the objective of a boycott and it is not to damage the club financially, though some of that is inevitable as well.

The objective of a boycott at Newcastle United – of one or more games is to make  a clear visible statement which challenges the legitimacy of the ownership of the club and underlines the desire of those who have a moral ownership of it (the supporters) for Mike Ashley to sell-up and go.

But the impact of a boycott goes beyond that too. The spectacle and value of live televised football relies upon packed stadia and a vibrant atmosphere. That is the package Sky and BT is selling to the world. We in the stands are part of what is being sold to the world – our passion, our participation within the live televised event has a massive value to broadcasters, sponsors and advertisers. St James’ Park provides everything live TV football could ever want – packed stands in a superb stadium, the spectacle provided by Wor Flags and having one of the most raucous crowds in the country. It’s no accident that despite being largely a bottom half of the PL club in the Ashley era, Newcastle United attracts the cameras more than any other club outside the top five or six clubs. For better or worse as supporters we have been commodified and are part of what broadcasters sell to the watching world.

If that product changes or if the stands are empty and quiet, that translates to what is being broadcast to the world. Where that happens broadcasters start to feel what they are paying for isn’t value for money, sponsors and advertisers begin reflecting upon what it is they have actually bought into. From the excitement, noise and colour of PL football they are buying disaffection and nothing damages PL football like empty, sullen stands.

Boycotting football matches en-masse will damage live TV football. It is the exact opposite of what the PL and broadcaster suits want. Opening a new PL season with a live televised game in front of emptied stands is absolutely the last thing executives at the Premier League or at SKY et al want. This seriously damages their product.

The next question is should a boycott be prosecuted against Ashley. For me it is an absolute no-brainer but I only wonder whether  a campaign to boycott is worth doing at all because thousands are already voting with their feet and have already chucked it. Even those on reduced price, long term deals can walk away and I guess some are waiting for the outcome of the takeover to become known before taking that step. That describes where I am.

Mike Ashley has deliberately forced Rafa Benitez out of Newcastle United. The detail of what we’ve heard about the so-called contract negotiations are utterly depressing but entirely expected. Fundamentally, Ashley offered nothing to Rafa – no move on commitments to transfers, no pay increase and no investment in the club’s academy and training facilities. The startling revelation that Ashley opened up negotiations by asking  Rafa what he wanted is astonishing. He already knew.

This isn’t an isolated incident. This is part of a pattern we have seen over twelve desperate years at the club. As one whose first game at SJP was Malcolm Macdonald’s debut in the 70s and who has been a regular over the subsequent 40-odd years ,  I can say categorically and mindful of the desperate years of Bill McGarry and Ossie Ardiles this is the worst period in the club’s history bar none. There is no other period in the all of the ups and downs since 1892 where the club has been so depressing for so long.

And it is all so unnecessary. Everything was in place for Newcastle United to jump forward. We have a brilliant stadium in a one club city that socially, culturally and economically dominates an entire English region. We have a natural catchment area for support that stretches from the Scottish borders to North Yorkshire and across to Cumbria. The support the club attracts both in terms of numbers and passion is second to none. Under Benitez we had one of the best coaches in the world who had the enviable devotion of that support and a playing pool far stronger than the sum of its parts. Add prudent investment to all of that and that is a recipe for success.

But Ashley has turned his face against that because he simply has no vision, ambition or affection for Newcastle United. He is suffocating the entire club. This is a club which does not want to compete for Cups, does not want to play European competitions and be the best it can be. Ashley presides over a Zombie club happy to hang around the bottom of the PL clinging to the TV money whilst his companies get free advertising to a watching world. Rafa’s presence at United papered over the cracks for three seasons but his departure has made them visible again and they are wider and deeper than ever.

I have supported boycotts before. I supported the boycotts of the McKeag era in the late 80s and in the Ashley era. Some reading this might snort at me now calling for a boycott given it was me that withdrew TF’s support for the boycott of the Wolves game when part of the editorial team of this fanzine. There were supporters who pointed to Rafa’s opposition to match boycotts and that was a difficult position for those advocating this action to get beyond.

That boycott (Wolves) was doomed to failure and embarrassment as had been evidenced by the paltry support for the late walk-in versus West Ham. At that time there was a hope for a takeover too. There may be another but year after year we are experiencing this spectacle of bids to buy the club reaching a certain point and falling back. We can only conclude that Mike Ashley is not putting the interests of the club at the heart of these talks, is seeking to screw as much as he can from prospective buyers and is not acting honourably. We have seen from his behaviour towards Rangers FC where his priorities lie and how toxic he is to a football club. Anyone with any cognisance of how he does business understands how he operates and this is cruelly, critically damaging our club in ways we never imagined possible.

As things stand right now there could not be a more optimum time to press the red button on a boycott of the Arsenal game or the home matches that follow. We all know thousands have made the agonising decision not to renew. I will not set foot inside St James’ Park ever again while Mike Ashley continues to piss all over our beloved Geordie institution. I have only ever hung on through a loyalty to the manager who I believe could have transformed Newcastle United.

I believe the appetite right now for a boycott has never been greater but many are going beyond that and refusing to go to any games while Ashley remains insitu. I am now one of them.

As I understand it, the Newcastle United Supporters Trust will hold a vote of their 7000+ members on the subject of a Boycott of the Arsenal game. It will be important for both sides of the debate to articulate their perspective and for arguments to be listened to in favour and against. It is also important for those on different sides of this argument to be treated with respect. I have given up on that ever happening in the sewer that is social media but that isn’t representative of real people in the real world anyway. Thank God.

What a decisive vote in favour of a boycott will do however is give a legitimacy to it that has always been sadly lacking in previous efforts to empty the stands. Campaign groups have come up with boycott plans within small groups and have had no mandate to go forward with them with the wider support because there had been no democratic process followed. That has underpinned the toxic atmosphere the subject has generated. This is why an NUST vote can change all of that.

That does not mean a vote will be binding on anyone. People will be free to go or not go to any game as they are now. However, what a vote does is demonstrate a strength of feeling amongst a large section of our support which will be difficult to ignore. The club will no longer be able to airily dismiss those who push for action against Ashley as merely a vocal minority.

This upcoming vote is critical in attracting a massive participation and it is an excellent reason why as many supporters as possible need to be in the Trust as members.

I have already made my decision. I can’t sit inside SJP and legitimise Mike Ashley’s destruction of Newcastle United. I know others might feel differently to me and I respect that but my question to them is how is being background scenery to Mike Ashley’s grotesque abomination of a football club helping the club we love?

SUPPORT THE BOYCOTT – EMPTY THE STANDS AND FORCE ASHLEY OUT OF NEWCASTLE UNITED!

Join NUST here 

Michael Martin