If any of you reading this thought football couldn’t reveal itself to be ever more venal and grasping in the wake of Newcastle United’s studied inertia with regards to continuing to take season ticket direct debit payments from some of its longest standing supporters, then the PL had one of its hold my beer moments and weighed in with the PPV aberration.

In the moral vacuum that top tier football appears to exist in, asking fans to pay £15 to watch additional games despite many already having SKY-BT packages seemed to many to be obscene. In Newcastle United’s case some supporters were in essence being asked to pay twice to watch the same match. I’d ask the question, do they think we’re daft but that was answered many years ago strongly in the affirmative.

But whilst much of football’s excesses have generated world weary acceptance of the status quo something different has happened this time. Amidst the hardships generated by the COVID-19 pandemic, PPV has tripped a switch amongst supporters. Realising there are more worthy recipients of £15 than satellite TV companies and the billionaire owned clubs of the Premier League at this time, a backlash has gathered pace which is heart-warming to observe.

That this phenomenon has started by and large with Newcastle United supporters via the Newcastle West End Foodbank should be a source of pride to those of us who just about call this club our own.

The monies raised for the Foodbank, we can expect will go to supporting some of the most disadvantaged within our communities, many of whom live within walking distance of St James’ Park. I expect those involved in the West End Foodbank are working with others in the city and across the wider region to ensure all benefit from this Magpie generosity.

We have subsequently seen similar responses from fans on Merseyside, Manchester and elsewhere and to someone like me who has by and large become alienated from almost every facet of top level football, this provides evidence that perhaps all is not lost with “the People’s game” (pfft).

But I’ll be honest here. I’ve never been exactly comfortable with the concept of Foodbanks. I understand and support the motivation of people who want to help others. It is admirable. It also however, serves to prop up an idea of support with life’s essentials best left in the Victorian era.

The need for Foodbanks has expanded exponentially over the last decade and no-one can seriously deny they haven’t been as a result of Welfare (sic) Reforms since 2010 led by successive Conservative governments. Foodbanks should not be normalised and we should not accept them as a legitimate means to support our fellow citizens at the most distressed points in their lives. Although critical, they are a form of humiliation I heard about from grand-parents about life in the 1930s. The basic sustenance of people in distress, in need or vulnerable should not be left to the vagaries and inconsistencies of charitable action. 

That’s why in the last fortnight I let out a yelp of delight (think Ned Flanders on helium) in reading those involved in leading the Newcastle West End Foodbank become more strident and set upon a strategy in diverting money from satellite TV and PL clubs … including Newcastle United – to those who need it desperately. I felt as though a line had been crossed in a very positive way and the Foodbank had assessed the damage it might have done to relations with Newcastle United’s hierarchy but pushed ahead anyway. More power to you.

From my perspective and information, Newcastle United has done little really to support the Foodbank. The risk too is that knowing the regard it is held in by supporters and more widely within society, Foodbanks can be used as handy PR vehicles by those who could not give a flying one in honesty.

I was reminded of that last week when I saw Ian Levy, Conservative MP for Blyth Valley (pause … have I really just typed that last sentence?) grinning for the camera at a Foodbank in Blyth. The same Levy, who like a good little Tory boy did what his party demanded him of him last week and voted against extending the provision of Free School Meals for those entitled to them into further school-holidays. Remember, this at a time of significant hardship visiting the poorest in society as is the norm in times of crisis. Well done Ian, I’m sure your family and the people of Blyth Valley are very proud of you. You can brief us all on those expense claims of yours, the subsidised chow in the Commons restaurant and the handy little pay-rise you’ve just been awarded. 

Of course the controversy of Free School Meals would not have generated a column inch but for the celebrity culture we live in and the power Man Utd’s striker Marcus Rashford has to galvanise public opinion. The profile Rashford has and the widespread support he generated persuaded the Tory government into a fairly typical U-turn from the flaky Johnson executive and there is every reason to believe it can happen again.

This is why what the Newcastle West End Foodbank does and the support they receive from supporters needs to be politicised. Not in a party politics sense but in terms of those within the Foodbank movement including the Trussel Trust, the church and voluntary groups lifting their heads from the day to day work they are doing and drawing the link between the political decisions that are made, the allocation of resources in society and demand actions that will render Foodbanks redundant.

It really isn’t enough for Food-banks to act to ameliorate what is in essence a serious problem with hunger amongst citizens in the sixth largest economy in the world and I congratulate Rashford for propelling this issue into the centre of public consciousness and policy as he has done.

But Foodbanks and the football fans that have rallied to support them now need to take a breath and move the issue of grinding poverty ;leading to hunger and malnourishment – amongst our fellow Geordies and neighbours into campaign mode. Otherwise as much as the good work done is admirable and of value it is going to be self perpetuating.

Keep On, Keepin’ On …

MICHAEL MARTIN