More apathy than opposition– Where’s the anger?
Against Brighton, one moment stood out for me for all the wrong reasons during the ordeal of another dispiriting home defeat; a chant of ‘Stand up if you hate Ashley’ was started in the Gallowgate but fizzled out as quickly as it started.
With Ashley present once again, I was both dismayed and surprised at this, and couldn’t help remembering the open hostility of the 80s towards the directors. While I was only a kid, I remember at least one attempt by fans to get at the board during a game.
I glanced towards the posh seats a few times, out of curiosity rather than expectation, to see if anyone in the surrounding area was perhaps aiming some verbals at Ashley. Against Leicester, there was a small handful of fans that joined in with songs, only rows from where he was sitting; against Brighton, nothing.
With our fanbase famous for its passion and noise, and Tyneside not exactly a stranger to mass protest, I cannot find an answer to why apathy and division are seemingly taking over again when so many people have an emotional bond with NUFC that in some cases goes back generations.
The lack of anger and vitriol is perplexing, and it led me to consider a range of fan reactions to the systematic and wilful suffocation of clubs that are (like ours) the focal point of entire communities.
At the more reserved end of the scale, in recent years we have seen fans of Blackpool, Dortmund and Hull hoying tennis balls on the pitch (an idea now doing the rounds on #NUFC twitter), and Charlton fans hoying packets of crisps- all resulting in temporary delays to games. What impact this had (or could have in a live Sky game) is one for debate, but it is an increasingly used tactic.
In the middle, we have the superbly organised German fan groups, whose latest protest has been against inconvenient kick-off times, increased ticket prices (sound familiar?) and the general commercialisation of the game. German football is still very much fan oriented, and the 50+1 rule means supporter groups hold far more power than we could probably ever dream of, and this enabled a Bundesliga-wide coordinated protest. It implies that the German versions of the Magpie Group are not besieged with critics and detractors, and the ‘us against them’ mentality prevails strongly.
At the radical/militant end of the scale, we have the Italian Ultras and the Barra Bravas of South America (particularly Argentina). One notable example of more militant fan protest has involved Genoa fans, and their protests against president Enrico Preziosi. Tactics included throwing flares onto the pitch to stop games, and a zero tolerance approach to underperforming players that at one stage resulted in the players removing their shirts to symbolise not being fit to wear them.
Things came to a head in 2017, when ultra groups released a joint statement that included the following quote, showing stark similarities to our situation:
“All the clubs present agree it is time to say enough to this ownership made up of broken promises and no sporting objectives. We protest those who do not want what is best for Genoa and consider it just an economic asset to be bled dry”
Preziosi agreed to sell the club and then released a statement saying it was sold; only for the sale to fall through. The latter point aside (given the horrific financial state of Genoa), constant pressure from the ultras had made Preziosi’s life a misery to the point where he wanted rid.
It is also worth noting the actions of West Ham fans last season, that culminated in Gold and Sullivan fleeing the directors box and saw an ‘unprecedented summer of spending’ to appease the fans. While it didn’t rid them of Gold, Sullivan and Brady, the levels of investment were the stuff of dreams for Rafa and NUFC fans.
Whatever your opinion on the Magpie Group, they have put a good deal of effort into building a unified anti-Ashley movement; presumably the number of pro-Ashley fans among us is virtually zero. Don’t sit back and let it stagnate, get involved and submit your ideas; Ashley is the problem. If a change in direction is needed, then so be it, protests can/should be fluid to come up with new angles of attack. Whichever type of protest you favour, each has its merits depending on what the desired outcome is. However there is compelling evidence to suggest that more militant protests achieve more radical outcomes. The common theme, nevertheless, is that “we forfeit our power if we succumb to apathy”.