Big Club Working Hard to be a Small Club

“Peter, we can’t be expected to compete, on or off the field, with Manchester United so I don’t know why you’re using them as a comparison”.

That’s what I was told by the then Finance Director of Newcastle United.  I was at a meeting representing the Supporters Trust and I’d asked why our commercial revenue was about £14m when, according to Deloitte, Manchester United’s commercial revenue was about £156m.  It was 2013 and well into the Ashley years and a different century from when we had competed with Manchester United and the best in Europe season after season on the pitch.  It was clear to me that the people running the club were uncomfortable with the idea that Newcastle fans wanted the people running OUR club to match OUR ambition, belief and passion.

We’ve been relegated twice since then.  We’ve been promoted twice as champions since then.  The club’s owner has twice managed to stamp out the positive feelings, the buzz and  the incredible momentum built up after promotion with managers who believed in what could happen at Newcastle United.

Say what you like about the Halls and the Shepherds, and I know they split opinion amongst Newcastle fans, but when we were promoted with Kevin Keegan as manager John Hall didn’t tell him we couldn’t be expected to compete with the “big boys” and we were budgeting for survival.  They understood what Newcastle was about and what the fans were dreaming of, they said, “we’ve been promoted, now let’s win this one as well”.

John Hall and Freddie Shepherd felt the buzz in the city and across the region, harnessed the incredible positivity of the fans and asked Kevin Keegan what he needed to make it happen.  We started a journey that gave us the best years we’ve ever had as Newcastle fans, we competed with the best in Europe and what a great time we had.

Back to that commercial revenue issue.  We haven’t moved on much since 2013 in comparison to other Premier League clubs.  Newcastle’s answer to disappointing revenues was to get into bed with pay day lender Wonga!  Another demonstration of the dysfunctional relationship between the club under Mike Ashley and the local community on Tyneside.  It may have put a few quid into the club’s coffers but had little impact on their ambitions.

Last season ended on a great high when we came powering through at the end of the season to win the Championship.  The City was bouncing, fans were upbeat and looking forward to returning to the Premier League with a world class manager who told us that he had a plan and the owner was backing it!  What a chance to follow the lead of John Hall, Freddie Shepherd and Kevin Keegan.  Bring it on, we thought.

Even the London based tabloid media were talking about Newcastle United as a Premiership club who had been relegated and were back where they belonged.  Newcastle United are a big club.

What’s a big club?  A club with history, tradition, a massive fan base, a huge city centre ground.  A club with local heroes who have become national icons.   Managers and players who excelled at national level as well as club level.  A club in an area famous for its pride and its passion for not only its football team but for its local community.

NUST have adopted a statement about how we want our club to develop as a Community Club.  By that we mean :

  • a club that will work with supporters on fan issues and will recognise their value as the long term custodians of the club;
  • a club that will work with our MPs, the City Council and local businesses to play its part in regenerating our area rather than simply billboarding a national sports retailer;
  • a club that will work with local football clubs and schools to develop local talent and keep that talent in the North East;
  • a club that says we can compete, we will compete, we don’t reward mediocrity, we strive for excellence and to be the best we can be in everything we do.

All of this helps to make Newcastle United a big club.  Rafa “gets it”.  There have been improvements since he arrived in each of these areas and we believe that he believes that Newcastle United can be a football project with its heart in the community and not a business adjunct to a sports retail empire.

Sadly, the signs are that this frightens the hierarchy at the club.  Did Mike Ashley come out and say “What do you need Rafa for us to show this lot of Premiership fancy Dans what a real team can achieve?”   No chance.  He said his money was tied up in Sports Direct and he couldn’t write any cheques for Rafa.  He apologised for how he treated previous managers of the club who he hadn’t backed in his ten years in charge and admitted that he’d got it wrong.  Then explained that he was going to do exactly the same with Rafa Benitez, but it’s OK because he’ll probably apologise afterwards and admit that he got it wrong again.

Newcastle United seem to be a big club desperately trying to be a small club.

 

Peter Fanning, Vice Chairman, Newcastle United Supporters Trust

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