It’s the day after Newcastle United has put French aristocrats Paris Saint Germain to the sword in the Champions League. 4-1 – it might have been more. The world’s foremost player, Kylian Mbappe was rendered a mere mortal by the intensity, the ferocity of a team and crowd who act as one.
There was not an empty seat inside St James’ Park. The city centre was filled with ticketless supporters who crammed pubs to watch the game together – this was an event not to be enjoyed in a living room but more a communal act to be taken with those we call our Geordie friends.
There were thousands more around Tyneside, the wider NE and beyond who would have given anything to be inside St James’ Park, both feeding and drawing from the energy of a phenomenal team and crowd in unity.
Although the performance and result is of historic significance and one for the ages, the appetite to get inside our ancestral home and be part of what could be a defining era in the club’s history was not a one off. We know there are thousands on the outside who want in. Some are those who could bear no more of Ashley and walked away heartbroken. Others are new supporters longing to connect to the match going culture and experience Newcastle United live in the flesh.
Commercially, the executives at United understand there is a massive untapped market to sell corporate and international packages to the business class and fans from abroad. There is a tension between those, like me, who regard themselves as traditional (legacy) supporters and the new arrivals. I am fortunate I kept my season ticket during the dark Ashley days – many, many did not.
I sense resentment to those who may not have been here before in the bad days. It’s understandable but both sets of fans are critical to the club’s future – the traditional fan to maintain the authenticity of the club and its Geordie identity and new fans (international, out of region and corporate) essential to growing Newcastle United’s income, closing the gap with Liverpool, Man Utd, Arsenal et al and helping the club become sustainable, a real business rather than the Man City vanity project of Abu Dhabi. This is the intent. This is what those running the club intend to achieve. This is business.
I realise supporters don’t sit neatly in clearly defined boxes either and there’s movement between them all as life changes.
Currently we are in a supply and demand fix. St James’ Park simply does not have enough capacity to cope with the massive and growing demand to get inside. It’s not possible or desirable to simply push prices up to manage the supply-demand dynamic.
The answer is to increase the capacity.
I’m not suggesting this on the back of that amazing win over PSG when SJP could have easily taken another 30,000+ through the turnstiles for a spectacular fixture when we realise that same demand would likely not be there for Burnley in our previous game.
But we could take another 15-20,000 – the demand is there. We know it, we feel it, hear it and see it in the faces of friends who are desperate to be part of what’s happening at our club.
I know there will be differences of opinion in what we think the increased capacity should be. For me, a ground’s capacity should be for the average – the point between the great and not so great times. That average now has been raised way beyond the 52,000 we currently have.
We know, because the United’s CEO Darren Eales has told us, the club is conducting a feasibility study into increasing the capacity of SJP. Where that is currently none of us outside the club knows.
But this week we have been provided with a massive reason to fast-track that feasibility study and get shovels in the ground as soon as possible in my opinion.
It has been announced by UEFA that Turkey has withdrawn its bid to host the Euro 2028 tournament, meaning the UK and Ireland is the only remaining bid – click here –
Of that bid we know St James’ Park is one on the list of stadiums and so the tournament will come back to Newcastle after it had been selected back in 1996.
What better time for the club, government and city with the game’s authorities to push forward with the expansion of St James’ Park? Obviously the East Stand and Gallowgate End would be in scope to add seats for traditional supporters and those of the corporate variety (never in the Gallowgate hopefully) via boxes and all of that jazz some love to smash company credit cards on.
There is a massive demand week to week to get into St James’ Park for Newcastle United games as we all know only too well as well as an iconic international event to act as a totem for the club and city.
Further, the development could address some of the difficulties SJP has in being used as a regular venue for concerts given the restrictions for access there currently are which reduce us as a preference with Sunderland.
It really isn’t a difficult task to make the case for expanding SJP for its core purpose alone but add other events – internationals, European finals, Magic Weekend and American Gridiron (or whatever they call it) as per the Tottenham Stadium which I’d expect benefit from increased capacity and the value to the club and city is obvious.
I know I’m pushing at an open door with you lot reading this – many of whom are desperate to get inside SJP’s stands for our games alone.
And that is our primary concern. We understand the increasing likelihood and potential for Newcastle United fulfilling its potential as the Club of the North stature but we need extra capacity for more fans from the core catchment Tyneside to dominate football affiliations outward to Durham, Cumbria, N Yorks, Scotland and elsewhere (the Middle East notwithstanding). Not all of our growth potential is as parochial as we might imagine.
If as I half fear, St James’ Park cannot be extended significantly beyond its current capacity – nothing is straightforward at the East Stand or the Gallowgate then relocation has to be on the table.
Alternative sites have to be scoped – Leazes Park, the Newcastle Arena site which has recently become available again after development plans collapsed or wherever.
The time has never been better for Newcastle United to decide what it is going to do to get the team playing in a bigger (and better stadium) be that SJP or somewhere else.
Keep On, Keepin’ On …
Michael Martin, @TFMick1892