There is a discernible buzz amongst the careworn battalions of Newcastle United supporters. There is a growing belief we could be on the verge of something special, big and transformative. And it could, nods and winks permitting be very soon. There is nothing stopping this deal happening. Not even Richard Keys and his Qatari pay-masters. Not those in the football press who have railed against Saudi involvement in Newcastle United but appear blind to the billions of pounds of weaponry the UK defence industry export to them every year can prevent this now. Whatever the rights and wrongs of Saudi Arabian human rights abuses or TV rights piracy allegations buying Newcastle United is likely to be the least harmful business transaction they will ever make.
Anyway, that is soon to cease to be a hot topic and when the relevant buttons are pressed, cash changes hands as it will, the attention will turn to what the new owners are going to do. The media focus will be ferociously intense. I worry for the capability of what passes as the club’s current media operation because a couple of people with multiple job titles, under-qualified for their roles will not cut it in our brave new world. I’d be surprised had Ms Staveley and her colleagues not thought of this and engaged a top PR company who will be able to cope with the global interest there is going to be around St James’ Park before the club’s media operation gets the resources it needs.
I think we can expect a period of transition. I have a dream of driving by Lee Charnley standing at the bus stop on Barrack Road with his work stuff neatly packed into an ALDI carrier bag and drenching him with the contents of a road-side puddle. But the wilder desires of my over-active imagination might have to be reined in. Charnley will stick around for a few weeks or months following a transition of ownership.
The same is true of Steve Bruce. Football is in the cross-hairs of COVID-19 uncertainty currently. Personally, I’d favour bladdering this current COVID-19 campaign so we can start thinking about the future. But Bruce might be with us a while longer before this season is settled. Then he’ll be out the door with his compensation. Circa £3m for 6-months work. Poor Steve eh?
I don’t doubt the Friends of Steve Bruce # FSoB) will have a farewell drink with their man and wave him tearfully into the night, donner kebabs all round. Craig Hope of The Mail may not be invited but there will be no shortage of volunteers to organise the leaving collection and buy the Sorry You’re Leaving card.
I would guess business will continue pretty much as usual from the outside and it’s important for us to grasp that although our thirst for news will be unquenchable, talking to us or the media isn’t the real priority.
That’s not to say, I’d imagine the new folk will continue the Mike Ashley 13-year omerta. I’d be surprised if a full, all-singing and dancing type of media release hasn’t already been prepared. Hopefully that will cover the new ownership’s ambitions, strategy and give us some sense of what to expect in the short, medium and longer terms. It would be unrealistic for every question every supporter has to be answered in one fell swoop so I think we’ll develop an understanding of where we’re going over a period of time.
It will be inevitable the media will be piling in requests for interviews and they will come from near and far. Amanda Staveley, in particular is going to be in the eye of a media storm. That will have to be managed and I hope there is a strategy to cope with all of that. I think there will.
The most important people at Newcastle United are the players and I’d hope there is a plan to quickly reach out to them. Neither Bruce nor the players have had any kind of communications from Ashley over the lockdown and the takeover saga but that is pretty standard operating at the Sports Direct works team isn’t it?
There are all kinds of extravagant names linked with the club at present and that could be potentially unsettling for some. For what it’s worth there is a core of good, solid professionals at United who with better players around them will be able to perform at a higher level. Their importance to the club in the short term should be communicated to them directly.
There have been several reports of the composition of the new board and a new executive team coming into the club. That is all complicated by a global pandemic at present but I would say employing the right people to lead key areas of the operation is critical.
We can expect a full review of the club’s current operations to be ready to start with auditors examining how Ashley and his quisling Charnley have been running things. I have a residual fear at where money for merchandising has been going and I’d hope those leading the purchase of the club have avoided becoming ensnared in the kind of deals, Ashley, via his lickspittle Llambias imposed upon Rangers around image rights and merchandising – traps the Ibrox club are yet to extricate themselves fully even now.
Mind, if the new regime can explain the ticket pricing regime that has developed over the last few years I’ll be very appreciative. People in the same rows of the Gallowgate can be paying loads of different prices or following the Christmas giveaway, nothing at all. That is a cat’s cradle. Ticketing needs to be simplified to say the least.
There will be an unending series of questions about managerial appointments and transfers. I think against our instincts we are best to have a pause and remind ourselves the football press mainly peddles pointless shite and even cuts and pastes the rubbish as well. But the truth remains, a new manager, sporting director and managing director need to be appointed so it will be understandable there is fevered speculation around them until they are made.
At United there are questions regarding the training facilities, academy and even St James’ Park. We’re all aware of the disgraceful sale of the lease of the land at Strawberry Place which potentially threatens to curtail any expansion of the Gallowgate End and take us up to 60,000+ – a capacity in itself which will be debatable to accommodate the support United will attract as “the club of the North”. I think if I had one direct question to ask Amanda Staveley it would be around SJP and its expansion etc.
I have little doubt the new ownership of the club wishes to play a larger role in the social and economic life of the city. It is doubtful United could play a smaller role given the mean-spirited, uncommunicative way it has done over the Ashley years. As a minimum I’d think civic leaders would be courted as well as local MPs and other movers and shakers around the city-region. That doesn’t mean any old twitter gob-shite with an inflated sense of their self-worth. I’m referring to people with real power and influence from the public and private sectors. People with purpose rather than unintelligible self-aggrandising noise.
There will of course be engagement with supporters. Those who meet the club should do so with some legitimacy … having been elected by the largest supporters membership (10K and growing) in the UK and that means the Newcastle United Supporters Trust would be an obvious place to start.
I’d expect NUST will have to grow its board representation and infrastructure to what I’d hope would meet the club’s high expectations of it. There are others who have a legitimate reason to speak directly to the club on strategic matters and I’d suggest they are the Newcastle United Disabled Supporters Assoc. (NUDSA) and United With Pride whilst Wor Flags (formerly Gallowgate Flags) needs to have an operational relationship with the club to plan the kind of choreography which became so valued over the management of Rafa Benitez.
The rest? Who? Tell me why?
That’s not to say other methods of engagement can’t be adopted. The digital age offers all kind of platforms with which to engage directly with supporters and I’d hope that would be part of the club’s thinking going forward.
Please spare us from the lamentable Fans Forum bollocks which the club itself latterly gave up on after a decade and more of a North Korean–style censorship, paranoid control and secrecy. It achieved absolutely nothing in terms of its representation, accountability and what it delivered remains a complete mystery. It was a tragic tick-box exercise defended only by those who felt it gave them an opportunity to have a relationship with Messrs Charnley and Marshall and so propped up a desperate sense of self-worth. I’m glad it has been binned and the club has the opportunity now to do something that will actually deliver something.
But all of that is some time down the road.
We have sky scraping expectations of them given what we have been led to believe are their intentions. They have much to do.
Let’s see them get on with it.
Keep On, Keepin’ On …