It was a good week following the win over Spurs and the lack of a game this last weekend ensures the glow of an away win in London over one of the metropolitan media’s darlings has stayed with us a little longer as we start thinking about the weekend and our game with Norwich at St James’ Park.
But before we turn to that game, I’d like to comment upon the information that is now being presented to you and the wider media regarding the running, namely the finances of Newcastle United under Mike Ashley. In the new issue of true faith (TF107) we have four excellently written pieces regarding the financial state of the club as things stand right now. Chris Betts, himself qualified in accountancy has examined how the club was used for the personal enrichment of the Hall and Shepherd families, whilst James Oliver, an experienced and qualified accountant has examined the development of club debt under Ashley. Regular writer, Andrew Trobe, another of our qualified bean counters has examined the club’s income under Ashley since his take-over in 2007and how the different income streams have grown and shrunk since then. Basically, it seems to me, anything that Ashley has had control over has massively reduced in that six year period. As our comrades at The Mag have also illustrated our commercial income has halved over that period but whilst the numbers clicking through the turnstiles have remained steady, the income from gate receipts has hugely reduced too. Thousands of supporters have grown weary and disillusioned under Ashley and chucked it. They have been replaced by supporters on special deals and all the rest of it. Finally, another one of our practising accountants has examined club accounts and as has now become more or less common knowledge, detailed, amongst other things, that companies, largely owned by Mike Ashley, mainly Sports Direct, are the recipients of advertising for which they pay absolutely nothing at all. Advertising at football matches and elsewhere in a league that is the most popular and most watched in the world.
We would urge you all to read and digest all of the information that has been made available to you as a result of the supporters who have given up their spare time and skills to research the available numbers and come up with their opinions as to how our club is being run under Mike Ashley. There is other information available from our comrades at The Mag and similarly, we’d encourage you to read that carefully as well.
Without sounding melodramatic, what is being exposed, in my opinion, is the systematic manner in which Newcastle United is being degraded under Mike Ashley.
If what we and our friends at The Mag are exposing is wrong, misinformed, incomplete or inaccurate then we would welcome a senior official at the club (Ashley is too grand to speak to us directly after all) perhaps, Finance Director, John Irving to set out where the accountant-supporters we have had looking at the available books are wrong. Tell us what we’re missing. Tell us how the husbandry they are providing for Newcastle United is actually improving Newcastle United, which is making the club more secure, more competitive and with a wider financial base than an over-dependency upon the TV deal. All we can see are slashed costs.
We would welcome Joe Kinnear, our erstwhile Director of Football and the top brain at Newcastle United to speak publicly about why we can’t compete with Spurs given the manner in which our income has shrunk over the last six years from a position that was superior to Tottenham’s before Mike Ashley decided to buy our club from Hall and Shepherd..
Further, Alan Pardew recently made the claim that those running Newcastle United were attempting to “grow the club”. Although the manager is allowed to speak to a shrinking number of media outlets, a shrewd media operator, such as he can perhaps explain, with reference the accounts how this growing of the club is substantiated by reference to an income to our trained and untrained eyes, looks like it is very much doing the opposite. If he can do that then I think we’d all be very interested to hear it.
We will be looking at other areas of the club’s operations in future issues of true faith and I’m sure Mark and all at The Mag will be doing likewise. We welcome that. The brighter the light shone on this the better.
What we need to happen however, is for this analysis to be picked up by the mainstream media both in terms of those covering business but especially football. The football media, local and national has proven singularly inept at examining how Newcastle United is run, despite the time and resources available to them but now they have information put on a plate for them, they need to pick it up and take it to a wider audience than we can hope to do from our position on the margins of football coverage. We need you to put pressure on everyone out there covering Newcastle United to give this story the profile it deserves. Covering football now, in 2013 demands more than shock-news sensations about multi-million pound transfer tittle-tattle and knack-knee stories. It is their responsibility to take this to their employers and get it in front of a much wider public.
We have been contacted by several supporters concerned at the operation of the club’s on-line merchandising arm, NUFC.DIRECT. NUFC.DIRECT is an operation owned completely by Sports Direct and run from that company’s base in Nottinghamshire. I have been informed directly by staff at the club shop at St James’ Park that NUFC.DIRECT has nothing to do with them. Further, supporters who have bought merchandise via NUFC.DIRECT have informed me their attempts to return items for various, entirely legitimate reasons, have been declined by assistants at the club’s shops who have informed them merchandise from NUFC.DIRECT is to be treated completely separate from items bought from Newcastle United shops in the city, at St James’ Park and at The Metro-centre.
There may be an entirely reasonable explanation for this but we’d like to have that explained. I think supporters, ahem, customers are entitled to that.
Further, we would like to know the business arrangement between Newcastle United and Sports Direct. Buying club merchandise is an act of supporting the club (or traditionally has been). What we would like to be informed is how this deal works for Newcastle United and for Sports Direct. What percentage of supporters’ money spent via Sports Direct is returned to Newcastle United and what percentage do Sports Direct take.
Why has the club chosen to sell its merchandise online this way?
How is the arrangement more advantageous to Newcastle United?
How is it better than what other clubs in the Premier League do?
We have written to our contacts at Newcastle United and we will let you know of any responses we receive. Or not as the case may be.
Obviously, I imagine the club will not respond to us in the way we would like. I guess we will be rebuffed because the club currently is retreating into itself, making strategic blunders with its communication strategy and isolating itself from its stakeholders in the media, in the region and in the stands.
What the club does have however is a Fans Forum, albeit, fatally holed under the water due to its lamentable decision to ban the Newcastle United Supporters Trust for what appears to be an over-reaction to what it perceives a breach in protocol but what is widely thought to be discomfort at revelations, from the lips of Finance Director, John Irving that the club did not prioritise Cup competitions and was paid the grand total of nothing for wall to wall advertising from Sports Direct etc. following questions tabled by an NUST representative.
There have been separate resignations from the Fans Forum but it remains, notionally, in name at least, operational, in a fashion. Unfortunately, those remaining on it, however, well-meaning some of them may be, are a disparate, disconnected group of fans with no organisation behind them and no means to communicate directly with supporters and in a way in which the NUST could and did. Banning the NUST has annexed the Fans Forum from organised, elected and accountable supporters’ representatives.
What we need now is for those supporters within the Fans Forum to realise their responsibility. Real questions need to be asked of the club’s officials and I’d suggest the pieces provided by true faith and The Mag provide them with plenty material to put in front of Irving and Charnley.
The supporters now on the Fans Forum should not be content to be kept as pets by club officials, luxuriating in the glow of patronised club insiders but rather they should step up and do what is expected of them.
Oh, Newcastle United plays football matches as well doesn’t it?
We have two games with Norwich and West Brom up and coming which frankly, we have to win if we are to reach the dizzy heights of the top half of the PL. The wins and clean-sheets over Chelsea and Spurs have generated positive vibes but all of that could have been thrown away by Saturday night if we haven’t put The Canaries to the sword. Sadly, in so doing we may push our popular and respected ex-manager Chris Hughton closer to the sack but football is football. I’m sure we’ll all give Comrade Chris a warm welcome to SJP and after the game wish him all of the best. Chris Hughton is one of those rare figures at Newcastle United under Ashley, a man who has kept his dignity and not allowed himself and his character to become polluted.
This game will be a different kind of test for the team, manager and his staff. Against Chelsea and Spurs we expect not to have the ball for long periods and to be on the back foot. We have to be well-organised defensively and the work-rate has to be relentless. Those games were by and large won by keeping it tight and catching the opposition on the break.. Notwithstanding goalkeeping heroics at White Hart Lane and an excellent set-piece for the first goal against Chelsea in front of The Gallowgate!
Norwich and West Brom will likely be planning to play us at our own game and I wouldn’t expect much in the way of a gung-ho game plan from Chris Hughton or Steve Clarke. We can expect to have more of the ball and the onus will be upon us to take the game to them. Pardew will have to have a strategy to open both sides up and to keep the pressure on them. That is an altogether different game-plan to the backs to the wall, needs must approach that bore fruit against Mourinho and Villas-Boas. This is the real test for Pardew and his players because so far he has in some ways struggled to deliver in this way as West Ham (h), Hull (h) and the Mackems (a) all demonstrated.
As supporters, I think we all need to be patient as well. We have to understand that Norwich and West Brom will be well-drilled, organised and their work-rate will match ours, I’m sure. If we think we are taking our pews on Barrack Road this weekend to watch us coast to easy wins because of what has happened in our previous two games, then I think we’ve learnt little from following Alan Pardew’s teams.
Whether these games will see the return of Hatem Ben Arfa remains to be seen. HBA delights and maddens me in equal measure. Only a fool would deny his immense talent and he has the ability and moments of genius that helped gild our obsession to football in the first instance. He can light up a grey NE afternoon and send us to the shabeens of our fair and noble city glowing and have NE1 in excited chatter as supporters did with Beardsley, Ginola, Green, Smith, Mitchell et al in the days of yore. But. There is no place in the modern game for tanner ball players, performing for themselves. All of the top players at home and abroad put the work-rate in and their talents are harnessed for the good of the team. If the penny won’t drop for HBA, then Pardew is right to keep him out of the team and at the end of his contract he’ll likely leave for God knows where. Newcastle United is the perfect stage for HBA. He has a crowd, he has acknowledged he loves and which drools at his talents. He is surrounded by his countrymen and he is playing in the world’s most famous domestic league. If he blows it here, he’s basically finished.
It is also down to Pardew to incorporate him into the team and play to his strengths, get the ball to his feet as often as possible and watch him go. We don’t want any of this false 9 bollocks. HBA is a midfield player who can get teams turning and on the back-foot and who has a trick, a flash of genius to turn a game our way.
Saturday is perfect for him.
Shola going to the World Cup in Brazil, maybe? Football, bloody hell. I hope it happens and I hope Nigeria play in Rio and if our Brazilian-based Blogger, John Milton can’t get an interview with a fellow Geordie and Novocastrian then he’s just not trying. No pressure John, but your adoring public expects.
Missing. Jonas Guiterraz. If found, please return to Newcastle United.
Missing. Sylvain Marveaux. If found, please return to Newcastle United. Might be useful on Saturday if HBA hasn’t given up his Greggs Loyalty card.
Have you heard we are on a shortlist of six for the Football Supporters Federation’s Fanzine Award. We’re up against some really stiff competition in current holders, United We Stand (Man Utd), previous winners The Square Ball (Leeds United), the long established and highly respected A Love Supreme (Sunderland), newcomers Blue & White (Chester City) and general campaigning title STAND. Very, very tough competition and to be honest to have been put on the shortlist of six from every fanzine in the country, is something that makes us immensely proud. And for the third year in succession as well eh? Its very flattering.
If you want us to win, you’ll have to vote for us as the title from that shortlist that achieves the most votes will receive the award. It is as simple as that.
We also have our new issue out (TF107). If you are on Tyneside and in surrounding districts, you can get it from a half-decent newsagents but you can also buy it directly from us here as a one off purchase or even better on subscription and have the little fellas posted immediately it is returned from the printers. Subscriptions are here.
More and more of our readers are choosing to take their true faith fix through Digital means. In association with the market leading company, EXACT EDITIONS, you can get a subscription to true faith direct to your i-pad, tablet or computer and with that access to a growing archive of previous issues. Get the digital subscription here.
And that, you’ll be grateful to learn, is all.
Have a great week.