If ever there was evidence of a panic on Barrack Road it came yesterday with the stage-managed event of Jamaal Lascelles – photographed in the classic pose, pen in hand, in the boss’ office with Rafa’s hand on his shoulder and both grimacing for the cameras.
At any other, half-normal football club, this would be a subject for celebration. The publicity releases for a much-loved captain committing the next 6 years to our club would be cause for optimism.
But not everything is what it seems at Newcastle United.
The truth is Lascelles was already committed for the next five years anyway and what he was photographed signing yesterday was a one year extension to that deal and some additional money. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it did not warrant the stage-managed media hoopla we saw splashed all over the press and Sky Sports etc. This was unquestionably the work of United’s under-funded media department and over-funded Keith Bishop.
United’s hierarchy is desperate for good news to distract everyone from the shit-show they are responsible for at St James’ Park. They must understand that the vast swathe of United’s support holds them in open contempt and despite best efforts to lash the likes of Dennis Wise, Simon Jordan and the rest of the Bishop Goon Squad in front of the cameras, there is a dawning realisation across the football world that Mike Ashley is destroying a much loved and important football institution.
The schedule of protests released last week by The Magpie Group has not gone unnoticed by Ashley, Charnley et al. The protests outside Ashley’s businesses have served to raise the temperature and brought into sharp focus how this man is hollowing out a great football institution. They have been well-timed with the new Kevin Keegan book reminding the world how one of the club’s greatest living icons has been treated by Ashley. Neither is Alan Shearer not slow to remind viewers from the BBC studios of the lack of investment, care and stewardship there has been on the current owner’s watch.
The present level of media scrutiny has been achieved by the actions of supporters following the lead of The Magpie Group.
But there is now panic at United at what is coming next.
The news of visible protests planned to be taken inside SJP has raised the temperature considerably.
Whether that is the late walk into the match for the West Ham game or the boycott of the Wolves match, the hierarchy is in a flap.
This is evidence that The Magpie Group has made the right calls. They are hurting Ashley-Charnley et al and they are responding in the best way they can by pushing people who they think have some credibility in front of the cameras to attempt to defend them and divert the protests.
I must confess it angers me when The Chronicle asks Rafa questions about protests etc that should be answered by Ashley and Charnley. The Chronicle will reply by saying neither will answer calls for interviews but that’s a lame excuse for putting Benitez in an impossible situation. No manager in any situation would want fan boycotts. Rafa is an employee of Newcastle United and to state explicitly he wanted a boycott would be straightforward misconduct and likely good reason for his dismissal.
Yesterday’s use of Lascelles to spread PR fluff for Ashley and make subtle appeals against the planned protests will have long-term consequences for the player and the squad. So far, supporters have made clear distinctions between the manager and those on the park with the central cause of the Newcastle United malaise clearly identified as Ashley, Charnley and Co. Countless supporters, myself included, have allowed them a pass because they have given their best and largely cannot faulted for effort. We know they aren’t good enough but there has been a bond built over the promotion season and last year which has put lots of credit in the bank for “this group of lads”.
Lascelles describing Ashley as a “nice man” and petitioning fans for “unity” in a clear dig at the protests severely challenges the latitude supporters have given him and his team-mates.
Whether Lascelles’ agent should have been proffering his client advice about staying away from all this stuff is a moot point but the lack of corporate memory at how Pardew’s stock fell dramatically after he dedicated a win over Chelsea to Mike Ashley, should have weighed on the media amateurs who have manipulated the club captain into this situation. But avoiding crass PR is something United hasn’t been particularly skilled at over eleven years of lies, broken promises, failure and deceit under Ashley.
Players and managers come and go. Supporters are the one constant. This is our club. Whether yesterday’s sham contract signing was just a means of increasing Lascelles’ sale value remains to be seen but if he is sold in January or whatever, with his contract clauses, image rights, loyalty bonus and all the rest of it – we’ll still be here inside and outside fighting for Newcastle United, the club we’ve signed up with for life.
KEEP ON, KEEPIN’ ON …
MICHAEL MARTIN – FOLLOW MICHAEL ON @tfMichael1892