Although largely good fun and occasionally a compelling distraction, social media has a certain rarefied atmosphere that convince those involved in it that something is happening that isn’t. In many ways those of us who indulge within it construct our own echo-chambers of our own beliefs, positions and tend to exclude those who don’t – be that politics, football and any other interests.
This is inevitably true of Newcastle United. We all have very strong opinions about our club, very often predetermined views on the world and people around it with the most abstract of nuance in someone’s opinion having the potential to cause a full-blown meltdown, personal abuse and even threats of the type you’d never ever get to if people were standing around chatting in a pub, workplace or whatever. As someone with strong opinions on the club, politics etc I kind of expect to be on the end of some robust counter-arguments. I won’t pretend some of the responses to er, provocative posts regards the friends down the road aren’t extremely amusing. The incoherent rage and over-the-top responses has me and a few other pals chortling away at @JordanFTM from Seaham bursting his pimples in anger at some targeted commentary on the continuing disaster at that club, made all the more amusing at their apparent determination to pretend everything is brilliant, that Donald with his stripper girlfriend in the Directors’ Box and an Old Etonian Thatcherite are a perfect fit for the self-declared “Classy Club”. Its impossible not to laugh.
Anyway, I digress. According to social media there are thousands of us with lanterns and pitchforks ready to make battle in all kinds of ways with Mike Ashley and his systematic degrading of our football club. Social media has rattled with the #IFRAFAGOESWEGO hashtag, a new supporters group has emerged – The Magpie Group (which is a little confusing as it carries the same name as the one John Hall headed up in the late 1980s, early 90s but with which it has no similarity in motive or composition) to join the other myriad of social media “groups” which are easy to sneer at for their Pythonesque quality. For cynics they are easy to dismiss – there is little easier than constructing a twitter account with a logo to host a load of ranting and extravagant calls to arms. It’s a lot more difficult to get a hitherto recalcitrant support to wake from a comatose state and be provoked into action to defend Newcastle United Football Club.
Flags have been displayed around the city centre for the last two Saturdays as evidence of hopefully a new course of action which hopefully will move beyond social media and actually onto the streets. What has been done with the flags around the city won’t have caused Ashley to tremble in his XXXL voluminous white shirt and shit jeans but it is useful to remind people something might really be happening.
That isn’t to denigrate what has been happening online. The siege placed upon Ashley’s social media advertising his businesses, particularly Sports Direct has been successful. They have stopped posting and I gather that is true from other platforms and other businesses. I believe there are plenty supporters filling baskets online with large amounts of goods but not buying them. It is believed that means the sale of these goods is blocked. Others have been plaguing customer service at Sports Direct (yes, they have one, I’m surprised as well). I’m impressed by the growing visibility of Sports Redirect to advise customers of alternative retailers and I’m sure there is other stuff going on. I don’t for one moment believe this will cause the collapse of Ashley’s staggeringly successful business but it will be causing problems it could do without. Fair play to anyone who is engaged in all of this. An online siege is no bad thing.
But the next step is to get that anger communicated across the wider support and build a fan movement that will dig in for a long fight with Ashley and one that is more than just barking at the moon. I’ve heard a lot of things are being discussed but it has to move beyond that.
I wish The Magpie Group every success. I’m aware of some of the people involved and not others. I was around in 2008 at the set-up of NUSC which later transformed into NUST. I believe fundamental mistakes were made then and key of which was a diffidence at leading protests against Ashley which left me battled. There were all kinds of other schisms at that point, some of which were relished by those who love that kind of thing and which have left wounds. The message and energy were lost.
Right now, I believe the purpose of protests and actions against Ashley have to be brought into sharp focus. I thought it was crystallised in the simple motif #IFRAFAGOESWEGO Thus if our beloved manager decides to walk out of the club at any point up to and including the end of his contract next May, that will trigger a mass cancellation of Direct Debits amongst season tickets and a widespread boycott of home matches. If Rafa were to stay, happy at how his plans for United will be funded by Ashley or whoever, then all of that action is off and we go back to supporting United – with Rafa and the team. Back to the We Are United sentiment the marketing people at United laughably are still using.
For me, that single message has to be the galvanising call to arms across our support.
Where we get mission-creep is where we get problems and confusion.
The energy generated by #IFRAFAGOESWEGO has brought others out into the open too. Notionally, ASHLEYOUT.COM, who ran probably the most well-resourced and coherent campaign a few years ago, appear to be back on the scene though remain irritatingly anonymous and limiting their media impact as a result.
I’m not going to say I don’t disagree with the motives of ASHLEYOUT.COM because clearly I don’t. However, their message and mission will always bring the question, if Ashley is Out, who is that coming in? As you and I know, that answer is impossible to answer at the moment.
So, for me, the basic mission has to be to convey the explicit message that – Newcastle United, without Rafa Benitez and his expertise, determination and dedication to our club, without the decency he represents and the plans he has for our club to develop it into the best it can be will face a crisis amongst the people who are its true custodians – you and I.
Benitez represents hope. He represents more than a Zombie-like existence and bumping along the bottom, doing little more than survive as we have done under the dead-hand of Pardew and McClaren’s management. Many of us are not prepared to go back to that. It has gone on too long. Losing Rafa would simply be unbearable and so many loyal supporters have had enough of it. Everyone will come to their own views on this matter and it isn’t an easy one to reach a consensus upon. I’m reminded, somewhat harshly I feel, in posts under these blogs that I’m still a season-ticket holder while others saw the light as they see it a while ago and made their stand then. It’s a fair point but it’s also a distraction. There are many more like me who have been clinging on, hoping for better and in Rafa we thought we had it. Take him away and its game over. We can fall into rival camps of petty point scoring, which Ashley will love or we can accept we are where we are and kick on from here.
Therefore, for me the mission statement has to return to how this all started this summer – #IFRAFAGOESWEGO Nothing else matters. If Ashley can have some kind of football epiphany and give Rafa what he has reasonably requested, then we can move forward. If Ashley however thinks he can force Rafa, someone he clearly sees as a problem employee who will challenge him, out of Newcastle United then he must understand, it is not going to be like it was previously. It really can’t be but if it is then frankly, we deserve Mike Ashley, a cancer, sucking the life out of our beloved club and poisoning our love for it. I’d guess Ashley is gambling things can go back to him pulling the strings of some dupe like Pardew. He must lose that bet.
If Ashley were to sell up and do one, there would be no tears on Tyneside that’s for certain but the pressure he must face has to be summed up in one single message – #IFRAFAGOESWEGO
This brings us to the opening day of the season this coming Saturday when we face Spurs in a clearly co-ordinated fixture for TV. A pain in the arse early KO for the benefit of a television audience. This is an open goal of an opportunity for the new Magpie Group and whoever else to make a statement and build the momentum for future protests. The transfer window closes on Thursday evening. I’m not hopeful anyone will come in despite what the media tittle tattle might be. I have greater concerns Ashley will cash in on Lascelles if a big money bid comes in for him. I don’t think that has gone away.
I have no idea if anything is planned for Saturday. I desperately hope it is and I hope it is clearly articulated and strongly communicated to the real people that matter – those who click through the turnstiles.
We clearly have to give Benitez and the team 100% support on Saturday and I hope that is emphatic. That strengthens Rafa’s hand and gives warning to Ashley of the risks he is facing in pissing off a man I regard as the club’s single biggest asset along with its support.
How did it get to this? We all know. We’ve lived through the last stultifying decade hoping for better but it hasn’t come and there is a risk our only chance of a better future is being moved out of Newcastle United by Ashley’s lack of ambition and care for our club.
It’s time we make it plain to the world #IFRAFAGOESWEGO
Keep On, Keepin’ On …
MICHAEL MARTIN – Follow Michael on @tfMichael1892