The second meeting of the Fans Forum took place on Monday night and the minutes have been available since Tuesday. If you want to have a look at them, simply click here
This is our take on the information that has been put into the public domain.
Lee Marshall, the Supporters Liaison Officer has attempted to defend the indefensible and that is namely the completely disproportionate, unjust and wrong decision to ban the Newcastle United Supporters Trust from the Fans Forum. The NUST is the only correctly constituted and democratic supporters body connected to Newcastle United supporters’ base. It is the only supporters organisation connected to the Football Supporters Federation, Supporters Direct which in their turn is funded by the FA and Premier League.
The claim that the indefinite ban was as a result of a simple and petty breach of protocol (a version of the facts contested by NUST) rather than because of some tough questioning takes a bit of a leap of faith to accept as the truth.
There is no reference to correspondence received from either NUST or the Football Supporters Federation regarding the ban. No-one from the Fans Forum pressed this issue with the club. The Supporters Liaison Officer was quick to trumpet the involvement of the FSF in supporting the establishment of the Fans Forum, now it appears they ignore their correspondence as well as the NUST. It would also appear from questions that supporters on the Forum have absolutely no power to vote the NUST back onto the Fans Forum. On this critical point, the club is ignoring the supporters it has selected to take part in the Fans Forum as well as setting its face against surveys this fanzine has conducted showing more than 90% of respondents are opposed to the NUST being banned.
It is not helpful for other entirely undemocratic, so called representative bodies to position themselves as a conduit for the NUST or anyone else for that matter to pose questions to the club given their own absence of legitimacy. Everybody participating within the Fans Forum should be agitating strongly for NUST’s reintegration into the Fans Forum rather than flying kites about other groups replacing them. Frankly, that’s appalling. It can’t be lost on many people that a Fans Forum can play host to Wonga at Newcastle United but not the Supporters Trust.
From my perspective, against this background of bans to the NUST, the Fans Forum is something of a busted flush. It cannot proceed in this atmosphere. It is not a Fans Forum, it is simply tea and sandwiches with a few NUFC suits. It should be urgently reconstituted and those responsible for the ban need to think about their attitude towards supporters.
Obviously we are fully supportive of any move to re-establish a singing section at SJP. The club was bang out of order in abolishing the original one. There may well be some raised eye-brows about it being at the back of the Gallowgate. No definite agreement appears to be made on this but hopefully it hasn’t been kicked into the long-grass.
Quite a bit of waffle really but more proof couldn’t be more readily available than previous statements made by Irving and Charnley, hardly refuted by Pardew’s comments in the run up to the FAC 3rd Round tie v. Cardiff City but best shown by the team’s abysmal performance and result, which cannot be described as a one-off. Little investment in the team last summer and so it goes on!
Are we really expected to believe this explanation that we just can’t attract sponsors to the club with the third highest attendances in the country, playing in the most watched-league in the world? To no-one’s surprise the news has been given that another Ashley company, Fire-Trap also gets free advertising around St James’ Park. I’d imagine the same applies equally to Dunlop as well. And possibly others – Cruise? Supporters are having their intelligence insulted.
Although familiar with the business maxim: turnover for vanity, profit for sanity, the commentary from the club is really unsatisfactory here. All around the PL, revenue from commercial revenue is up and it is inconceivable costs are wiping out the profits all around the country. The out-sourcing of the club’s catering does not explain the widening gap between Newcastle United’s commercial revenue and rival clubs. It really isn’t good enough to point to the relative revenues at rival clubs as an explanation for a lack of investment in the squad but then claim reduced revenue really means increased profit. Those two positions just do not make any sense. If the club could respond with any kind of detail that might be helpful! Until they give a compelling explanation that the club is improving its financial position then we will continue to shine a light onto the available numbers. The only revenue that has increased under Ashley is TV money (of which he had no role in making happen), everything else is down and this compares very badly with other PL clubs of similar status.
Sadly, it appears Ashley regards free advertising for his companies as a perk of his ownership of Newcastle United, regardless what it means to the club’s financial strength.
It was also disappointing that no-one present at the Fans Forum was able to ask any questions regards the club’s debt and the plan for repayment. The club’s last statement of accounts showed £18m planned to be repaid from the debt. During the summer, the club denied any payment had been made to Ashley connected to that debt. It is a shame that no question was presented regarding repayments to Ashley, namely, has £18m left United’s bank account bound for one owned by Michael Ashley esq..
It was also disappointing no questions were asked regards the methods for dealing with the debt i.e. converting debt into equity as has been done at Sunderland amongst others.
It was astonishing the question of United’s debt to Ashley was not more thoroughly taken forward. That was really disappointing.
Away Ticket Pricing
It would appear the club’s admirable idea of a reciprocal pricing arrangement with rival PL clubs for away tickets has failed. I note that Sunderland AFC will be reducing the price of away tickets for the forthcoming derby at St James’ Park and that subsidy is coming directly from Sunderland AFC and not the special fund established by the PL for special projects to support away day travel. It would be interesting to learn what Newcastle United intended to invest the latter fund upon, whether they would consider subsidising a forthcoming away game i.e. Chelsea at an eye-watering £55.
NCJ Media Ban
The club has ignored its own supporters in lifting the ban on the local press. We were told this was as a result of the publicity given to the Time 4 Change march but it seems from subsequent attempts to charge the print media for access to players etc. that this might not have been an altogether accurate explanation.
Category 1 Status for The Academy
The club’s very own directors have failed to confirm that United achieved the Cat.1 status as part of the Premier League’s Elite Player Performance Plan. We can only conclude that the club failed to achieve the required standard when inspected in 2012 but even moreso has also failed to do so in any subsequent re-inspections. Our understanding is that clubs cannot re-apply for Cat 1 status for two years. Maybe this is the reason the directors have deferred comment, hopeful a re-inspection will deliver a Cat.1 status achieved by every half decent club in the PL and Championship. This is appalling management.
To be fair there was some helpful explanation of how this operates at United. There has been some alarm that Newcastle United’s entire online merchandising operation was owned exclusively by Sports Direct. The explanation that Sports Direct is able to purchase Newcastle United merchandise cheaper than er, Newcastle United. I’ll not pretend to understand the intricacies of this deal but to me, it seems absurd this is the case. However, if as the club claims, this will generate more money for United, then I’ll look forward to seeing greater investment in players. We need real transparency in this area, we need to know what was being earned before and after
In the summer Mark Jensen (The Mag) and I met with Wonga’s PR people. They were after ideas as to curry favour with our support. We suggested the purchase of flags for the Gallowgate End. We insisted they should have no reference to Wonga upon them. We haven’t seen the prototypes but it is to be hoped they haven’t jumped on this suggestion as a crude opportunity to push their appalling company into the media. We’ll see.
Frankly, a completely unsatisfactory answer and what I think we wanted was an expressed sympathy for safe standing as per the rail-seats model common in Germany rather than a regurgitation of the known facts.
Well, that was burst and true faith, The Mag, NUST and nufc.com played their full part in that along with Sunderland fanzines and websites under the leadership of the Football Supporters Federation.
Nothing really worth commenting upon other than that the agenda for this meeting appears to have come from those who are banned from the Fans Forum and who aren’t taking part in it. Those who are attending, appear to have no authority and their views regards NUST and NCJ Media, as per the wider support, counts for very little.