For all the great things about Newcastle United fans, one thing which has been sadly lacking over the years is mobilising to have a coherent voice which can help support our support.

Years passed in the Ashley doldrums and small things which would have done a lot to show up his failings were either ignored by the majority or people were even abused doing it.

Newcastle United is weird like that.  Our support can become so fragmented and although we are the first to shout when something is wrong, a lot of fans go AWOL when it comes to the crunch.

Ever since I was 18 and a YTS trainee at the council I’ve been part of a union. For years it was essential and parting of a tiny percentage of your wage was part of the process. For decades being “in the Union” was part and parcel of working life. It was like taking your bait to work.

Try explaining that to some today and many simply can’t get their heads around it. We are at the point now where union membership has collapsed with the loss of traditional industries and becoming emasculated within the private sector. Without going completely off-topic we need to ask whether the decline in trade union membership has been beneficial to working people – I’d suggest given the rise of the phenomenon of the working poor dependent upon top ups from the tax-payer that there’s a question that needs to be asked there.

Anyway. Newcastle United.

The Newcastle United Supporters Trust is not a union but some of the accusations they have had thrown at them are exactly the same as I’ve had thrown in my face when trying to get people to join one.

Too much money (it’s not) they haven’t got a voice (they plainly have) They don’t speak for me (no, they speak for all of us collectively) .In United’s support the distrust for trust was incredible. Some almost wanted NUST to fail. Obviously, there are some individuals, who for their own reasons, only they can explain are determined to dissemble against NUST, without ever offering a coherent, cogent, democratic and accountable alternative. We can speculate upon motives but this is not the piece to do that.

The massive high profile success of the pledge (Pledge 1892) was magnificent to see but also a demonstration of Newcastle United’s support acting collectively and with all of the safeguards and securities you would expect managing what has become a large sum of money. NUST would not have attracted the support of notables George Caulkin, Ian Mears MP, Warren Barton as patrons and the public support of Alan Shearer without undergoing some serious scrutiny. Those people do not put their names to any two-bob operation.

For many of us, Pledge 1892 was the second biggest highlight of 2021. Ashley leaving obviously being the highest. The FCB leaving Newcastle United meant in the end, Pledge 1892 was not needed. The contingency fund it was set up aside to respond to e.g. Newcastle United crashing and burning under Ashley did not happen.

Now, something like £200K donated by 6000 NUST members will find its way to good causes in our region. That money will improve the lives of many of our fellow Geordies in disparate ways. This is collectivism in action and we’ll look forward to see the impact that money has.

Fundamentally however, NUST’s role is to engage with those running Newcastle United on behalf of its membership, which at around 15,000 makes it one of, if not the largest Supporters Trusts in the UK. The NUST’s role is to place the voice of supporters into the heart of the club. It is to represent our interests be that via ticket pricing and allocations, safe-standing, match-day experience, facilities and the underpinning health of Newcastle United.

As you would expect NUST is affiliated to the wider Trust movement as well as the Football Supporters Association with whom it enjoys a strong and positive relationship, previously having NUST board members on the national council.

NUST is there for when you need it and that may mean as an individual supporter or collectively when many of us have been poorly treated en-masse. Unfortunately our latest trip to Elland Road was one such occasion when we required a collective voice to represent our concerns to the authorities and work for change so we all benefit together.

The scenes on smart-phone footage of United supporters herded like cattle into turnstiles outside Elland Road should concern a lot of people across the football family. Thank god no-one was seriously injured or worse but for many of us who went to football in the pre-SKY era with supporters treated as scum, it was a throw-back to an age where clubs, Police and local authorities played fast and loose with spectator safety. Ironically, Elland Road sits adjacent to Valley Parade, Bradford and Hillsborough, Sheffield each scenes of some of the worst tragedies football has ever known in this country.

Two turnstiles for 2,800 people? Seriously? Add to a malfunction with the other two turnstiles plus Covid checks and you have a recipe for a potential disaster. A cursory look at social media following the media’s coverage of the response to our experiences at Elland Road and it is obvious this wasn’t a one-off. Indeed supporters at the previous trip to Elland Road when we were in the Championship had similar experiences back then.

That the Away End entry point was unsafe and uncomfortable rather than it causing death or injury is not the issue. Many who travelled to Hillsborough in the 1980s prior to the tragedy in ’89 experienced over-crowding and crushing in the Leppings Lane central pens. That includes Newcastle United fans when we took big away followings to Sheffield Wednesday but more poignantly when the ground was used for FAC Semi finals too.

Leeds’s moving the away supporters enclosure from behind the goal to the current position is open to question. That was the traditional enclosure for visiting supporters and there will be Mags reading this who can recall visits in the 1970s where that is where we were accommodated.

Sadly, the incident we had on Saturday comes at the same time people are mourning the loss of loved ones at the AFCON – click here

We can’t be complacent that serious injury or loss of life cannot happen in the UK. It has happened before and it could again.

However, there is little doubt that without a respected, competent, active supporters organisation such as NUST, the scenes some of our friends and fellow supporters would have stayed largely ignored by the authorities on social media. The NUST intervention means action will be taken … the sunlight of attention being the best disinfectant … or words to that effect.

This is why NUST matters. By 7pm on Saturday night people were invited to contact NUST’s single point of contact Thomas Concannon’s e-mail details were being shared.

Thomas is an NUST board member and had responsibility for compiling fan experiences into a coherent set of accounts that are no doubt going to be shared with Leeds United, West Yorkshire Police, Leeds City Council, the Premier League, broadcasters, Newcastle United and the Football Supporters Association. Special mention also to NUST’s Trust colleagues in the Leeds United Supporters Trust who swung behind our people with support.

No doubt NUST will be putting strong questions to all of the people with a responsibility for the safety of people who go to Elland Road to watch a football match. For the good of all supporters using that away end, action has to be taken and safety has to be front and centre of every sporting event. Why wasn’t the KO delayed to allow fans in? TV KO times for foreign telly? Sorry, that’s not a good enough reason to compromise life and limb of people outside.

But it’s not just our health and safety is it? What does the Trust actually do? Well, here’s a few things off the top of my head:

  • forced Ashley’s Newcastle United to respond to concerns about direct debits during the COVID lockdown
  • consistently and actively supported the Newcastle United Fans Foodbank
  • was a leading partner with the FSA against Game 39 to preserve the integrity of football
  • campaigned for the introduction of Safe-standing
  • campaigned with the FSA for a reduction in ticket prices for away fans
  • exposed Ashley’s Strawberry Place activities and the sale of the lease
  • contributed significantly to the Tracey Crouch review of football governance
  • represented concerns at takeover delays to Premier League executives

And loads of other stuff I’ve forgotten … delivered by volunteers who are democratically elected and accountable to us, members.

Do the sensible thing and join the Newcastle United Supporters Trust click here

Scott Robson / Michael Martin – @tfMick1892