In response to the recent meeting by Newcastle Fans United on the 8th August I would like to take this opportunity to address and hopefully answer some of the issues and questions put forward. As a reference point the minutes of said meeting can be found here.
My reasons for doing this are twofold. Firstly I think a lot of the concerns are legitimate ones and after speaking with key members believe they genuinely come from a place of caring about the club above all else. It is more so the reasoning behind some of these concerns I don`t agree with and would therefore like to give another perspective to those involved in attempt to prove that there may just be logical reasons behind some of the decisions made.
Other reason is that I don`t believe Newcastle Fans United will ever get the answers they seek from the board. Not because they are uncaring and dismissive businessmen who don`t give two hoots about the club or fans. Simply because it does not help your cause to have groups involved called “Mike Ashley Out” and the likes. Would you as Mike Ashley meet that group and think they will take on board any argument or reasoning you put forward?
That said i`ll move on to the topics brought up at the last meeting.
LEVEL 7 / FAN DISPLACEMENT
First up, the Level 7 issue. I do understand regular attendees of this area of the ground are upset with the actions of the board. I also acknowledge that certain key members although frustrated understand that this is more than likely due to the continuous anti-Ashley chants and most notably banners such as “Cockney Rapist” being the straw that broke the camels back. Everyone is of course entitled to their opinion. I for one just don`t agree with this method of getting your point across.
What I do not agree with in the slightest is certain displaced supporters of this section stating that they are the best and maybe only real singing section and atmosphere within the ground and it will become a library now that these fans have been removed from Section 7. I think it is quite frankly disrespectful to every other loyal fan who pays to see Newcastle in action week in and week out and bleed black and white as much as anyone.
Aside from that point, I think any intelligent person can tell the reason for displacing these supporters was due to the animosity aimed at the board and owner, but the reasons for doing this are not as simple as that. Whether this be a legitimate standpoint or not is irrelevant in my opinion. It is more so the ever growing risk of creating a mob mentality and potentially volatile environment for other fans, especially young children and families in attendance.
Contrary to what was stated in the minutes of the meeting I do not believe this to be a personal attack from the owners at the fans of Section 7 for not agreeing with or liking the board and owner. It is more than likely a safety measure pre-empting the potential for aggravation and unrest at games for the majority of fans simply there to watch the match and support their team, and although I believe this is also the intention of previous members of Section 7, there was another agenda every Saturday afternoon.
Not to accuse for one second that the following would happen or are the intentions of these fans, but social psychology and numerous examples of situations such as this in the past show that this sort of atmosphere can escalate over time and cause situations such as pre and post match demonstrations, as well as potential aggravation among supporters during games and scenarios unfolding which no supporter wants to see happen.
An expression of hatred, basic unrest or any views towards the board and owners should be kept solely to meetings such as the one on the 8th August and not be brought onto the stands. It only grows and manifests over time into something more than a simple vocal protest. This is the natural evolution of groups in opposition to authority figures regardless of best initial intentions.
The point which should instead have been highlighted and is not mentioned in the minutes is the meeting with Simon Esling in which fans of this section were promised that they would be re-situated in another part of the ground. The reason given by Simon for the move was to make room for away fans and also extend the family section. I believe that this is the case.
What I don`t believe is they were ever going to re-situate these fans in another section. I have explained above the reasons why this was not going to happen but nevertheless I do think that Simon Esling should have simply been honest and not promised something that would never come to fruition.
TICKET ALLOCATION & AWAY GAMES
Let me start by saying that the method put in place by the club by which to allocate tickets for away games does have its flaws. It is something that will need to be revised and I am sure will be as the season progresses. However, the claim that this is the board looking for another excuse in which to have a go at the fans is completely inaccurate, borderline ridiculous.
This is a course of action which simply had to be undertaken in as prompt a fashion as possible by the club in order to stem the tide of bad PR towards both club and fans post Darlington. True, the actions of a very small minority on that day should not mean everyone suffers, but the fact is if the club did not take such quick action the Premier League or FA would have.
The end result of allowing them to do so would have been much worse than any action taken by the club. Allowed fan presence at away games would have no doubt been even more limited and maybe even banned all together for this season if left in the hands of the FA to pass judgement. By the club acting immediately it condemned those who acted stupidly and essentially saved the club from potentially harsh repercussions.
This was not an angry shot at the fans, nor was it a knee-jerk reaction as described in the minutes of the last meeting. This was an immediate action that needed to be taken for the good of the majority of fans, allowing the club to control and alter as the season progresses, leaving open the possibility of as many fans as possible being able to attend away games this season.
DIRECT DEBITS & FINANCIAL ISSUES
The first part of the statement in the minutes is too vague and hypothetical to give an appropriate answer to so I will have to speculate to an extent. Yes if any organisation or club charges fans for tickets or other things such as merchandise etc and does not give the fans what they paid for then that is not right. The accusation that the club would intentionally do this, and in a scenario in which it might happen not attempt to rectify the situation is again quite simply ridiculous.
Case and point to back up this would be the recent Fiorentina friendly which due to extreme weather conditions and the safety of the players had to be abandoned after approximately an hour. The club did not leave it at that and say thanks for your money but tough. They did not say we will refund a third of your money because you seen an hour of the match. They did not even say we will reimburse the fans who attended with free entry to another friendly. The club has decided to make up for abandoning the game by allowing for fans who attended to go to a Premiership match. This was in my opinion a very good gesture by the club and a demonstration that regardless of fan unrest they are not spiteful.
With that point dealt with I will address the claim made that the club should come out and admit to mistakes made in the past and that the fans deserve some sort of feedback. In terms of admitting to mistakes, what will this achieve exactly? They are only words. Do you want Mike and Derek to stand on the pitch, say i`m sorry and then go off and continue to make mistakes?
This is not going to happen. Nor should it. The fans know, Derek knows, and most of all Mike knows that mistakes have been made in footballing decisions. What needs to be done in this case is not admittance of guilt, not an apology, not empty words but actions. The past can not be taken back or changed. The future however provides the opportunity for actions, not words. Sound footballing decisions and a demonstration that lessons have been learned from past mistakes.
COMMUNICATION & DIRECT EFFECTS ON SUPPORTERS
The communication issue is one which does need to be addressed. There are a number of contributing factors to the current scenario being as it is. Blame falls at the door of many aside from the board. Also to an extent blame is not a game we should be playing here either. There is a certain logic and good judgement on the clubs part to have as little communication as possible.
If you look at how all top clubs are run, especially in England, it is on a closed door policy. The reason behind this is essentially the poison that is media and tabloids. They are the spanner in the works for even the most smooth running of football clubs. They have absolutely no regard or love for the clubs well being and are solely motivated by the opportunity to get a story.
Sir Alex Ferguson and Man Utd are the prime example of this method of dealing with this threat. Aside from press conferences, SAF does not discuss club matters with anyone, including fans. In fact as regards the media there are a number which he has openly displayed utter contempt for and refuses to give the time of day point blank. Arsenal are another example of this. They are well known in football, and especially among their fans for being one of the hardest clubs to get information from. They do not discuss club matters unless they absolutely have to, and even at that will only be done by Arsene Wenger in a press conference situation.
For a club like Newcastle this can be an unbelievably frustrating policy for the club to adopt. But in the same breath I think fans have to realize that through a decade if not more of the club being run very badly, internal structures, levels of discipline and professionalism at an embarassing low for a top flight club, the media sees Newcastle as a go-to club for a story.
They prey on this club and create bad press for Newcastle more than any other club in England. We are not in the title race in recent years, are not a Man Utd multinational corporation, yet we have the spotlight on us just as much and get as much if not more media attention than any massive club.
Add to that the fans themselves. They are so used to knowing each and every detail about the club on a daily basis that a switch to a closed door policy can come as a shock, can be frustrating and takes some getting used to. I think personal feelings have to be put aside on this one and for people to realize that this is not being done to antagonize supporters or cut them out of the loop, but more so because it is necessary for the club to run smoothly with so much media attention on it.
In saying that I do agree with this aspect of Newcastle Fans Uniteds agenda if not some of the reasoning behind it as i`m sure most fans would. Minimal communication can be gotten used to but zero communication is not a good thing. There is no simple solution to solve this. There does need to be rational, accommodating and open discussion from all parties concerned to find a scenario which everyone finds acceptable.
There also falls a responsibility in the meantime on the mediums who do have direct access. The local media. People like Lee Ryder and Dan King among others. There are various sources of information available, including the two mentioned who do a good job in giving fans daily information. For me personally it is enough, for some, maybe a bit more is needed and that is something that can be discussed.
It also should be said that the final point in the minutes being one of club, groups, fans, irrespective of standpoint should be able to come together and discuss this in an orderly fashion is a statement of intent to be respected. The case of communication is one that needs clarification or revision and I think every Newcastle fan would appreciate your sentiments on this matter if no other.
INTENTIONS OF NEWCASTLE FANS UNITED
Finally I would like to give a personal take on Newcastle Fans United as an organisation and maybe reflect a view mirrored by some fans not involved or in agreement with the groups involved.
Conceptually I think this is a positive move and promotes the idea that groups or fans ranging in standpoints and opinions can come together and have their voice heard. My concern is that the positive end of the spectrum does not seem to get their views put out there enough.
Rather it is the agenda of the anti-Ashley groups and promotion of a prodominantly negative voice pushed as the opinion of the collective which gets most acknowledgement. Along with this a number of the reasons outlined in the minutes of the meeting on 8th August, which I have argued in this article, seem at times to be ill thought out and come across as no more than angry fans reacting without taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture. Creating intelligent, well formulated arguments to put to people like Simon Esling or Derek Llambias is the way forward, not an expression of anger.
Whether I agree with the standpoints held by what appears to be the leading groups of this organisation or not is besides the point. I simply think that this cannot serve as a good look for Newcastle Fans United, the club or the positive atmosphere needed around the city and club in order to push the team throughout the season. Promoting such negativity, and at times complete lack of understanding as to the logical reasons behind certain decisions that are made can only hurt both the groups involved and the view on fans of this great club as a whole.
As said at the top of the article, everyone is entitled to their own opinion but even if yours is one of negativity and ill feeling towards the board and owner, tell me, do you think it does the club any good to hate this man day after day, banish him from the stands, verbally abuse Derek Llambias the way he was around the Darlington friendly and all the other knee-jerk reactions fans have taken against the board?
Look I get the frustration, and on certain occasions this reaction was warranted, but not half as much as it has happened. And think about it, this is not the way to get what you want. In fact all that would serve to achieve I would imagine is for Mike Ashley to say to himself, why should I give £30m over for transfers? why should I invest my money in this club? Why should I listen to the fans, or their apparent representation?
Agreed, the club and owner need to sort out the level of communication with the fans, zero is too little, but I do agree with a closed door policy. It is how all the major clubs are run, especially in England because the media is absolute poison and will do anything for a story and that was a major problem at Newcastle for a long time because we were so open.
For all the fans with a fixation on negativity towards the club and owner, just do me a favour for now when it is truly needed. Put your energy where it belongs and have some faith in what you always have, even through the Shepherd era where it was much much worse than it is now. Believe in the team, support the team, support the club.
The fans are the reason players want to and always have wanted to come to Newcastle. Because they love it more than most fans in the world love their club. Its never been the club itself that has been the attraction. It is the city, the people, the atmosphere, the buzz of being part of Newcastle when the fans are right behind the club through thick and thin.
The team and squad we have is better than last season, no question. Show them the support they deserve, make these young lads want to be a Newcastle player, want to improve, develop, get into our first team and stay here, loving the club, and loyalty to us comes with that.
Ten plus million pound signings with a name are not loyal anymore, they are after a paycheck for the most part. What the club is doing is actually a smart, interesting and exciting project if people stop complaining and open their mind to it. Learn about it, learn about our youth, the money gone into them, the potential there is there, the scouting project we are doing and how expansive it is.
Learn about the players that have seen glimpses of breaking into the first team. Learn about ones beyond that, like Yven Moyo or Remi Streete. Basically leave the finances to the people who know what they`re doing and give them the benefit of the doubt, see if that helps the cause more than negative groups calling for the owners head all season long.
Support the club and every aspect of it. Wear the shirt with pride and support what you love, make it the place every young player wants to play. THAT is the only way this club will move forward and the relationship with club and fans will improve.