Welcome to part two of the answers to the fans questions put to the board by Lee Ryder from the Evening Chronicle.
In part one, which you can read here, we featured questions 1-6. This part will conclude the questions and answers, and the final part will be a reaction to it all.
As I said in the first part, communication is at a premium when it comes to the board and fans at NUFC and it’s almost got to the point where something is better than nothing. Some may not like these answers, but at least they are out there now and I guess that is all we could ask for.
Ready for part two? Here goes.
Q.7 – Many fans clamoured for a marquee signing on the striker front. Are those days gone and can we expect more continental-based players coming in January, if any?
The days of Newcastle United acquiring ‘trophy’ signings who command huge salaries for past successes on the pitch are over.
Yes they have generated excitement and anticipation in the past, but ultimately many of them have left the club poorer and with little to show for it in terms of our standing in the league.
As for where we scout from, we have no specific policy to recruit continental players and we obviously have to satisfy the Premier League rules in respect of home-grown players.
It’s not about where a player is from, it’s about their ability, age, character and value for money. We’ve found this year that we have got better value for money on the continent which is why we’ve recruited well from France in particular this summer.
Q.8 – Are you concerned about the 10,000 drop in attendance and that fans are either not renewing season tickets or have headed to support local non-league teams instead?
On the contrary, season ticket sales are actually up on where we were this time last year.
We introduced a ground-breaking ten year fixed price deal for season ticket holders this year. This was a genuine initiative aimed at rewarding loyalty and guaranteeing long-term affordability for fans. The deal was very well received and in fact two-thirds of all season ticket holders have taken advantage of that deal. So we’re delighted to have introduced a genuine initiative which has been so popular, and we’re very happy with the number of season ticket holders we have this year.
It’s too early in the season to suggest there’s any trend emerging with regard to on-the-day sales. The Fulham fixture was a Sunday match and a 1pm kick-off, as well as falling during the school holidays too. Those factors undoubtedly played their part. Also of course Fulham’s travelling support was very small at just 433. The attendance was actually not far off what we had expected for that fixture. For the Arsenal game, the attendance was far higher than we saw for the first game last season which is fantastic.
The support this club receives is phenomenal and never taken for granted. If we do see a trend emerging for whatever reason, then we will look to address that.
Q.9 – Is Mike Ashley considering putting the club up for sale?
Mike Ashley has no intention of putting the club up for sale.
He is still extremely passionate about strengthening the club and making it a real success. We are balancing the books and getting the finances in order, but there’s plenty more work to be done and he’s committed to doing that for the long-term.
That said, it’s worth going back to the analogy of the house that’s not for sale. If suddenly an incredible offer comes in, he may have to consider it.
From time to time we are approached by people claiming to have an interest in buying the club. Our message to them is clear: buy a box for a commitment of five-seasons and then we’ll know you’re serious. No-one’s taken us up on that offer!
I’d like to make a further point here. This club can’t support itself without the financial backing of Mike Ashley; we still rely heavily on the owner. To date Mike has invested over £280m into the club, including £140m in interest-free loans. For him to continue to support the club, he has to be interested and enthused to do so. He deserves credit for his financial support but a section of supporters don’t make him feel welcome at St James’ Park, or when he attends away games. Criticism is part and parcel of the job, abuse is not.
This makes life uncomfortable and certainly doesn’t make Mike feel more inclined to put his hand once again in his pocket. That’s not stubbornness, it’s human nature. I think most of us would feel exactly the same.
Q.10 – Newcastle United has the third highest attendances in the country, Sky TV and income from merchandising, plus a lower debt position than many in the EPL. Why in terms of player recruitment can Newcastle not compete with smaller clubs like Stoke, Fulham and QPR?
We’re privileged to have a huge fan-base and the TV income and merchandising revenue that goes hand-in-hand with that.
The efforts we’ve made over recent years to reduce our debts has only been possible because we’ve kept our operating costs in check and carefully managed our wage structure, wage to turnover ratio, and transfer spending policy.
It would be inappropriate to pass comment on the way other clubs run their business, and it would be a largely irrelevant exercise. Suffice to say that we have a strong business strategy which we are committed to following and which we believe will reap benefits for the club and its supporters over the years to come.
Q.11 – Are you aware of fans’ disgruntlement with the away ticketing policy given the Toon Army are amongst the most loyal fans in the UK, and will you consider reviewing the policy?
Yes, we’re aware that some fans are unhappy with the changes we’ve made.
There was however a lot of anger from the majority of law-abiding fans at the behaviour of a few at our friendly game against Darlington that evening, and it’s as a result of their behaviour that we have introduced these restrictions.
We did so to protect the reputation of the club. The scenes we witnessed at Darlington were disgraceful and cannot be repeated. The changes we’ve made ensure that the club has better control over who gets access to away tickets so that people who break the law are able to be identified much more easily.
If non season ticket holders want to purchase tickets for away games, then it’s very simple to do so by way of a club membership.
Q.12 – Alan Pardew said he was 100% convinced he would get a new number 9. What changed?
It was everyone’s desire at the club to bring in a striker. As I said in answer to a previous question, we worked hard to make that happen but ultimately couldn’t complete a deal that we’d hoped to.
Alan was aware of the efforts we were making in our negotiations and as such had every right to be confident. We were making good progress on a number of fronts, but unfortunately we couldn’t get the player over the line.
Q.13 – Why was Joey Barton allowed to leave for free and join a club that could be considered to be a rival in the Premier League?
Joey’s a big character and a talented player, which is why we supported him from the moment he came to Newcastle, in spite of the difficulties he faced in his first two seasons here.
In January 2011, we were keen to offer Joey a new contract because we wanted to keep him at the club. We offered him what we considered to be a great deal but unfortunately Joey chose not to accept it.
We felt we couldn’t improve on that offer and therefore would need to consider selling. However with a transfer fee attached we received no formal interest from any club. We eventually made a decision to release Joey on a free transfer after well-publicised differences between the club and the player couldn’t be resolved. We wish Joey all the best at Queens Park Rangers and look forward to seeing him on Monday for our fixture at Loftus Road.
Q.14 – Many fans now consider us to be a “selling club” after the departures of Nolan, Enrique, Carroll and Barton. How do you respond to this?
The term “selling club” is a misnomer. In reality all clubs are selling clubs at the right price – even the Premier League’s top six clubs.
We’re no more a selling club than any other in the Premier League – you sell players, you buy players; that’s football. The Manchester Citys of this world operate on a different level to most other clubs, including ourselves, and it’s easier for those with greater financial clout to hold on to their best players and replace those they need to.
The fact is, we’ve done some excellent business in this window and brought in seven very good players. The quality of these new signings shouldn’t be overshadowed by the fact that we were unable to bring in an additional striker.
I’ve addressed the circumstances of Andy and Joey’s departure in earlier answers. In relation to Kevin Nolan, we offered Kevin a new contract at the start of the summer. Unfortunately he wanted a longer deal than we were prepared to offer and ultimately an approach came in from West Ham which worked for the player and his long-term security, as well as for the club..
The situation with Jose was very straightforward. We tried to negotiate a new contract with him early in the 2010/11 season, but the player wasn’t willing to enter negotiations at that time. When we did eventually get round the table with Jose we offered him an exceptional deal. His advisors subsequently made it clear to us that he wanted to pursue a new challenge elsewhere.
If a player wishes to leave the club, then there’s only so much we can do to try and keep him. We did everything we could, but he chose to move on. Faced with the prospect of running his contract down and leaving for nothing, we had to look to sell.
That concludes part two of the questions and answers to the board. I’ll be writing a new article featuring my take on the answers to the questions so stay tuned for that.
My initial reaction is that it’s just about what I expected although there was some useful titbits of information in there such as the wagebill figures and stuff like that. Stay tuned.