One of the biggest bones of contention at the moment is the current lack of communication from the board.
Quite simply put, it’s rubbish. That is probably being a little bit kind if truth be told.
So it was nice to see that Lee Ryder from the Evening Chronicle had managed to get the board to respond to the questions of fans. This kind of chance doesn’t come along often and whilst I was always sceptical of the answers that we’ll end up with I must credit Lee for actually trying to get some dialogue going.
I was going to put all 14 questions in one article, but with the first handful of questions weighing in at over 2,000 words I thought perhaps that I’d split it into two three parts. Part one will include questions 1-6, part two will include questions 7-14, and the third part will be my reaction to each question.
Q.1 – Where’s the money that was pledged to be reinvested in the squad after the sale of Andy Carroll gone?
We made it clear when we sold Andy that the fee we received would stay in the club, and it has.
The money will be spent prudently within the club and on new players as and when we are in a position to do so. We didnt promise to spend all the money in this window. Money will be available going forward, for the right player at the right time. If the club had been able to move on other transfer targets this summer, then more money would have been spent.
Its a point weve mentioned before, but transfer fees are only one part of the cost incurred in signing players. A free transfer mistakenly indicates that it is without cost to the club, but no transfer is actually free. Most supporters will be aware that the agents fees, signing on fees and salaries are inflated in deals with free agents.
Our wage bill this season will increase by seven percent as a result of the business weve done, including new deals for existing players. Assuming a tenth place league position, that gives us a wages-to-turnover ratio of approximately 65 per cent.
Any suggestions that the owner has in some way profited from the sale of Andy are absolutely untrue.
Q.2 – Why is there such a lack of communication with the fans from Mike Ashley and his board?
When Mike Ashley bought the club back in 2007, we were keen to engage with supporters and did so with some regularity.
As a result of some of the things we’ve done in the past there will always be fans who will not like nor believe what we have to say. The upshot is that when we speak publicly more often than not we are criticised.
Some football club owners and board members talk regularly in public and enjoy it, others don’t. We much prefer to concentrate on running the club and letting the football do the talking.
After the statement I made last week, it was interesting to read comments from some supporters saying “I just wish they’d shut up!” Of course everyone has a different view, that’s football for you, which as we all know is a very passionate game.
We understand the natural appetite for information and the need for fans to have clarity on the direction we’re taking the club. It’s why we have committed to an annual mission statement from the board, along with regular communications from our media department.
Last year the media team facilitated over 500 interviews with the manager, players and other club officials which demonstrates that the club does place importance on communicating with fans.
Q.3 – In 2009 you outlined your plans for the club at a fans forum. Can you give us an update on how you see our position now against that plan and if it has changed? What is the long-term plan for Newcastle United?
Since that fans forum meeting in 2009, the club is now on a far sounder footing. Financially we are in much better shape, even taking into account the impact of relegation.
We urgently had to address a number of problems and we’ve made great strides in that respect.
Our long-term plan off the field is to make sure that Newcastle United is self-financing, which in turn will allow us to invest in the squad, our youth development system and our facilities, without having to rely on additional financial support from the owner. There aren’t many clubs in England who can hope to achieve that.
It’s obviously our football ambitions that supporters are understandably more interested in. This year we’ve set ourselves the target of a top ten finish in the Premier League.
In the coming years we will continue to build the club sustainably. We have a generous owner, but we don’t have the bottomless pockets that some clubs do. At the moment we cannot compete with the financial strength of the top six.
We are not a club willing to take a reckless approach and permit spending beyond our means, the result of which can be crippling at best and bankruptcy at worst. Instead we have a realistic view of what we can achieve at Newcastle and how quickly we can achieve it.
Q.4 – Can you justify why it took seven months to pursue a striker before failing at the eleventh hour to secure a signing?
We understand fans’ frustrations – we share them, as does the manager.
Despite what many may think we didn’t leave it late, in fact we started our search the minute Andy Carroll left. It’s difficult to convey the amount of work that goes into the process of scouting, assessing and analysing players to ensure that anyone brought into the club is of the right age, quality, character and team fit.
We have to be certain that our targets have the strengths and skills that complement the current squad and the balance of the side. Then of course there’s the transfer fees and wages to get right. The fee we received from the sale of Andy Carroll was a windfall, but it’s not money we can afford to waste, so prudence and adherence to our strict transfer policy is important.
The manager and our scouting team identified a number of targets very early in the year and we worked hard to secure those players as soon as possible. There are three parties involved in any deal; the buyer, the seller and the player, and deals can fall down for any number of reasons brought about by any one of those parties. Unfortunately it wasn’t until very late in the window that negotiations broke down.
At that stage we turned our attention to other available players on our shortlist. However we will not compromise our transfer policy by making rash and costly signings that are not right for this club. Many clubs live to regret knee-jerk business decisions conducted in the final few days of the window. We have no interest in players reaching the end of their careers who are offered for extortionate fees and demand long-term contracts and high wages.
The details of our negotiations in the window must remain confidential; suffice to say that despite our best efforts unfortunately we were unable to agree the right deal for an additional striker.
Q.5 – Public opinion on Tyneside from large sections of fans is that they no longer trust statements coming out of the club after several empty promises. What assurances can you give fans that they can believe what the club tells them?
We don’t feel we’ve made empty promises. Sometimes in these situations it’s impossible to win.
If we say nothing we are criticised. If we state our intentions and they are not realised, we are criticised.
Going back to the sale of Andy Carroll, just to reiterate we did not promise to spend all the money from that transfer in the summer. We said that not a penny would be taken out of the club and that is exactly what we have done.
In relation to Andy, it’s worth addressing the issue that upset fans back in January. Yes, we said repeatedly that Andy Carroll was not for sale. On reflection perhaps we should have chosen our words more carefully. We had no intention of selling Andy Carroll.
If I can draw an analogy: My house is not for sale. In fact you could offer me twice what it is worth and it would still not be for sale because it has a personal value to me right now that is greater than twice the price. But if someone knocks on my door with a truly extraordinary figure, a sum which I had never imagined would be offered, then there comes a time when I have to seriously consider it.
The same is true in football. We could not have imagined when we rejected offers for Andy of £25m and £30m that any bid in excess of that would be tabled. And that was our position in January: do we continue stubbornly to refuse to sell at any price, or is the offer now so high that it deserves serious consideration. The fee offered was a deal too good to turn down.
That’s just one side of the equation of course. On the other side is a player, and one I would add that we have the greatest respect for. He could see an incredibly attractive opportunity for him too. Eventually both the club and the player agreed that a deal would be in the best interests of both parties. Was it ideal that the bid came in on the final day of the window? No, but we stand by our decision that it was in the best interests of the club despite it being too late to bring in a replacement. Without Andy, we still achieved a very credible finishing position in the league.
So our statements that Andy was not for sale were not disingenuous. We had no intention of selling Andy, not at £25m, nor at £30m. Because we had never anticipated the vast sum eventually tabled then to all intents and purposes he was not for sale.
If some fans feel the can no longer trust what we say, that’s a shame, but all we can do is continue to tell it as we see it and hope that people will take us at our word.
Q.7 – Given that level 7 was deserted in some parts at the Fulham game, is there any reason why those who want to sing can’t all be sat together rather than upsetting fans who don’t want to sing, which appears to be the problem in the Strawberry corner? What has caused the club to fundamentally change its stance to standing in the stadium?
I think it’s worth restating the reasons behind the changes we’ve made to Level 7.
The Family Enclosure last season was extremely popular, so much so that demand regularly outstripped supply. It’s important for us to be a family friendly club and to encourage an atmosphere where future generations of supporters feel welcome and are properly catered for.
Given that our previous Family Enclosure wasn’t large enough to accommodate all those wishing to sit there, we took the decision to extend it from 5,000 to 6,500 seats, making it the largest dedicated family area in the Premier League. The sensible thing to do was to extend the existing enclosure into the North West corner, rather than ring-fence a separate pocket of seats elsewhere in the stadium.
The positive result of this has been that we now have an additional 1,000 children and their parents with season tickets in the Family Enclosure this year.
Understandably those fans who had to move seats as a result were disappointed to do so. Whilst it heralded the end of the Level 7 ‘singing section’, we didn’t want to create a new singing section elsewhere in the ground. We would far rather encourage a good vocal atmosphere around the whole stadium than in just one part.
The club hasn’t changed its position with regard to standing. Persistent standing has never been condoned, not least because it’s in breach of strict ground regulations that apply to every club in the country. The safety certificate issued to us by the local authority is conditional on us complying with those regulations. The bottom line is if we don’t take action to address persistent standing, then we will find ourselves in trouble with the local authority and ultimately the Football Licensing Authority.
Just to be clear here, we’re not talking about temporary standing during moments of excitement – that’s part and parcel of enjoying a football match. We’re talking about standing for long periods of the game.
We should point out that less than five percent of fans stand for long periods of a game. The vast majority want to use the seat they’ve paid for and abide by safety regulations. We’ve only had two home games so far, but we’ve already received over a hundred complaints from supporters upset that their matchday experience has been spoilt by a minority of fans who refused to sit down and on occasion used threats of violence and foul and abusive language in response to reasonable requests from fellow supporters.
A number of those complainants actually felt the situation was so disruptive that they chose to leave the ground at half time. That is not fair, plain and simple. We won’t tolerate persistent standing or foul and abusive language and we will look after the needs of the vast majority of supporters by issuing bans to those who continue to ignore our repeated requests.
Part two will follow shortly.