Our man in the desert, Neil Mitchell, was on sports radio in Dubai yesterday. Scroll to around 34/ 35 minutes to hear his take on the Saudi Sovereign Wealth Fund/ NUFC takeover story that broke yesterday.
“Judge me after a period of time” he said.
“Judge him after 10 games they” they said.
“The hard work for Steve and his team starts immediately and we will be fully prepared for the challenge of a new Premier League season” Lee Charnley said.
Well we’ve reached 10 games. 10 games that have seen Bruce and his team put together 2 wins, 3 draws, 5 defeats; scored 6 goals, conceded 15 and sit in 17th place with 9 points.
Last weekend’s game was always going to be viewed by many as a benchmark for where Bruce was taking this team; a benchmark of his tactics and his style of play. Bruce leading us out of British Summer Time but hopefully not into the gloom of a northern winter of football discontent.
Managers lay the foundations; set the game plan. Players execute that plan. To ensure it is executed successfully the manager works during the week on the training pitch setting systems up; arranging the plan A, B and C, covering the scenarios that may occur in play. He dictates the pace, the face of the team; His team.
If that is what football management is about then what we witnessed against Wolves was the total antithesis.
Boy, were we crying out for some game management on Sunday. However, what we got was Bruce and his coaching staff providing zero impact from the touchline. There appears to be no system; no game plan, no game management, no adjustments made in-play. Bruce looks lost, devoid of any way to handle this aspect of the game unless it’s calling out of his own players while ignoring his responsibility of his own failings. The fact that at almost every opportunity he wants to talk about his own game numbers over 20 years in management says so much. Only our opponents’ sleepy start brought on possibly by their 2,000 plus mile midweek excursion to Bratislava saved us from a full 90 minutes of being outplayed on the pitch and out thought on the touchline.
As supporters we can handle the disappointment of missed chances, the poor refereeing decisions, the individual errors, the glaring shabbiness of VAR. What we cant handle is lack of any signs of a game plan or any sign of 90 minutes of game management.
What Ashley and Charnley see in Bruce is baffling. I can’t see it and I doubt many others can either. 10 games in and it is obvious to all who want to see, that this team is in trouble. It is shot shy; it lacks fluidity, at times it is ponderous and only the fact that supporters haven’t yet turned on them is saving them from a total drain in confidence. It’s coming, the question is simply when?. What is saving them presently from direct criticism is that fans know who is really to blame and have adopted their own way of showing their displeasure.
Apathy has replaced atmosphere inside St James’ Park on match days. It’s as if those attending are resigned to the inevitable but clinging on by their fingernails in hope, in desperation; that their fears are not being realised; in blind faith that something will turn this juggernaut around for the better. Even the pre match conversation seems to start with “it’s shite isn’t it?”
Ashley has sucked the lifeblood out of the club. The appetite for protest has been replaced with a simple “can’t be arsed anymore” until he finally sells up; be it in 12 weeks, 12 months or 12 years.
There are no flashing signs among the gloom that we now sit under that Bruce and his coaching team can stop the rot through performances on the pitch.
When the lights of the Benitez reign went out, Bruce was Ashley’s 30 watt incandescent replacement. Old fashioned; a relic of yesterday and simply not fit for purpose.
It’s as though nobody wants to break the match day social cycle; the pre and post match social get together that for older supporters has replaced the Friday nights out of the past but with a 90 minute football interlude thrown in. When they were younger it was Friday night pub crawl; meet at 7, drink til 10:30; bus home. Saturday repeat with the match as an interlude. Non-match days they still met up in the pubs in town; the only issue being that the wives or girlfriends usually tagged along, so they had to temper their language and keep football talk to a minimum!
For supporters of the (80’s) Keegan generation, match day has in many instances become the only social connection with the past that they can cling on to. The Friday night out start of the weekend doesn’t happen now. The town has changed; priorities have shifted.
Perhaps those supporters that still attend cling to match days out of habit and collective loyalty to each other. In their hearts they are and will remain Newcastle United black n white though and through. But in their heads some now see their club dying before their eyes. They still come to town simply for the meet up. But like the shipyards and the factories that once flourished along a once proud river the decline of their football club seems so familiar; so hard to stomach but with a dispiriting inevitability about it.
Some of the younger generation have taken a different stance and walked away on masse. The singing section is no more; the wonderful flag displays in the Gallowgate are now a past and ever more distant memory; Loyal supporters who give so much but are no longer willing to be played by Ashley. It hurts them just as much; there are no degrees of loyalty; no rights and wrongs. The young guard seems to be standing firm. Absence is temporary but their temporary is not time bonded.
What all generations of supporters agree on is that the shine has gone; rubbed away by the shallow, lifeless, hollow shadow of Mike Ashley.
The fear now for our football club is that this football winter of discontent becomes a nuclear winter; an Ashley winter; a winter where the sun barely rises; flickers but never shines; a winter of perpetual football darkness and gloom; a winter that under Ashley will show no sign of ending.
Surely there is someone out there who can bring us back into the light!
On World Suicide Prevention Day this September 10, the Newcastle United Foundation's #BeAGameChanger campaign continues to support football fans struggling with their mental health.
Learn more about the campaign here.
To boycott or not to boycott, that is the question. Back in the heady days of the birth of the Newcastle United Supporters Club (which became NUST) during 2008/ 2009, we were told that if we could organise a boycott for 6 matches, Mike Ashley would be forced to sell for less than £100M and all would be well at NUFC again. Sadly we couldn’t muster the numbers - less than 5,000 marched in protest of Keegan’s treatment at the hands of Ashley, Wise et al - and that season ended in relegation. The 2009/2010 Championship Campaign saw attendances drop to the low 40,000s, but of course St James’ Park was selling out again by the end of the season.
Fast forward 10 years, the Club is now valued at £350M, like KK before him Rafa has gone, the natives are restless and Ashley’s grip is tighter than ever. Can we organise a boycott? The appetite is there - 62% of Season Ticket Holders according to NUST’s survey - but as ever the proof of the pudding is in the eating - so for this reason we at NUFC Fans United stand with the boycotters. Will it work? Probably not, but after over a decade of Mike Ashley’s ownership we believe the only chance we have to change his way of doing business (or better yet to force him to sell) is to present a UNITED front with the ten groups and thousands of individual fans who are advocating action.
We have no desire to tell people what to do and have no animosity to those who wish to attend. There is one man responsible for the situation we are in, and he is the only one who will benefit from ill will and further division in the fanbase. We understand it is a complex decision and one we have taken with a heavy heart, however we feel the time has come to make a stand, and the message that swathes of empty seats in St James’ Park would send on a televised game is incredibly powerful. Always remember: UNITED we stand, divided we fall.
This was the mantra of the 1990s. Alongside Kevin Keegan, those five words did more to rehabilitate the image of football supporters in Newcastle, than anything else. They showed that the endemic racism of the National Front days was a past generation’s problem - not ours. To hear fellow fans chanting Tommy Robinson’s name along with other sectarian bollocks at last night’s match was a horrible shock to the system. Racism and the division Tommy Robinson stands for has no place in the modern game, and to hear it from our supporters - who for the past few months have been praying for a buy out by an Arab Sheikh - is embarrassing. It is absolutely guaranteed that any takeover from the Middle East will involve muslims, and let’s not forget the amazing muslim players who have worn the famous black and white. Before you say “not all muslims…”, that’s what *they* always say.
NUFC Fans United condemns this behaviour in the strongest possible terms, and requests that Newcastle United does the same. This language and lack of tolerance has no place in the modern game. We urge our fellow fans (especially at home games) to report offensive chanting by texting “HELP” with your seat location to 60070.
Formally with Ferco
I'm often asked how long it is now since I began banging the drum for rail seats. To be honest, I can't put my finger on the precise moment that I first became aware of them or that they represented an ideal way to bring formalised standing areas to otherwise all-seater stadia in the UK. But it certainly goes back at least 13 years, as I had a mate take this photo of me standing behind the rail seats at Hannover during the 2005 Confederations Cup.
A few years later, as I became more involved with the FSF safe standing campaign, I had the idea of touring the country with a 'Safe Standing Roadshow' to demonstrate to clubs, fans, politicians and the media that what I was championing was very definitely not a return to the huge, crumbling terraces of the '70s.
As you are probably aware, the roadshow unit was subsequently designed and built for me by Ferco Seating. They're the seating manufacturer that went on to do the installation of nearly 3,000 rail seats at Celtic in 2016 and the installation this summer at Shrewsbury. The deal was simple: they'd pay for the unit, I'd drive it around the UK in my own time and if, as a result, they sold some rail seats, I'd get a small commission (which I did for Celtic, but waived for Shrewsbury to help us hit the crowdfunding target sooner).
Since the first roadshow event at Molineux over 7 years ago, I've set up and taken down the rig over 100 times. It's been quite a slog, but ultimately very satisfying to see the message getting through: standing done properly is safe, and standing behind rail seats is safer than standing behind seats with no more than shin-high backs.
With the government review of the all-seater policy now taking place, official guidance on the use of "seats incorporating barriers" now included in the Green Guide and Spurs set to open their new ground with such seating in place, we are clearly getting close to achieving our objective, i.e. that every club should be free to offer fans the choice to sit or stand.
While my work as a campaigning fan will not be finally over until all clubs have that freedom, it is clear that we are now entering a phase where club chairmen, CEOs, stadium managers and architects want not only advice from an 'educated amateur', but also authoritative information on how they can use rail seats to enhance spectator safety, what they will cost and how soon they can be installed. In order that I can add that string to my bow, I have therefore made my arrangement with Ferco a more formal one. While still earning my living primarily from my translation work and still spending a good deal of my time in Germany (not least cheering on Union Berlin!), I will now also be formally representing Ferco as and when clubs, architects and stadium developers want to talk about rail seats or other forms of stadium seating.
For fans that means that I'm still banging the drum for rail seats, but can now additionally talk with their club about prices, delivery times and installation without slowing things down by having to act, as previously, just as the middle man. For clubs and architects it likewise means a single point of contact for information, advice and quotations.
We're not quite at the finishing line yet. But we're getting close. Hopefully this new arrangement will help me to be of even more assistance to fans and clubs as we enter the home straight.
On 6th November 1978 I walked onto main site of the DHSS and started my first day in the Civil Service in CPB Ledgers 09 Room B1704. 40 years to the day later and I'm standing on stage at the Newcastle United FC Foundation Dinner being interviewed by the BBC's Gabby Logan; chatting with Rafa Benitez, Lady Elsie Robson, former Newcastle United and England International Andy Cole and then being presented with the Alder and Sweeney Community award 2018 by Newcastle United star player Ayoze Perez. An award named in honour of the two Newcastle United supporters who lost their lives along with 281 other passengers and 15 crew when Malaysian Airways flight MH17 was shot down over the Ukraine on 17th July 2014.
I accepted the award not for myself but on behalf of the 52,000 Newcastle United supporters who give their backing and donate to the NUFC Fans Foodbank on match days; helping to feed over 1.000 people a week who attend the Newcastle West End Foodbank; the largest Foodbank in Europe. The idea for a collection point on match days came about after a conversation with two friends, Colin Whittle and Bill Corcoran, having seen Ken Loach's film I Daniel Blake and wondered if there was anything we, as football supporters could do to empower NUFC's fanbase to help people in our community that needed support.
We had faith in our fellow football supporters to rally around and In less than 2 seasons the match day donation station has raised cash and produce donations to the value of over £170,000. last Saturday prior to the Premier League game v Bournemouth, a further £2,300, 350kg of food produce and over 450 advent calendars were added to that total. As a now ex civil servant I find it shocking that so many are being impacted by our Government's policies and practices that underpin Universal Credit (UC) and make food banks so essential and are now being used by Government Ministers as a backstop holding together their failing policy.
Football clubs are often viewed as the mealticket workplace of pandered athletes; young men out of touch with reality. However, I can honestly say that in Newcastle United, their playing, coaching and executives teams, its charitable arm the Newcastle United Foundation and its senior management, operations, finance and development teams, learning and skills coaches, community officers, health and football development coaches, the match day staff; including hospitality, safety, security, corporate and facilities and not forgetting the tea lady we have a collective team who have truly embraced the principles of the Newcastle Fans Foodbank Initiative, supporting the work of the Newcastle West End Foodbank. Their support has played a huge part in the initiatives success and every supporter should be proud of their involvement. As they should their own!
Foodbanks are not there to replace any part of a benefits system but sadly UC is making their need even greater than ever. we aren't feeding junkies, rough sleepers or benefit cheats; we are feeding normal families who don't have enough money to see them through the week; can't survive waiting up to 12 weeks for benefits to be put in place; mothers who are struggling to balance between buying school uniforms, heating their homes, feeding their children and often going without hot meals themselves.
To anyone and everyone who donates to a foodbank; THANK YOU.
There is industrial action on trains in the South over the weekend.
From Waterloo: Nothing doing. All services are run by South Western Railway, the company who are in dispute with RMT over the need for guards on trains. Some services may run, but they'll be unreliable and crowded.
09:16 to Southampton Central, arriving at 12:03. Calling at Clapham Junction 9:23, East Croydon 9:33, Gatwick Airport 9:50, Three Bridges 9:57, Crawley 10:03, Horsham 10:16, Billingshurst 10:25, Pulborough 10:32, Arundel 10:41, Ford 10:48, Barnham 10:59 Chichester 11:07, Southbourne 11:14, Emsworth 11:17, Havant 11:21, Cosham 11:29, Portchester 11:33, Fareham 11:39, and Swanwick 11:45
This service runs at 16 minutes past each hour, always calling at the same stops. The 11:16 is the last service to get there in time to see the kickoff.
Southampton Central 17:13 to Victoria, arrives 19:58. Calling at Swanwick 17:32, Fareham 17:39, Portchester 17:44, Cosham 17:48, Havant 17:55, Emsworth 17:58, Southbourne 18:01, Chichester 19:09, Barnham 18:28, Arundel 18:38, Pulborough 18:50, Billingshurst 18:57, Horsham 19:06, Crawley 19:16, Three Bridges 19:21, Gatwick Airport 19:26, East Croydon 19:41, Clapham Junction 19:51
This service runs at 13 minutes past each hour until 20:13 (arrives Victoria 22:58). This is the last service back to Victoria.
Sales of a beautiful new dahlia have raised a magnificent £1,900 to support the work of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.
The dahlia, Westerton Ella Grace, is being sold by Halls of Heddon and was bred by brothers Gordon and Harold Hodgson from Binchester, near Bishop Auckland.
Halls of Heddon is one of the country’s leading dahlia and chrysanthemum nurseries and sends out tens of thousands of plants annually to growers across the UK and beyond.
Each year, Halls introduces a number of new varieties on behalf of amateur breeders, which are available exclusively through the nursery. Those breeders, like Gordon and Harold, are entitled to a royalty payment based on the number of plants sold in the first year of introduction.
Very generously, the brothers requested the money earned through this new dahlia, Westerton Ella Grace, be donated to the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation. It is the ninth dahlia Gordon and Harold have bred and sold commercially, and it has been the best-selling dahlia variety for Halls this year.
Gordon, who has been breeding dahlias since 2009, says: “I’ve always been interested in the garden and I love the colour and variety of dahlias. They create an oasis of colour.
“Ella Grace is a tall, strong variety. For the exhibitors, it’s the form of this dahlia they like. It’s round and has good petal formation. But it’s gone out to a variety of people and lots have just wanted it for their gardens because they love the colour.
“This is the third time Harold and I have chosen to donate money raised through our flowers to the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation. We’ve both suffered from cancer so it feels like the right thing to do.”
Sir Bobby Robson launched his Foundation in 2008 to help find more effective ways to detect and treat cancer.
The work funded directly benefits cancer patients in the North East and Cumbria and plays a significant role in the international fight against the disease.
Lady Elsie was very proud to receive the cheque on behalf of the charity and was thrilled to leave Halls with a large bouquet of Westerton Ella Grace dahlias
Lady Elsie says: “I’ve really enjoyed my visit to Halls. What lovely people and I’m so grateful to everyone involved for raising this money.
“How wonderful to help raise funds for our Foundation with something so beautiful and which gives so much pleasure to gardeners.”
Halls of Heddon was founded in 1921 and remains a family business. Run by a team including husband and wife, Dave and Sue Hall, the nursery sent out more than 70,000 plants this year.
Gordon named Westerton Ella Grace after the Halls’ great niece, something Dave and Sue are very proud of.
Sue says: “We’re so happy that Gordon named this beautiful dahlia after our great niece. I snuck up on him one day when he was up at the nursery and said, if you ever need a new flower name Ella Grace is beautiful. So I think my gentle persuasion may have helped!
“It’s a gorgeous dahlia and has already won some prizes nationally. We’re thrilled with how well it’s sold. I think it’s the combination of a great breeder, flower and cause.”
Working within the NHS, the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation does not employ professional fundraisers to proactively raise money and relies completely on third party, volunteer fundraisers and the incredible generosity of the general public.
September 12, 2018 is the Sports Direct AGM. This is an opportunity for shareholders in the Company to ask the Board questions about their running of the business. This level of transparency exists because Sports Direct is a publicly traded company, their shares can be bought and sold on the Stock Market by anyone, and the stock price is effected by things like governance and profits. External factors like bad press and government investigations can also impact share price, and of course when someone has a lot of their wealth tied up in the wallpaper that is Sports Direct shares, their personal wealth can be impacted heavily by these factors too. It’s interesting to note that in the few weeks since the #IfRafaGoesWeGo movement started that the Sports Direct share price has dropped 15% or so.
Unfortunately Newcastle United is not a public company, rather it is a private limited company and there are no external shareholders - Mike Ashley (well St James’ Holdings) - owns Newcastle United Limited lock stock and barrel. That does not mean that his ownership and governance of Newcastle United can go completely without scrutiny. The point of a limited company is to separate it from the owner and director, to create a separate entity to the owner and directors, and protect them in case the limited company fails. The owners and the directors are exposed to liabilities in a limited way. In exchange for this protection there are a whole host of laws and regulations that the company and directors (who are generally, but not always, the owners) must adhere to. There are documents, papers and accounts that must be filed annually and these are published by Companies House (which also is one of the departments of HM Government which regulates Companies).
In the case of Newcastle United Limited, there is currently only one Company Director, Lee Charnley. We all know that Mr Charnley has some control over the running of Newcastle United, we’ve also heard the names Justin Barnes and Keith Bishop bandied about. We all know that while many day to day decisions about the running of Newcastle United are taken by Lee Charnley, the ultimate Boss is Mike Ashley. He can keep Newcastle United at arm’s length as much as he wants, but the facts are the facts: St James’ Holdings is listed as a Person with Significant Control of Newcastle United Limited and a certain Michael James Wallace Ashley is listed the sole Director (and Person with Significant Control) of St James’ Holdings Ltd as well as the sole Director and shareholder of MASH Holdings Ltd.
Questions to consider:
1. Is Mike Ashley (as the ultimate shareholder and director) in breach of Company Law by running Newcastle United Ltd for Sports Direct’s and his own benefit rather than for the benefit of NUFC?
2. How was it in NUFC’s interest for Newcastle United Ltd to sell the Gallowgate land to MASH Holdings Ltd, thus preventing its own physical expansion?
3. Is the free advertising of Sports Direct at St James’ Park declared as a benefit in kind? If so what is the value? If not, what does HMRC have to say about the arrangement?
3. What impact does Sports Direct’s free advertising at St James’ Park have on Newcastle United Ltd’s bottom line?
4. Given what we know about the relationship between Newcastle United Ltd and Sports Direct PLC, what benefits does Newcastle United get from the arrangements?
5. How does the bad publicity around Mike Ashley’s ownership of Newcastle United Ltd impact on Sports Direct (and vice versa)?
6. Considering that Keith Bishop Associates Ltd is 51% owned by Sports Direct (which is majority owned by Mike Ashley), and is also paid by Newcastle United Ltd, could some of the negative stories about Newcastle United being spun by people connected to either SD or KBA be deemed to be against the best interests of Newcastle United - while KBA PR is simultaneously being paid by Newcastle United Ltd? Is this conflict of interest acceptable?
The Sports Direct AGM would be an ideal time for its Chairman Keith Hellawell to clarify the financial benefits that Sports Direct gain from their major shareholder Michael James Wallace Ashley's ownership of Newcastle United Ltd and why his company pays nothing to Newcastle United Ltd in exchange for these benefits. Over you you Mr Hellawell.
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