The summer has been a busy one at NE1. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs have paid a visit, new shirt sponsors arrived, the annual visit by the RFL has been and gone, the decorators will no doubt have given the New Stand concourse its annual lick of paint and a new playing surface has been laid. The retained list has been announced, the pre season fixtures released and the club is gearing up for the arrival of Tottenham Hotspur to St James’ Park and our first Premier League fixture of the season. All seems on track.
Only one problem; the club has been bereft of any new additions to the first team squad. Now that in itself would not normally concern supporters, after all we are still some weeks away from the opening fixture. The window didn’t open until June and there is still over week or so to go until the first team squad returns to Darsley Park to commence their pre season training. However, this is Newcastle United and these are not normal times.
Every Newcastle United supporter knows that the first team squad needs strengthening, not just in terms of numbers but in quality if it is to compete in the Premier League this season and start to once again cement its place in the strongest, most competitive and richest league in the world and in Rafa Benitez the Club has the perfect man to rebuild the club and start to give the fans the sight of the success they so richly deserve. What is worrying many fans however is that we are not seeing the numbers or quality materialising.
Rafa has stated on many an occasion during the close season that he had targets in his sights and wanted to act quickly in bringing them in. Indeed he dispensed with his holidays to concentrate bringing those targets onboard and knowing what we do about Rafa, the groundwork needed to determine the character and mentality of his targets will have been completed and reported back on by his backroom team long before any approaches or soundings made to clubs or agents. Rafa knows who he wants; he knows that those targets want to come and sign for Newcastle United and he knows that with every day that passes without progress the likelihood of those targets arriving diminish as agents look to get their clients signed up and settled before pre season training commences.
Supporters are reading into the timing of the departure of Graeme Carr and wondering if the lack of transfer activity is a sign that those who hold the purse strings are not on the same page as Rafa. While Rafa has sought to run his own ship, Carr has remained highly influential behind the scenes and you have to wonder if the lack of new signings has anything to do with Ashley holding onto the purse strings while rumours of takeovers circulate daily. What is obvious is that Ashley has been distracted by the goings on at his other club Glasgow Rangers. The Craig Whyte court case, the agreement to renegotiate the Sports Direct retail arrangement and now the sudden sale of his stake in Rangers has come at a time when Ashley and his acolytes should have been concentrating on Newcastle United.
But it is beginning to look more and more likely that the goings on at Rangers, Newcastle United’s HMRC issues and now the ongoing rumours of Ashley being willing to talk to potential investors have taken up more of Ashley and the club’s time than it has helping Rafa rebuild NUFC in his shape.
We know that transfer targets have been missed, we know that players who Rafa considered key to his rebuilding efforts have slipped through the net and we know that Rafa is more frustrated than he has even been at the failure of the club to make the necessary transfer breakthroughs that he is seeking.
Now is the time for those in a position of influence at the club to step forward and help Rafa get on with the job of building a first team squad which wont simply slip us back in to the championship. The press tells us that there is a new face prowling the Gallowgate corridors. We know nothing about him other than he is a loyal member of Ashley’s trusted team of executives whom he repeatedly calls upon to look after his business investments. Fans are wondering who this invisible man is, what is his role, what are his motives; what influence over the purse strings does he hold and why has he been brought in?
The Premier League is a different beast to the one we left in May 2016. It is awash with TV money. Players know it, agents know it and fans know it. It is time for those who control the purse strings to appreciate that and act accordingly otherwise the excitement that fans hold for the new season will quickly evaporate and pity those who will be in the firing line if it does.
After years of lobbying by football fans across Britain The Premier League has taken a gigantic step towards endorsing the principle by announcing that is asking all 20 clubs for their opinions on safe standing. Outlawed in the top two Divisions since the Taylor Report findings in 1990 following the Hillsborough disaster, the Premier League have whenever asked always backed away from discussing safe standing as a concept that it would endorse or seek to introduce. However, it now appears to be willing to discuss the matter and has written to all 20 Premier League clubs asking for their views. The story was broken by The Mail and you can read it here.
Football fan Jon Darch who has been instrumental in running the safestanding campaign that has been at the forefront of the lobbying campaign has written an open letter to supporters, which we have reproduced below. If you would like to see areas designed for safe standing introduced at St James’ Park then please follow Jon’s advice and make your feelings known to the club.
"You may recall that a few years ago the Football League carried out a similar exercise. 77% of its clubs mandated the League's executive team as a result to lobby government for safe standing trials and to speak to the Sports Ground Safety Authority to try to get rail seating approved. It took the League a while, but a process is now in place whereby some EFL clubs can apply to install rail seats.
So these things can produce results.
That's why it's important that all EPL clubs are urged to respond positively to the letter that they've been sent by Richard Scudamore's team.
I've not seen it, so can't tell you exactly what it says. Going by that article, however, it sounds as though it asks for the clubs' views on various aspects of safe standing and also whether they would be interested in their ground acting as a pilot site.
I do know that some EPL clubs are definitely keen to run a pilot and so I'm sure that they will make that known. Whether your club is at that stage yet, or not, it would be useful all the same if you could contact them and encourage them to indicate support for safe standing in their reply (even at the most conservative level, just to say that they have no objection to other clubs running pilots and would watch further developments with interest). Hopefully, though, they will be much more enthusiastic than that!
So, that's it. Do please make contact at your club with whomever it is that you normally speak to about safe standing issues and let them know that you're hoping that they send back a positive reply.
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