Throughout his time at NE1 Ashley has never publicly uttered a single word about his plans for the club; instead choosing to speak through first Chris Mort and then Derek Llambias. His inner sanctum of advisors has fluctuated between the very public (Wise, Jiminez) to the very private. He has sacked or lost 5 managers (Allardyce, Keegan, Kinnear, Houghton, Shearer), paid millions in compensation to managers and back room staff; taken platitudes and stick in unequal proportion; had the club dragged through the courts; seen us relegated from and promoted back to the Premier League; taken us on a European journey that was long on enjoyment but ultimately impacted on our fight for Premier League survival by a failure to provide his manager with a squad capable of competing on both domestic and European fronts. We have seen sponsors come and go. More go, if utterances about our commercial position are anything to go by. We’ve had the fuss concerning the ground name; the new club shirt sponsors, transfer policy, ticketing arrangements for away travel, the ban on watching training sessions and reserve fixtures, the abandonment of L7 signing section, heavy handed stewarding, issues concerning standing in the Gallowgate Corner and a general perception that some at the club simply enjoy rubbing our noses in the dirt.
We have been told that we are following the Arsenal model (16 consecutive seasons in the Champions' League), the Aston Villa model (a youth policy based on Academy A status); the Liverpool model (is there such a thing?). Thankfully we have never been informed that we are following the Sunderland model !
We have been left sometimes dazed, sometimes confused; sometimes ecstatic and at other times bereft of an understanding of where we are heading. We have praised, we have berated, we’ve screamed and we’ve at times protested but as supporters we have continued to support the team as we always have and always will; loyalty comes as part of our birthright; we are born into it and we carry it with dignity and pride in equal measure.
We have supporters who simply want to attend on match days. We have others who see results as the be all and end all of everything. Some attend religiously home and away, never missing a game. Others just do home games and some simply dip in and dip out when the desire of finances allow. Some no longer attend; be it for work, family, financial or personal reasons but each and every one of them remain supporters; carrying with them the passion during 90 minutes with the same strength of belonging as the next man.
That is the beauty of being a Geordie; being a Newcastle Supporter. Being part of something collective. We feed off the oxygen of the club; eat sleep and drink its movements, utterances, publicity, products, success and failure. We talk football incessantly; we talk Newcastle United even more. And when our club is wounded we feel wounded too. When it doesn’t talk to us we feel rebuked; when it is successful we feel buoyed and we buzz. Success being measured in victories not trophies, obviously.
But because Mike Ashley hasn’t uttered a single word to supporters in six years and hasn’t explained a single decision that he has made for the “benefit and stability” of the club, many feel angry; take it personal and start to question motives. A void is created and without the oxygen of communication the void starts to get filled for many with a fear, a loathing and a desire to seek answers; a desire for change.
The change that NUFC FANS UNITED seeks is a change in attitude; a removal of the mistrust that exists between Mike Ashley and supporters; a desire to help the club realize the importance of direct and positive communication and a desire to see success. That’s why we set the group up; convinced by Malcolm Dix that in the long term, club and supporter needed to listen to each other.
The recent appointment of a fans' liaison officer was a great start and Lee Marshall, with the backing of Derek Llambias (now departed) and the support of PR officer Wendy Taylor. Lee is doing a great job building a set up based on trust and a sound understanding how important communication is. Indeed, Derek himself was working his way slowly into the task and in recent months was pulling in the right direction; engaging once more with supporters with grace and courtesy; and having met with him I warmed to his change of approach. Don’t get me wrong; he was no saint and I’m sure that his single minded approach to some issues would have remained and would not necessarily have been for the good for the club (my opinion). But with commercial finances starting to come into to the club I think he was finally being released from the shackles that Mike Ashley’s business plan held him to.
We know Derek’s departure was not anticipated by either himself or his staff and his successor needs to build on the important work that Lee and Wendy were implementing through fan liaison; ensuring that supporters views are taken as of paramount importance in decision making in the future for the benefit of everyone associated with Newcastle United.
NUFC FANS UNITED hold monthly meetings. Our meetings are open to anyone to attend; we have an agenda that lays down topics for discussion; we don’t shape or develop opinion; we simply provide the vehicle for supporters to come together to discuss issues or concerns; listen to opinions and see those opinions, concerns and issues fed back to the club for consideration. We ask people to join as “members” simply so that we can e mail them and invite them to bring forward agenda points before each meeting. Our last meeting saw an abundance of opinion put forward with various levels of passion; none more so than by the MAOC group. The meeting provided them with a platform and they put forward a motion to those attending that endorsed their own opinion on Mike Ashley’s Suitability to be the custodian of Newcastle United. Many in the room agreed and their motion was passed on a show of hands. That group will no doubt now carry on with its campaigning in whatever manner they see fit; good luck to them. They’ve started the debate and already social networks will be fuelling that debate as we crawl towards the first fixtures of the season. If there is such a thing as a Mike Ashley In Campaign (MAIC) then they too will be given the same opportunity as MOAC if they so wish; come along; talk, be listened too and run their counter campaign. That’s what NUFC FANS UNITED is all about; providing supporters with a vehicle to have their opinion heard and listened to by the club and if anyone has a problem with that then there is probably little we can say or do that will be of benefit to them.
NUFC FANS UNITED won’t run campaigns for change; we won’t be holding protest rallies and we won’t be calling for anyone’s head; that’s not our purpose. But we will continue to provide fans with a platform for their concerns to be presented to the club and help their fans' liaison team in the best way we can.
NUFC FANS UNITED