Re the last NUFC Fans United Meeting on 13.11.2013 about the NUST ban from the Newcastle United Fans' Forum, please see our letter that has been sent to Lee Marshall the NUFC Supporter Liaison Officer.
To download the minutes please visit our Meetings page.
CHRONICLE 10 QUESTIONS
The meeting opened with a short introduction from Steve Hastie who then handed over to Lee Marshall, Supporter Liaison Officer at NUFC, who wanted to respond to some of points from the ten questions put by fans and raised via that day’s edition of the Chronicle. Lee admitted that this was not an easy thing to do, that his answers would be limited but that he would be “as honest and candid” as possible.
Regarding the £30m loan Mike Ashley gave to the club following relegation to keep big players and help promotion; this was interest free. Last year just over £11m was paid back. The remaining £18m+ is still with the club, to be paid back at a date in the future. This was documented in the last set of club accounts.
Lee stated that as far as he is aware, Mike Ashley is not actively trying to sell NUFC.
Regarding why Mike Ashley doesn’t communicate with the fans, Lee responded that not many owners of other clubs have a dialogue with supporters. Several examples were given, including Roman Abramovich and the Glazers. A response from the floor said that Abramovich doesn’t need to talk as Chelsea’s success speaks for him. Lee stated that the new Fans’ Forum will give supporters the opportunity to speak to those who run the club.
The Chronicle raised concerns over the new Sports Direct News website as the site had launched with a story that Wayne Rooney was joining Newcastle and another story on deadline day on the site stated that Man Utd were late bidders for Yohan Cabaye. Lee stated that the site is a joint venture between Sports Direct and My London News and that they had received no information from NUFC regarding either story.
Lee acknowledged the question as to whether Mike Ashley has a blueprint for NUFC and was asked from the floor if the blueprint was the same as the ‘grand plan’ Derek Llambias had talked of some time ago in which Arsenal and Aston Villa were cited as models to follow. Lee did not know if this was the same as the plan currently in place but would seek further clarification on this.
As the questions had just been published that day, Lee had not been able to cover all the points thoroughly, but he would attempt able to clarify some issues further at a future date.
ALAN PARDEW’S TRANSFER STATEMENT/JOE KINNEAR’S ROLE
Several comments from the floor expressed displeasure at the press statement released by the club, attributed to Alan Pardew with regards to the club’s transfer business over the summer. Lee stated that it contained some ‘salient points’ in that there was money available for transfers, but that it was felt that the opportunities to bring the right players in at the right price did not occur. Lee said that they could have used the money to bringing in a number of players during the transfer window, but that they would have been ‘bodies’ filling up the dressing room rather than the right players for NUFC. He went onto say that a number of deals done in January had originally been earmarked for this summer, but had been brought forward. He said had Yoan Gouffran and Moussa Sissoko been signed this summer rather than in January, then the signings of these players along with the loan deal for Loic Remy would have changed fans’ opinions and that NUFC have been amongst the biggest spenders regarding transfers during the 2013 calendar year and of the current premier league clubs we were the eighth highest spenders over that period. It was pointed out from the floor that choosing dates to suit he would counter that over the previous 6 years we were bottom of that spending group.
Regarding Joe Kinnear’s role, Lee stated that Alan Pardew manages the team and as far as Lee is aware, Pardew and chief scout Graham Carr work together on identifying transfer targets, which they then take to Joe Kinnear for him to justify to Mike Ashley.
One comment from the floor said that although they disagreed with the points made in the statement, they were pleased to see the club communicating with the fans. The speaker felt that this was a positive step and hoped there would be more communication in the future. And that perhaps had the Club managed fans' expectations more effectively then a lot of the current anguish could have been avoided.
Lee spoke some more about the Fans’ Forum. As discussed in previous meetings, NUFC Fans Utd are one of three fan groups (alongside Newcastle United Supporters Trust and Newcastle United Disabled Supporters Association) to hold a permanent seat on the forum. There were questions from the floor over the make up of other fan representatives. One comment asked why representatives had been picked on areas of the ground. It was felt that supporters wouldn’t know whom their representative was and may hold completely different opinions. Lee stated that representatives could be contacted via the club website. However there were more concerns from the floor that this would mean the club themselves would be in control of how fans contact their representative. Further comments from the floor suggested that it would have been fairer to have representation from more fan groups, websites, blogs, fanzines etc, which may hold more similar opinions than someone who happens to sit in the same area of the stadium, and where the ability to contact and discuss matters with them are more open, and independent of NUFC. Lee stated that “observer roles” may be created for the fanzines. Lee pointed out that advice and guidance from the FSF had been sought on how the formation of the fans forum and that the formation was very similar to those adopted by many other clubs.
A point raised from the floor regarding overseas/ long-distance fans and how they could be included and/ or represented by the Fans’ Forum, Lee acknowledged this situation and said the Club were exploring solutions to this.
A further question from the floor asked if it would be possible to stream the fan forum meetings online. Lee stated that this would be difficult as the Media team was not resourced to provide such a service at this time. It was then pointed out that technology makes this a simple task and that lack of man-power wasn’t really an excuse. Lee countered by saying, that rather like with our meetings - if there is no press and no “recording” he and the Club feel they can be more candid and have a more open discussion.
WONGA/SPORTS DIRECT STADIUM ADVERTISING
A question was raised from the floor as to why Sports Direct signs are so prevalent when Wonga are the main club sponsors. Lee replied that the Wonga advertising in St James’ Park replaces that of the previous sponsors, Virgin Money. Therefore the Sports Direct adverts and their placements remain unchanged.
AWAY TICKETS ENHANCEMENT FUND
As discussed briefly at the last meeting, the FA have given each club an Away Ticket Enhancement fund to encourage away travel. Lee said that as yet NUFC have ‘no firm plans’ how to spend their allocation and that ‘the best people for ideas to come from are the fans’. One idea suggested would be free away travel with every away ticket.
Whilst ticketing was being discussed, it was raised from the floor that there were still serious issues with the ticketing system - away ticket travel groups being broken up and tickets being sent to the wrong travel group member etc. Lee acknowledged that this is a problem and that in the first instance fans should seek support from the box office. This was countered from the floor that as the box office is now tied into the club shop at St James’ Park that the level of knowledge of staff can be limited at best and that solutions are not generally forthcoming.
Lee has spoken to the Division ’92 fans’ group about reinstating a singing section. The initial idea is that they, along with any other interested groups or individuals will create their own charter and standards of behaviour to adhere to which the club would then agree. Only those signing up to the charter would be permitted to be in the designated area. The club would also look at providing flags, banners and other ‘stadium decoration’ for the area, with fan input and even fans designing the banners themselves. Lee cited the impressive displays by Dortmund fans and stated that this is the sort of thing ‘NUFC should be doing’. Lee is arranging for the group to meet with the club to discuss this specific matter further.
This led onto a point from the floor made about the Joe Kinnear banner briefly displayed during the West Ham match and was forcibly then taken down by stewards. It was felt that the club should have taken it with a bit of humour and they should be less quick to censor fans’ voices.
@NUFCOFFICIAL TWITTER ACCOUNT
Concern was expressed about the content tweeted by the club’s official twitter account. It was felt that the vast majority of tweets made from the account concern club shop merchandise, and that people follow the account for news, views and communication from and with the club. It was felt that fans get little response trying to contact and communicate with the club via the twitter account. The question was asked if it would be possible to have separate accounts, one for club news and views and another for merchandise. Lee felt that if that were the case, the commercial department would not be happy as nobody would follow the commercial account.it was agreed that some of the merchandising related tweets have been ill-timed, that the club shop need to have better judgement and be more savvy re their tweets. Lee hopes that the account can become more balanced and engage more with Newcastle fans.
NUFC FANS UTD COMMUNICATION
Some comments were made from new attendees who had recently learnt of the group’s existence. Although impressed by the meeting, they felt that Fans Utd needs to improve communication beyond the internet. The speaker said that he does not use fans sites, blogs or social media and had only learnt of the group recently via a friend. He felt that there are many NUFC fans who are the same, but who would be interested in attending Fans Utd meetings. Another comment was also raised regarding the Fans Utd website. It was felt that the website should be revamped and contain more information. This was acknowledged and will look into making improvements to the site. The point was made that those involved in Fans Utd do this in their spare time and have other commitments and jobs and that as the group is open, anyone is welcome to help out.
Steve Hastie talked about the Fairs Club and their campaign for a plaque commemorating Joe Harvey; he said that NUFC Fans Utd with Wraith Promotions were hosting the “Mackem Slayers” dinner on October 17th at the Lancastrian Suite in order to help raise funds for the plaque. Someone from the floor enquired why there was no statue of Joe Harvey and why the campaign was for a plaque rather than a statue. The questioner went on to say that with modern fundraising platforms like Kickstarter that getting the necessary funds in place to have a statue commissioned seemed entirely possible. Someone else from the floor suggested the Club should rename the East Stand in honour of Joe Harvey. All of this will be relayed back to Bill Gibbs and Harry Watson from the Fairs Cup Group who are in charge of the Joe Harvey Memorial Fund.
Steve also brought attention to a talk on the life of one of our most successful players Colin Veitch being held at at the Corner House, Heaton on Wednesday 25 September at 7pm. At the talk you will hear about his part in the history of Newcastle United, the PFA and the People’s Theatre – and what his story tells us about the Edwardian era and life in Newcastle and Heaton at that time. More information can be found here.
To download the minted please go to our Meetings page
OPEN MEETING, NEWCASTLE LABOUR CLUB
INTRODUCTION AND WELCOME
Steve Hastie gave a brief introduction, outlining the agenda which all attendees received copies of, before introducing Newcastle United’s Supporter Liaison Officer, Lee Marshall. Lee began by talking about some of the things that have been achieved by the Club working in partnership with Fans United. These include the return of the Gates to St James’ Park and Steve Harper’s 20 Years Charity Match.
Lee provided information on the Fans Forum recently announced by the club. He stated that much of the format and views have been shaped following meeting and talking to fans and fan groups. The club want to establish a robust structure for the forum so that it will stand up to scrutiny. They have worked to do this by working in consultation with the Football Supporters Federation who have provided feedback and constructive criticism to the club. They have also looked at examples from other clubs where forums are already operating. The forum will contain 15 fans. Three of these will be held permanently by established fans groups, NUFC Fans United, Newcastle United Supporters Trust (NUST) and Newcastle United Disabled Supporters Association (NUSDA).
The 12 remaining fan seats are open to all Newcastle United fans to apply and they will represent different segments of the clubs fans base. These will include season ticket holders in the Milburn, East, Gallowgate and Leazes stands, an Away Season Ticket Holder, A Long Distance Traveller (attending at least five home games a season), a Young Person’s representative (under 21), an over 65s representative, a supporters club seat (for the secretary or chair of any supporters club containing a minimum of 20 members), a Black and White member (non season ticket holder), a corporate member and an equality representative. Two board members, John Irving and Lee Charnley will also sit on the panel, along with the club’s heads of safety, security, ticketing and media. The Newcastle United Foundation and Wonga will also be represented. Lee stated that the forum will meet for the first time in September. Lee stated that the introduction of the fans forum does not signal the end of him attending Fans United meetings and that the club will continue to attend.
When questioned about how non-ST holders can be represented by the Fans Forum, Lee explained that that was why the Trust, Fans United and NUDSA have permanent seats on the Forum. We can act as funnels, gathering views and opinion from fans and non-ST holders and feed that back to the Forum.
People were concerned that the Fans Forum is just a UEFA box ticking exercise as UEFA have a directive about improving supporter engagement with Clubs and the Supporter Liaison Officer (in NUFC’s case Lee Marshall) is a UEFA mandated position. Lee accepted this, but went on to explain that although the SLO is a UEFA mandate; the Fans Forum is not. The Fans Forum has been set up to give fans a line of communication with the boardroom, and two senior directors will sit on the Fans Forum when it meets quarterly.
People were also dismayed that Mike Ashley will not be in attendance and once again the question of why he does not address the fans, talk to the fans or explain his plans and motives for the Club to the fans was raised. It was suggested from the floor that Mr Ashley writes the programme notes occasionally as this would provide him with his own unedited platform to tell fans what is happening.
Malcolm Dix, Steve Wraith and Ian Cusack all said at various points that the Forum is great progress, coming from a regime that has had such a poor relationship with the fans; and that it should be given a chance to see what it can achieve.
Linking in with Lee’s information about the Fans Forum, Steve confirmed that Fans United will use our seat on the panel to pass on queries, comments and issued that have been raised by fans through ourselves. In addition to being able to do this via the meetings, social media, website and emails, Steve also announced that Fans United intend to create a You Tube account. This will allow fans to send video comments which will be uploaded to the Fans United website and can be viewed by other fans.
Both Lee and Steve updated the meeting on the progress of ‘the Gates’. They are currently undergoing restoration which is nearing completion. They are set to be installed on Friday August 23, the day before the first home game of the season against West Ham. There will be an installation ceremony on the day of the game itself.
Issues concerning away ticket allocations have been raised with the club previously through a number of sources including Fans United. The club has not always taken full allocations due to clubs having to reimburse the home club for unsold tickets. The club has pressed the Premier League to change this ruling and has obtained support from a number of other clubs. This has resulted in the Premier League changing the allocation rules to allow away clubs to take up the full allocation without being charged for unsold allocations, which is at present being ratified.
A number of ticketing issues from the floor were raised with Lee, in particular problems experienced as to how tickets are linked (with regards to applying for away games with friends/family members), and also the fact that though season ticket prices are frozen the compulsory membership fees are still rising year on year.
These are issues that Lee will feed back to the club on.
Questions were raised with Lee regarding the possibility of allowing fans to bring in flags, banners and surfers. It was noted that on occasions the club and or sponsors have had large scale banners and surfers in the ground, yet fans have not been allowed to bring their own on the grounds of health and safety. Lee agreed that if this is the case, it needs to be looked at. He stated that fans wishing to bring flags and banners should contact the club, to meet with the security team for advice. It was raised from the floor that fans had already done that were generally fobbed off with health and safety commonly being used as an excuse. Lee invited any fans who would like to work with him on this issue to contact him.
After a point raised from the floor, re flares and smoke bombs, Lee explained that prior to the Man City game all away fans were not routinely searched on entering SJP. Following the flare incident at that game, NUFC changed their policy and ALL away fans are routinely searched. Steve Hastie added that it might seem hypocritical to outsiders that we complain about away fans bringing flares into the ground when our away support routinely let off flares and smoke bombs during our Europa Cup campaign. Wendy Taylor (NUFC Head of Media) confirmed that NUFC were fined heavily for both flares and streakers by UEFA last season.
Points from Twitter included “why is the stewarding in the Strawberry Corner so aggressive and OTT?” and “even after Man City, flares were still a problem at SJP”
Calls for the return of a singing section have been brought up with Lee previously and the issue continues to be brought up with Fans United. Lee was asked if he had any further progress on the issue. Lee has fed this back to the club and the matter is being discussed within the club, though he does not have any specific updates or information at this time. NUFC Fans United will continue to press the Club on this matter. The consensus from Twitter was if the singing section is to be reinstated can it be located in The Strawberry Corner.
Steve talked about the recent Joe Harvey tribute night.. The organisers have raised £10,000 for a plaque which will be installed at St James’ Park. NUFC Fans United extent their congratulations to the Fairs Club for their sterling work in ensuring that the Joe Harvey Memorial Plaque will be installed.
NUMBER 9 PLATFORM
A new online fanzine, The Number 9 launches in August and hopes to become a platform to promote various NUFC related angles online. The fanzine and Fans United hope to establish a regular #NUFCHour on Twitter to help in this.
ANY OTHER BUSINESS
Lee was asked if there was an update on the issue of the club providing/running its own travel club for away games. No update as yet.
It was also suggested that the club set up regular ‘Footballers Dinners’ events at St James’ to allow fans and players to engage with one another.
At the end of the evening Wendy Taylor stood up and explained that although she and Lee might appear to be relatively junior members of staff, they do work at the Club and there aren’t “twenty layers of management” between themselves and Mike Ashley. She meets Mr Ashley “every few weeks” and feeds back what she hears from the fans; “he does get the message”.
The meeting took place on the fourth anniversary of Sir Bobby Robson’s death. It was suggested that in the future a regular pre-season tournament could be established involving Sir Bobby’s previous clubs. This suggestion proved to be popular with those in attendance.
The meeting ended with a minute’s applause in memory of Sir Bobby.
The situation that we now find ourselves in is all Mike Ashley’s making. He chose to appoint Joe Kinnear; he allowed Kinnear free reign to make the announcement without notifying anyone at the club; he allowed Kinnear to go back on Talksport and continue to release information about his appointment, his position within the club and the imminent change of job description of the MD Derek Llambias. He also allowed Kinnear to explain the new transfer policy that the club would adopt; everything going through Kinnear himself.
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
We should have included this into the minutes just make everyone aware of what was asked. Just for reference, we received over 500 questions (many were repeats), they were compiled into the following sections and list. These questions were passed on the NUFC on Monday and a sample were read out to start the meeting. Further questions were asked on the night, but nothing that provided a major departure from the below.
General Q’s about JK
General Mike Ashley/ Ownership
Transfer/ Team questions
Any other business
Sorry if we missed your question or you felt yours was significantly different to the above
[Below is part of a blog post entitled Jesus F***ing Krist - read the full post here]
While I can understand the deep frustration and sense of despair many supporters now feel, it is wrong to throw up our hands in frustration and say that we can’t do anything. Tactics, so vitally important on the pitch, have an equally compelling place among our support as we seek to make a principled stand. Do not despair; if we supporters work together, we are no longer weak, isolated voices crying in the wilderness; we will be strong, coherent, effective and we will be listened to. However, and this is of the utmost importance, we must work together; egos, personal spats and historic feuds, need to be put to one side and every concerned Newcastle United fan, whether they are in the NUFC Fans United and toon talk camp, on the fence with Black & White Daft and nufc.com or failing to grasp the nettle with The Mag and the painfully ineffectual and utterly discredited NUST, or even if they’re unaligned and railing in fury and impotent anger on message boards, Twitter or blogs, has to come together as a broad and inclusive alliance, formed from the grassroots up, with the intention of reclaiming our club from the clutches of evil, rapacious capitalists who seek to serve only their own interests at every possible opportunity. What has gone on in the past must remain there; again, the time is right for all supporters to work together to express our collective fury and contempt at this decision and, hopefully, the desire to move the club forward by taking control of it ourselves.
However, it is abundantly clear to me that any supporter-led organisation needs to be very clear about principles and tactics from the outset. WB Yeats claimed The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity; while I do not necessarily accept this to be the case with our fans, it is of paramount importance that the Newcastle United support transforms itself in to a mass, democratic movement of all supporters, based on unshakeable principles and clear tactics, rather than being born of high minded intentions, but degenerating in to a shouty self-perpetuating vanguard of opportunists with little knowledge of and even less affection for Newcastle United. The danger of the future potential primacy of a cadre of inflexible ideologues using the travails of Newcastle United as a Trojan horse for their own ends, is that our fans will see through this and, rather than being inspired by their rhetoric or empowered to argue their own case, assume once again the depressing cloak of cynicism and the embittered shrug that is the keynote of so much of our recent history and attempts at engaging supporters for change. Were that to be the case, all motivation and enthusiasm for change will be lost.
As an example, look at the scorn and abuse NUFC Fans United engendered for being involved in the replacement of the Leazes gates. Yes I know they weren’t the iconic Gallowgate gates and it was a disgrace they’d somehow ended in possession of Wynyard Hall, like so much that belonged to the club in the 1990s, but surely denigrating the efforts of those who acted in the best interests of supporters to have a small slice of history replaced was not the conduct of self-serving egotists or people with a personal agenda to pursue. As supporters, we need to get over this and we need to work together.
It is my fervent and unshakeable belief that what needs to happen to Newcastle United is that the club is eventually owned 100% by supporters of the team, whether they be born within a goal kick of the Gallowgate End or whether they are part of the worldwide Geordie diaspora and run in the interests of the support, the community and the good of the game as a whole. Am I talking the FC United of Manchester model? Indeed I am. Am I talking the FC Barcelona model? Indeed I am. Whether Newcastle United compete at Northern Premier or Champions League level is, in a sense, immaterial; what matters more than anything else is that the club is run on open, democratic, accountable and honourable lines. Of course I accept that there is a debate to be had and an argument to be won that playing football at six levels lower than we are now is good for Newcastle United, but I relish the challenge of making that case. Repeatedly.
For the moment, the important thing is to start the debate. There is a conduit for anger and for a meeting of all interested parties to try and find a way to work through this. NUFC Fans United have organised a meeting at the Labour Club on Monday 24th June, 6.00pm-8.30; if you care about your club, please make every effort to attend.
Well that went… What are my thoughts in the cold light of day, the morning after the night before, as it were? It’s a shame it descended into a bear-pit at the end - but in hindsight that was to be expected and in some ways it was; we were very clear to the Club that we felt the meeting would be a venting-zone.
So why did I say, in hindsight? Because I think I (and here I do mean me personally rather than the group) underestimated the level of anger that exists because of the Joe Kinnear appointment. Or maybe, more accurately the anger that still exists at the ownership of the Club.
You see the thing is I WAS very unhappy post KK, at Hull, post relegation, post Sports Direct Arena, post Chris Hughton etc etc etc. I’ve never been involved in any fans’ groups at all - like many I joined the Trust, but when I felt it stopped “listening to us” I lost interest. Then after reading two articles - one George Caulkin’s magnificent “Mike Ashley Must Go” and something posted by True Faith I decided something had to be done.
Originally NUFC Fans United was set up by two of us with the stated aim of “providing a hub for all anti-Ashley groups”. The thing with any group is that to be effective you need “critical mass” otherwise you end us looking like that famous Monty Python skit from the “Life of Brian” which I see is doing the rounds again this morning. Once more and more people got involved I saw it as a natural progression to move from being purely ant-Ashley to being more about engaging with his regime. I am a ranter you see, but I’m also a pragmatist - and the way I see it is, at the moment we’re “stuck” with Mike Ashley; so what do we do? Do we continue to rabble-rouse and call for boycotts and protests - or do we try and engage? The pragmatist is me, says engage.
Now comes the tricky part - and when I go off script… as a fan, I don’t want to organise meetings and have dialogue with press officers - I want to be the “silent” (but cheering my wildly successful team) majority. I have two kids, I run my own business - I don’t need to spend my weekends collating questions for meetings with my Club. It’s the off-season FFS… I want to watch baseball and read about the exciting players we are signing. But I’m a Newcastle United fan - and that aint gonna happen (not for a while anyway) - so as someone who believes that communication is as much about listening as it is about talking/ shouting/ ranting, I worked with the others to provide a platform for individual fans to have their say to the Club. Which brings us to last night…
Last night was either a farce or a success depending on how you look at it. If you wanted a formal minuted meeting where Club reps gave answers to all sorts of questions and a fellow fan (friend of Joe Kinnear, Eddie McIntyre) wasn’t heckled - then yes it was a disaster. If however you wanted to provide a platform for fans to express their feelings, be heard, have a rant and start to see the power of their voice(s) then it was a resounding success. I have no idea how many people showed up - 300+ though would be my guess - think about it. It’s a Monday in the off-season, on a night when “The Man With 10 Stone Testicles” is on TV and we had a packed out meeting in the centre of Newcastle. Yes there was ranting, yes there was shouting and yes there was heckling - BUT and this is KEY - there was passion, there was eloquence and there was listening and that is DEMOCRACY.
It amazes me how many people complain about lack of communication between the Club and Fans and then want to censor the message going one way! That’s not communication that’s propaganda. It would’ve been great if Lee and Wendy had addressed the crowd, but they felt it would be inappropriate to do so - they did however turn up and 4:30 and they didn’t leave until 10:00 - and spoke to many attendees on an individual basis - that shows commitment, if nothing else. The aforementioned, Eddie, much to his credit did the same; listening and talking to fans with dignity and respect long after “the final whistle”.
I’d like to thank all those fans who sent in questions and statements and in particular those who took the time to speak last night, it took great courage to address what was a very angry crowd. Yes it was heated and while I personally don’t agree with many of those opinions - it’s not my job to stifle debate.
Yes there was a motion passed for a protest, but that was called for by one of our member organisations - not us. Back to hindsight, perhaps we should have had a counter motion - but we didn’t. Does that mean NUFC Fans United has gone back to its Anti-Ashley roots? Not at all - this is bigger than that. As Bobby Robson famously said
"What is a club? Not the buildings, directors or people who are paid to represent it, the television contracts, get-out clauses, marketing departments or executive boxes. It's the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging, It's a small boy gripping his father's hand, gawping at that hallowed stretch of turf beneath him and, without being able to do a thing about it, falling in love."
That’s what was on display last night “the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging” - I admit I hadn’t understood quite how angry people are, and that’s mainly because my own feelings are so conflicted. BUT what I do know is this - giving people the floor, letting them see their own power, allowing them to show their passion and giving them a chance to be heard is something I’d do over and over and over again. This isn’t about Joe Kinnear, this isn’t about Mike Ashley - this is about us and our Club.
I totally admire those with the commitment to boycott and protest, but I can’t do that - a few good results and I’m back on the NUFC crackpipe; so although we provided a platform to allow the Mike Ashley campaign to call for a protest and it passed (by a resounding majority) that doesn’t mean we as a group change direction - it means we continue to provide the platform and encourage alternative views to be spoken too. If you expect easy answers and cliched platitudes from NUFC Fans United or to be told what you should or shouldn’t say or think, then you’ve come to the wrong place. Our job isn’t to tell you what to think, it’s to listen to what you think. Is that naive? Possibly. Is it idealistic? Definitely. But that doesn’t mean we’re doomed to failure, because unlike Newcastle United, real life isn’t black and white.
To download the minutes, please visit our Meetings page.
INTRODUCTION AND WELCOME
Bill Corcoran welcomed everyone to the meeting and gave a brief outline of NUFC Fans United’s history and the need for Newcastle United fans of all views to join together and work with each other and the club to strengthen the voice of supporters and engage with the club. Bill called on attendees of the meeting to join the organisation stating that the organisation needs the “support, commitment and talent” of Newcastle United fans.
Bill stated that two representatives from Newcastle United, Wendy Taylor, Head of Media and Lee Marshall, Fan’s Liaison Officer were both present at the meeting to observe the meeting and to talk and listen to fans. However neither would address the meeting because at this moment in time, they simply do not have any information to pass on to fans following the recent events at the club, which have seen Joe Kinnear appointed Director of Football and Derek Llambias depart as Chief Executive.
ISSUES/VIEWS VIA EMAIL AND SOCIAL MEDIA
Multimedia spokesperson Zahra that the organisation has received over 500 questions, issues and views sent via email and social media. Due to the number of responses it was impossible to address each individually, though she explained that she had collated the responses and they could be broken down into a number of broad catagories. These included concerns over Joe Kinnear’s appointment, lack of communication from the club, questions about the club’s transfer policy, concerns regarding the sponsorship deal with Wonga, calls for the return of the singing section, calls for Newcastle United to actively support the issue of safe standing, and questions regarding increasing the capacity of St James’ Park.
Messages of support to Fans United and the meeting had also been received from Honorary Vice-President of Newcastle United Malcolm Dix, ex Hartlepool United and Darlington player and Newcastle United fan Brian Honour, and former Newcastle United players Pavel Srnicek and Paul Kitson.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
The floor was opened up to attendees and a number of issues were aired. The issues raised tended to echo the responses which had come through via email and social media. Most expressed concern over Kinnear’s appointment and the lack of communication from the club.
Steve followed on from the points raised from the floor and agreed that the club has a problem with communication and that this is a problem which dates back to the 1960s. However Steve highlighted the progress that NUFC Fans United has made. The organisation has built up a relationship with Wendy and Lee from NUFC and one or both now attend every Fans Utd meeting and as a result progress has been made. Steve echoed Bill’s earlier comments and emphasised that Fans Utd is an umbrella organisation, open to all Newcastle United fans, regardless of the view.
There were a number of favourable responses to this from the floor.
MIKE ASHLEY OUT CAMPAIGN
Graeme from the Mike Ashley Out Campaign, one of a number of groups affiliated to Fans Utd spoke to give their take on Mike Ashley’s record as Newcastle United owner. Graeme argued that the “humiliation” of Kevin Keegan and Alan Shearer, the “inexplicable sacking” of Chris Hughton, and the renaming of St James’ Park are all examples of a “consistently pursued agenda” by Mike Ashley.
The appointment of Joe Kinnear to the role of Director of Football and his subsequent behaviour, whereby he has managed to insult fans, the city, the local media and even current players, cannot be viewed in any way, shape or form to be a progressive step for the wellbeing of the club. It has further alienated the very people who are essential to the club's growth and betterment. The subsequent resignation of Derek Llambias has shown how unplanned and arbitrary the decision making process is at Newcastle United.
Indeed, recent events are yet another gross error of judgement in a catalogue of PR disasters which have occurred since Mike Ashley bought NUFC in 2007. Among other things, the club has overseen the public humiliation of 2 Club Legends in Kevin Keegan and Alan Shearer, the self-inflicted disaster of relegation in 2009, the unexplained and inexplicable dismissal of a Chris Hughton, the renaming of St James's Park and a continued lack of investment and ambition, which was reflected by the club's extremely poor form last season.
Mike Ashley has: overseen all of these events, continually failed to engage the fans and consistently pursued an agenda that has seen a sad demise of the club, both on and off the field.
This house declares that Mike Ashley is not a fit and proper person to be the custodian of a footballing institution that has a proud history and tradition and enjoys one of the biggest and most fervent followings in European football.
We call for Mike Ashley to consider his position as owner of Newcastle United and to begin a process of exiting before he does any more damage to either the club or his own reputation.
We also urge all fans who truly want the club to progress; individuals, fans’ groups, magazine and blog editors, journalists, local politicians and proud Geordies everywhere, to unite in solidarity, not only to see the end of this failed era by means of a coordinated and determined campaign of peaceful protest; but also to promote the great assets that are the club and the city, so that we can work in partnership with any interested commercial parties in the future, whereby we can once again build a team and a club to be proud of.
Mike Ashley has had far too many chances from the good people of this area and has continued to exploit their loyalty and devotion to the club with a crass and callous disregard for their welfare and opinions.
Now is the time for action. We are drawing a line now: Enough is enough.
Sell Up and Get out Now; your time is up!
REBUTTAL FROM “ROLAND” READ BY STEVE WRAITH
Just ahead of your proposed meeting on Monday night, I would urge you to consider all facts and approach the discussion with a clear mind, cool head and the facts at hand.
I was beside myself with Kinnear's appointment, happily swept along with everyone else in the world about what an abysmal appointment it was/is, furious that this glorious club could be dragged through the mud....again.....for about the umpteenth time in the last 30 years or so (McKeag, Westwood, Waddle, Gazza, Beardo, Relegation, Cole, Ferdy, Ginola, Dalglish, Gullit, SBR, Shepherd/Hall, Allardyce, Ashley, NUFC for sale x 3, Wise, Jimenez, KK, Kinnear, Relegation, Hughton, Sportsdirect.com, Wonga, and finally Kinnear).
But this week my attitude has shifted. I think it's mainly down to the Telegraph's utterly foundation-free article on our very own Graham Carr leaving (though since time of writing we have been the subject of other topics, i.e. Ben Arfa/Cabaye being "unhappy"). And it smacks of sensationalism, although something I am used to as a NUFC fan - the media deciding now's a good time to put the boot in, whilst smugly adding the line "the fans deserve better". What we actually "deserve" is for journalists to actually do something for us, to find out the real why's of Kinnear's appointment. To look at Llambias and instead of jumping on the "look, this wonderful man left because of the heinous sinner Joe Kinnear - what a laughing stock" actually take a considered view of what Llambias had done. Two Summers in a row, Llambias has messed up our pre-season. He left us short-changed and is THE most responsible for the failure last season. He has done a good job, financially, but footballing-ly has failed miserably time and again. He was around when we went down, he was overseeing Wise/Jimenez arriving, he was there screwing around with Shearer and KK - don't let the media hamper your long term memory.
Let's also note that Ashley doesn't have a wide footballing circle. He doesn't go anywhere, with anyone. His choices are going to be severely limited. Somehow Joe Kinnear has penetrated this inner sanctum of trust - Joe Kinnear has done what thousands of journalists have failed to do, and he did it in 4 months at the club. If that doesn't tell you something about the character of the man, then what does?
Llambias is gone. Pardew is now more accountable. Ashley has made a change at the club, the intentions simply CANNOT be negative. There is NO point in the club getting relegated. So this single change - Llambias for Kinnear - may be daft, but might I argue that getting swept up in so much hypocritical bullsh!t at the hands of Fleet Street is maybe not the best way to go? Maybe, just maybe, we should take it with a pinch of salt - we've been through far, far worse - grab it with both hands and see what happens? What would be so wrong in standing WITH Joe Kinnear, instead of against him?
Just 5 months ago we were jigging in the streets because we could pull Sissoko and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa through the gates. 8 months previous to that we were the 5th best team in the country. But today we're in crisis? It shouldn't be so. Us fans should have a Championship mentality, in that anything better than the second tier is a plus. We are never eating at the top table, we don't have flagrantly disrespectful, overtly flamboyant owners. Mayhap one day we will. But until then we should only cast envious glances at North London (not West London, nor the NorthWest of England where oil buys loyalty) and enjoy what we have. Pardew cares, Kinnear cares and I think even the owner has been bitten by the Geordie bug. We should act like a vortex, bigger than anything - if you want in, we'll take you and sod the rest. Not this current mentality, where we pick and choose who can come in. What are we, Eton Boys School????? Bottom line is we have to steel our resolve against Fleet Street, not those within the hallowed walls of NUFC. They're on our team, in some way, shape or form!
Joe Kinnear’s representative Eddie McIntyre was present to speak on his behalf. Eddie was met with a degree of hostility from the floor and he called for Newcastle United fans to “get off Joe Kinnear’s back.”
MIKE ASHLEY OUT CAMPAIGN MOTION
The statement read out earlier on behalf of the Mike Ashley Out Campaign calling on Mike Ashley to withdraw as Newcastle United owner was tabled by that group and was passed by the majority of attendees.
END OF MEETING
Thoughts on the meeting
To download the minutes please visit our Meetings page.
GRAEME C, MARTIN D, STEVE H, TOM L, LEE M (NUFC), MATTY N, ELAINE P, ANDY S, SUSAN S, STEVE W, ZAHRA Z
Apologies: Malcolm D, Bill C, Ian C, Paul R, Wendy T, Rob M.
The group has received a lot of emails regarding this issue wanting to know if it would possible for the singing section at St James’ Park to be reinstated. It seems as if the Europa League games have brought this to the fore. Lee was not employed by the club when the singing section was present and asked the group’s opinions as to why it had been stopped. The group felt that this was because the relationship between the club and the supporters was strained at the time. However, it was felt that things have moved on significantly since that time. It was felt that the club’s PR is much better and the acceptance of past mistakes made has gone down well. Lee said that he will raise the issue with the club, but feels that it is unlikely that it could be adopted in time for next season as it would need a period of consultation; meaning there will not be enough time to implement it in time for next season. A point was put to Lee that many people in the singing section didn’t renew their season ticket due to cost, as the section offered season tickets much cheaper than other areas of the ground.
There have been a number of issues on this subject, particularly with the ticket office and ticket sales at the club shop. Complaints of poor customer service were raised with Lee. People have had to go to the club shop to amend tickets or obtain duplicates for tickets that hadn’t arrived in the post. On one occasion it was said that a member of staff walked off with people still in the queue for ticketing issues. It was suggested that because their job roles are mainly retail, some club shop staff seemed to lack knowledge of ticketing issues and are unable to answer or resolve these enquiries. Other people have complained about ongoing issues which have meant several visits to the club shop, and because of the staffing, they have had to explain their situation from scratch on each occasion. There were also complaints about telephone calls to the box office had resulted in box office staff hanging up on callers. Lee said that he would raise these issues with the Box Office manager. It was suggested that the club consider a customer service/enquiries point be set up, manned by properly trained staff aware of ticketing and box office procedures.
A number of people have raise queries over the allocation and management of the loyalty points. Scheme. It was put to Lee that there is some dissatisfaction regarding the manner in which loyalty points are earned. It was suggested to Lee that now might be a useful time for the club to review the loyalty points scheme and consider ideas such as additional loyalty points being awarded to those season ticket holders and members who attend early rounds of cup competitions. Lee said that he would forward the issue to those at the club responsible for coming up with incentives.
Following on from the last meeting, a survey has gone live on the NUFC Fans United website. So far, 98% of respondents are in favour of safe standing. The survey will remain live for approximately another two weeks before closing. The information will then be passed on to NUFC so that the club can analyse the data and look into whether they feel they can back the safe standing campaign. The Football Supporters Federation is looking for clubs to endorse the scheme. So far five Premier League clubs are in favour, along with a number of Championship clubs. It was felt that if NUFC could voice its support for the principal of safe standing, it would add considerable weight to the campaign. NUFC Fans United have already won support for the campaign from representatives of Newcastle City Council and regional MPs. Lee stated that the club welcomed the efforts of the survey as well as its results and the club will need to develop its own informed opinion from both the survey and through a wider canvassing of supporters.
STEVE HARPER TESTIMONIAL
It was recently announced that Steve Harper is due to leave NUFC at the end of the season. Steve has been at NUFC for twenty years, is from the area and is well liked and respected by the fans. It was felt that the club should reward Steve’s loyal service with a testimonial game, and a number of people felt that it was disappointing nothing has been announced. Lee will raise the matter with Derek Llambias.
The Gates which used to stand at St James’ Park and which have been entrusted to NUFC Fans Utd by Sir John Hall are ready to be collected from storage and restoration work commenced. As the club are now working with NUFC Fans United, they will undertake responsibility for having the gates restored and installed at St James’ Park. Lee stated that the club hope this work will be completed over the summer and to have the gates installed in time for the beginning of next season.
WIGAN COSMOS & GOOSE GREEN
Lee confirmed that as compensation the offer to play at St James’ Park has been made to and accepted by both clubs.. Lee confirmed that a further announcement on this issue will be made by the club in due course, including details concerning the possibility of supporters being able to attend St James’ Park to watch the game.
DATE AND TIME OF NEXT MEETING
To be confirmed.
NUFC Fans United News
The latest news and campaigns from NUFC Fans United can be found on this page.