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Bournemouth (a) – setting the record straight

Anyone reading the variety of reports of Newcastle fans’ behaviour in several different publications would feel justified in thinking the worst. I was there and I thought it was important to put a few of the accusations to bed and give some perspective from the point of view of someone that saw it all (or at least most of it).

I travelled down to Bournemouth at the weekend and like the vast majority of travelling Mags was in jubilant spirits for the day. There is something special amongst the fanbase when we’ve made a really long journey that’s hard to put into words unless you’ve experienced it first-hand. It’s something I recommend you all do.

It’s been difficult to read many of the reports in the media from the weekend and I’ve become increasingly annoyed as the accusations have grown, so here’s another perspective on the behaviour of some of our fans.

Let me start with half time. I stupidly decided to go down to the concourse before the end of the first half to buy a few beers. On the very overcrowded concourse there was a buoyant and happy atmosphere with some of the usual signing. We all heard a sound come from the stand but it took until we saw confirmation from the TVs that Newcastle had scored. The concourse erupted into celebrations. Some fans took it slightly too far and banged the metal above the bar.

At this point I was stood right at the front. It was the banging that caused the staff to decide to shut the bar. And that sparked a reaction amongst the fans to try and stop the shutters coming down. Plenty of fans had paid for drinks they hadn’t received, and it seemed pretty unfair that they were going to close the bar for a bit of banging and joyful singing when Newcastle had just scored.

I didn’t see any flares nor any smoke and I’m certain that the shutters weren’t coming down as an automatic reaction to smoke. Anyone that saw the concourse would be shocked if their counters had such technology installed. I certainly didn’t see any staff being pulled over the bar or being assaulted. I’m not saying that neither of those things definitely didn’t happen but I was in a pretty good position to see everything and didn’t notice either.

However, there was at least two instances I saw that were completely out of order. One of our fans, and I use that word begrudgingly, threw something at catering staff behind the bar and it hit them in the face.

Another idiot got behind the bar and looked to steal something. It wasn’t, as has been described, a case of him handing stuff back over the bar to a gleefully accepting crowd.

Both of these instances are despicable behaviour that were widely and loudly criticised by most of those in attendance. There is no defence to this kind of behaviour and instances like this shame our fan base.

Whilst there were a few isolated instances of unacceptable behaviour, to paint the large group of fans on the concourse as a drunken, criminal mob is hugely exaggerated at best and an outright smearing lie at worst.

Roll on 94 minutes and Matt Richie scored a quite beautiful equaliser. Lots of fans, myself included, moved towards the front to celebrate as is natural in such circumstances. It’s not clever to charge towards a small area as a crowd. It is not criminal. It was difficult to see clearly what happened in the melee but that’s exactly what it was. A chaotic mess of jubilant mags who were celebrating wildly in a small space with only a knee-high barrier between us and the playing area perimeter.

Common sense and perspective could and should have been used and fans calmly ushered back. But football fans have often been treated as criminals in the first instance as a matter of course and after recent events, heavy handed policing and stewarding prevailed. It looks likely to have a lasting impact on an unlucky few who ended up over the knee-high barrier. Anyone amongst that celebration knows that it could have been any one of us that ended up on the grass there and that none of us had the remotest criminal intent. I’d speculate that those that did end up on the grass didn’t intend to be there and were forced over.

One of those arrested has since been released without charge after CCTV showed he was pulled over by a steward. He was then detained for more than 20 hours before being released. This is unacceptable. That steward has probably shown more intent out of anyone to get Newcastle fans onto the pitch.

To support the lads facing prosecution for celebrating the winner on Saturday please donate here

https://www.gofundme.com/legal-fees-for-mags-arrested-at-bournemouth

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THE TIMES THEY ARE A CHANGIN!

In another of a series of articles from NUST members, Phil Hornsby sets out his views on the current situation at NUFC.

These are difficult times being a Newcastle United Supporter. I have supported the club for over 40 years and in my view what as a supporter group we are facing at present, compares equally unfavourably with any of the low times in my past experience.

However, we have always found a way forward and I believe we are now doing so again.

I saw my first Newcastle United Game on the 20th March 1970, a 3-1 win against Stoke. However, it was not until the second half of the 1976/77 Season that I started going regularly. We finished 5th and qualified for Europe. The following season we were relegated. Sounds familiar!

My time of supporting Newcastle I will divide into 3 distinct periods:

1977-1990: The club was run by a board of directors who consisted of local businessmen and solicitors whose positions were largely inherited having been passed onto them by their fathers. The chairmen over this period of time were Lord Westwood, Bob Rutherford, Stan Seymour Jnr and Gordon McKeag.

1990-2007: Hall/ Shepherd era

2007-the not too distant future: Mike Ashley

I am going to reflect on these three periods of time and discuss how Newcastle United’s evolution since 1977 within the context of the changes in football and society, mean that as a supporter group and as part of the Magpie Group, I believe we can be confident of being part of the catalyst for effective change in how our club is run.

1977-1990: Lord Westwood et al

There are clear parallels to be drawn with the current situation. The Ashley era is increasingly becoming a painful reminder to supporters of my generation of what supporting Newcastle was like for those first thirteen years.

On the field, the team suffered two relegations. Much of the time was spent meandering in the old second division, going nowhere. Of course there were false dawns, the biggest of which was the two seasons when Kevin Keegan played for the team and led us to promotion. This opportunity was squandered with the manager, Arthur Cox leaving before we kicked off back in the First Division after a dispute with the board about his contract.

We had 3 outstanding players around which a successful team could have been built: Peter Beardsley, Chris Waddle and Paul Gascoigne. All were sold and not adequately replaced.

The quality of managers, Arthur Cox aside were middling to poor.

Supporters today complain, rightly, about the neglect at the ground. However St James Park like many other grounds at this time, was a disgrace. Stories about the state of the toilets in the Gallowgate End told by those of us who experienced them are the stuff of legends, but true!  The old Leazes End was demolished and replaced by a high wall with a bit of terracing in front. This was because after the planned redevelopment started the money ran out. Following the Bradford City Fire, priority had to be given to demolishing and rebuilding the West Stand, which became the Milburn Stand. Those of us who sat in that old West Stand can only think there but for the grace of God, goodness knows what those enforcing modern day fire regulations would have made of it.

In summary this was a time of austerity and lack of ambition. Like today, supporters knew the potential that existed and were frustrated by the direction the board of directors took the club in. These were local men who undoubtedly supported the team. However, they had largely inherited their positions at the club. To coin a phrase, Newcastle United was “The Family Silver” and maintaining their control was more important than meeting the aspirations of supporters and they were unwilling to sanction the investment required to make us competitive in the First Division.

However, supporters were unable or unwilling to ever effectively take any positive action due to the difficulties in communication as compared to the present day, and a stoical attitude of acceptance. Speaking personally, it is a desire not to allow the club to regress to this type of situation for the long term again which is a significant motivation now.

1990-2007: John Hall/ Freddy Shepherd Era

The original Magpie Group led by John Hall and Freddy Shepherd understood the potential and had the financial resources to tempt stubborn but greedy men to part with their shares and sell their inheritance.

The achievements of our football team over this period are well known. Although there were disappointing times under the managerial reigns of Dalglish, Gullitt, Souness and Roeder ( although we did reach the FA Cup Final twice), it is the periods when the team was under the guidance of Keegan and Robson that are best remembered; we competed at the business end of the Premier League and European Football was a regularity.

Although there is controversy about their legacy and their stewardship, of course they sold up to Mike Ashley making a huge amount of money, it is the positive aspects of their legacy I am focusing on this article.

This was the time when the club realised its potential both on and off the field. Aside from the achievements of the team, sell out crowds became commonplace, commercial revenues were a significant source of income and we now have a stadium of which we can be proud, “ The cathedral on the hill”. Whether we like it or not, this coincided with Sky televising the Premier League and the exposure they provided significantly increased our profile.

The memory of this period I view as being very significant in the perception of our club today and why to quote Oliver Holt , he regards us as “ a top six club”. It is still relatively recent and a very significant driver in our efforts at this time.

2007-Present Day: Mike Ashley

I do not need to chronicle the misery of this period, other than to say it is increasingly becoming a mirror of my earlier years supporting the club.

The Times are a Changin!

Times have changed and this is the reason why I believe we can be optimistic. The world is a smaller place. Between 1977 and 1990, the travails of Newcastle United were of little interest to the national media, who being based in London and Manchester focused on the fortunes of the clubs in those regions. The misery of the Newcastle supporters were of little consequence.

Up until Rafa Benitez became our manager, I think it would be fair to describe the attitude of the vast majority of Newcastle Supporters, including myself under the Ashley Regime as again having become stoical. We accepted the indignities inflicted upon us with little protest other than a shrug of the shoulders and looking forward to the next false dawn.

Rafa aware of the recent history of the club knew its potential, has reawakened the club with all parts connected apart the owner. Links have been re-established in the community and in some cases expanded.

Rafa has been the catalyst but what else has happened. Social Media now exists at a level enabling much easier communication. This has been fully utilised by ourselves in coming together to work towards effective change. John Gibson once described trying to organise Newcastle Supporters as like “trying to herd cats!” I think we have put this one to bed.

Our efforts have been recognised in both the local but more importantly the national media.  We have had Ian Wright on BBC 5 Live and Jake Humphries on BT Sport not holding back in their criticism of the regime. Sky seems to be taking a more balanced approach with contributions from Steve Howey, Jamie Carragher and the Custis Brothers. ( I do wonder if this reflects a change in attitude, so instead of broadcasting cushy interviews between Ashley and Craigy, they are now distinctly unimpressed that given the large sums of money the club have received from Sky, this has not been reflected in investment in the team, and consequently the televised product has been diminished).

Apart from the excellent reporting of George Caulkin, Luke Edwards, Mark Douglas and other local Journalists we have support from influential national journalists such as Henry Winter, Oliver Holt and David Conn.

I must mention the contributions of Dennis Wise, Richard Keys and Andy Gray amongst others. I have enjoyed listening to their opinions. Why? It reflects how out of touch Ashley is that he chooses to uses these type of discredited individuals to argue his case. The saying, “When you are in a hole stop digging” could not be more appropriate. Their utterings only add strength to our cause.  

Newcastle is now recognised nationally as a vibrant thriving city whose profile has significantly grown. Our football club is an institution within the city whose progress at the start of the century reflected the development that was taking place making Newcastle a very significant social, cultural and economic centre. Ashley’s lack of respect for the club is seen increasingly at national level as an insult to the city.

We are winning the argument and as our situation is now becoming one increasingly discussed in the national media, this in turn is increasing the focus on Sports Direct, and the unethical way he runs this business. Ashley’s discomfort must be increasing daily.

If we continue our efforts the pressure from all sources on him will continue to increase and he will sell eventually. We can only hope the damage inflicted beforehand is minimised.

We have momentum, let’s keep it going!


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Newcastle United fans are making a last effort to rid their club of Mike Ashley

Mike Ashley’s reign at Newcastle United has been the subject of an article in this months WSC by Paul Brown. NUST were asked to provide comment and the article is published in full below.

Among the shareholders attending the Sports Direct AGM on September 12 were several Newcastle United fans. Also in attendance was Mike Ashley, the Sports Direct CEO and Newcastle United owner, but fans were not able to question him on the relationship between the two businesses. During a rushed meeting, the board allowed no questions from the floor and departed after just 15 minutes. Ashley is under pressure from shareholders, suppliers, unions and MPs following repeated warnings of mismanagement
and poor working practices, and due to the fallout from the recent purchase of House of Fraser. A series of newly-coordinated protests from Newcastle fans seems the last thing he needs.

The protests are being led by the recently-formed Magpie Group, a coalition of fan organisations including the Newcastle United Supporters’ Trust (NUST), the Ashley Out campaign, True Faith fanzine, and stadium display organisers Wor Flags. At its first public meeting, a positive and well-attended gathering held in the week before the AGM, group organisers handed out factsheets detailing Ashley’s litany of offences during his 11 years of ownership, ranging from a lack of investment in players and facilities and the stifling of commercial income and matchday revenue to renaming St James’ Park the “Sports Direct Arena” and appointing Joe Kinnear as manager (twice!).

The facts do not make good reading for Ashley or the handful of pundits who repeatedly defend him in the media. Ashley bought the club in May 2007 for £134m, and inherited £77m of debt. According to the club’s latest accounts, by 2017 that debt had almost doubled to £152m. Sports Direct has never paid anything for the advertising that blankets St James’ Park. Commercial income has halved under Ashley’s ownership, while matchday income has fallen by a third.

Things have gone backwards on the pitch, too. In the 11 years before Ashley, Newcastle qualified for European competition ten times, reaching the Champions League group stages twice. In the 11 years since, the club has qualified for the UEFA Cup only once, and has been relegated from the Premier League twice. As for investment in players, a much-shared statistic shows that, since promotion in the summer of 2017, Brighton’s net spend is £110m, Huddersfield’s is £78m, and Newcastle’s is £1m.

Sports Direct controls the club’s retail operations, and in the five years to 2017 the club made a net loss of £5.5m from the arrangement. Ashley has purchased land behind St James’ Park’s Gallowgate stand, for a knock-down price of £6m, and obtained planning permission for a £70m residential development, effectively blocking any future expansion of the ground. The latest accounts for Ashley’s MASH Holdings company, through which he owns the club, were not published as required in January and are long overdue. Meanwhile, the club is under ongoing investigation by HMRC for suspected tax fraud.

“The owner clearly doesn’t care about the club,” NUST board member Colin Whittle tells WSC. “He does, however, care about his retail empire, and that’s what we’re concentrating on.” Protests outside stores and online are targeting Sports Direct and its many subsidiary companies and brands, including Flannels, Cruise, Slazenger and Firetrap, in an effort to disrupt the use of Newcastle United as a marketing tool. Part of the action involves spreading awareness of just how many brands are owned or part-owned by Sports Direct.

The protests have been given some urgency by the situation regarding Rafa Benitez’s contract, which expires at the end of the season. Fans fear Benitez will leave due to the lack of support from Ashley, prompting the #IfRafaGoesWeGo movement on social media. “To many of us it’s the  manager who is holding things together,” says Whittle. “This is galvanising fans in a way that we haven’t seen before. People aren’t prepared to allow Rafa to go without a fight.”

Protests outside Sports Direct stores have made national headlines, as has the creation of a website, sportsredirect.com, which directs shoppers to alternative sportswear retailers. The Sports Direct Twitter account has effectively been silenced after a barrage of disruptive responses from fans. So has the account for Keith Bishop Associates, Ashley’s PR firm. Shareholders and suppliers are also in the firing line. “Sports Direct’s share price has dropped,” says Whittle, “and while this is due to many factors, continued pressure from Newcastle fans is playing a part. We’d encourage fans of other clubs to support us. It’s hoped that he’ll eventually consider ownership of Newcastle more trouble than it’s worth.”

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From Keegan to Benítez; what’s changed?

A members view. NUST member Andy Ashwell sets out his thoughts on the current situation at NUFC:

As if anyone needed reminding, the last few days have provided more examples, past and present, of the crass and inept way in which Newcastle United Football Club has been run since the arrival of Ashley in 2007.

Firstly, in two short extracts from his book amounting to just a few pages, Kevin Keegan has given us a glimpse into what promises to be an encyclopedia of the botched mismanagement and amateurish running of a football club. So far, we have read KK’s observations of the club’s Head of Recruitment (Tony Jimenez) with a spectacular lack of ‘situational awareness’ regarding transfer targets. Next, the stunted cockney Executive Director with a liking for ‘commercials’, i.e. signing nobodies to keep a couple of agents sweet.

It’s fair to point out that little has changed bar the names, and we’re again in a situation where a respected manager like Rafa has to have his every decision ratified by a Managing Director (Charnley) who has arguably less of a football background than Jimenez did.

And then there is the undeclared role of Justin Barnes, a.k.a Ashley’s ‘fixer’, who was part of the four horsemen of the apocalypse who turned up in the Directors Box at Palace on saturday. While Wise was officially appointed Executive Director, nobody has been able to identify with any certainty exactly what Barnes’ involvement is at NUFC. 

In the 2004 Competition Appeal Tribunal hearing (after Ashley grassed on his competitors for price fixing), it was noted that “ Mr. Ashley operates largely informally, conducting business on his mobile phone and in meetings, while leaving it to others to make notes and sort out the details.” (It’s worth noting that the same tribunal found “ Mr. Ashley’s evidence was open, honest and in general reliable”).

The long list of clueless minions employed in executive roles at NUFC shows that this remains his default method of conducting business. How can a football club operate effectively when the owner seemingly isolates the manager from his circle of trust, and that circle is full of toadies with little football experience/knowledge? Why have lessons not been learned?

With the weekend’s impending ‘transfer summit’, we can only hope that Rafa’s/our fate isn’t sealed as he is forced to deal with Ashley’s fawning yes men, undermined and humiliated by sycophantic lackeys as per KK.

On top of KK’s revelations comes the news that NUFC have ‘asked’ local boxer Lewis Ritson’s management to remove the club badge from his merchandise. Tweeting afterwards, he said: “Disappointed in NUFC, been in touch with my manager telling them a need to take all nufc logos off merchandise/clothes but happy for me to wear the logo when am live on TV, a team I’ve supported all my life and held a season ticket for 7 years when younger! Mike Ashley Out!”

For any pedantic types; fair enough, they don’t have a licence to use the badge, but surely a bit of perspective needs to come into play here. Ritson himself doesn’t profit from the merchandise, and while the manufacturer could do, realistically any such gain would be miniscule in comparison to revenue from replica shirts and other official club merchandise.

It comes across as petty and unnecessary, and a slap in the face of someone (a fan) who considers Newcastle United a part of his identity, and epitomises the cold, soulless and disengaged nature of the modern day club. This is in stark contrast to the relationship that exists between Tony Bellew and Everton, a club that strives to maintain a community image.

Given what amounts to borderline humiliation, what price Ritson or his entourage bringing the #AshleyOut message to millions when he fights for the European Lightweight title in Newcastle on October 13th – live on Sky Sports? Already a hugely popular fighter in his native Tyneside, that would elevate him to hero status. Go on man, you know it makes sense…

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NEWCASTLE UNITED-THE COMMUNITY FOOTBALL CLUB

A reproduction of an earlier article ;
In 2015 NUST undertook a piece of work entitled ‘Whose Club is it?’ which looked at what we believed a future Newcastle United would look like. At part of this work we organised a Conference which co-incidentally took place shortly after Rafa took over- where supporter’s organisations from England and Scotland attended to discuss the topic of fan engagement and the different forms it took at their own clubs. Attendees included supporters from ‘fan owned’ clubs to those with ‘a formal seat on the Board’ .A common theme to the day was the belief that regardless of who actually owned football clubs (in the strict legal sense) they should be community owned focused representing the areas in which they were based.

 

We released our ‘Community Ownership Statement’ to coincide with the Conference which focused on what we believed any new owner should be aiming towards;
a club that will work with supporters on fans issues and will recognize their value as the long term custodians of the club, a club that will work with our MPs, the city council and local businesses to play its part in regenerating our area rather than simply bill boarding a national sports retailer,a club that will work with local football clubs and schools to develop local talent and keep that talent in the North East,a club that says we can compete, we will compete, we don’t reward mediocrity, we strive for excellence and to be the best we can be in everything we do.
This was against the backdrop of Rafa’s appointment because there’s no doubt that there has been a ‘step change’ in many areas, both on and off the field, since his appointment.
Despite relegation in 2016, the reaction of supporters showed at our final game of the season against Spurs how highly we, the supporters, rated him. We know from sources close to Rafa that he was taken aback by the response of fans at that game, which contributed, in no short measure to him deciding to stay and manage us in the Championship. For that, we will always be eternally grateful. He galvanised our support and gave back a feeling of pride to both supporters and the City itself. Instead of struggling like many relegated teams, he led the club to immediate promotion as Champions.
 

Rafa sees Newcastle United as a long term ‘project’, he ‘gets’ the club and its supporters. He knows exactly what Newcastle United means to its supporters and what a successful club would mean for the city and the wider region. He’s invited fanzines and fan groups in to talk to him about what’s important to fans, he’s reorganising the way the Academy works with a view to bringing through more of our own talent, the club are now more actively involved with local politicians and businesses and from our own perspective Newcastle United Supporters Trust has been invited back to the Fans Forum, Initiatives such as NUFC Fans Foodbank, Gallowgate/ Wor Flags and Wor Hyem have shown the positive inter-action between the club and a fan base that was becoming increasingly alienated .The club should be praised for their new approach. Closer association and promotion of the Newcastle United Women’s Football Club and adoption of the minimum wage for all staff would further cement club ties with their community. The Newcastle United Foundation who previously appeared to many to be detached from the Club are coming on leaps and bounds supporting many initiatives and programmes in our area….and wider. Their plans for the future seem to be very positive. From our perspective, we would hope that any new owner sees the positive aspect of meaningful fan engagement, recognising the great benefits that fans can play, and how Newcastle United integrated into the heart of our local community can be of mutual benefit for all concerned. Newcastle United remains, in our view, perhaps the greatest untapped football club in Europe. The possibilities are endless. We hope any new owner seizes this opportunity to work with the supporters to take the club to its full potential. NUST

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Who are we?

The Newcastle United Supporters Trust is not a protest group, but a positive force for change.

We seek to benefit our football club and its supporters by channeling the passion of its loyal supporters into a forward-thinking non-profit organisation that is a legally constituted, democratic, not-for-profit Supporters Trust.

The Newcastle United Supporters Trust (NUST) seeks to benefit both the Football Club and its supporters by channeling the passion of Newcastle supporters into a forward-thinking organisation that is a legally constituted, democratic, not-for-profit Supporters Trust of Newcastle United.

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