NUST were delighted to be able to contrbute to the recent TF forum.Listen to representatives from Spirit of Shankly and Sons of Struth, as well as author David Conn. and local journalists talk about the situation at Newcastle United.
The third TF Forum took place at Tyneside Irish Centre on Thursday 11th October and NUST were glad to contribute to what was a fascinating night, supplying both a compère (Colin Whittle) and a panel member (Norman Watson). All in aid of a very worthy cause ,the NUFC fans food bank.
The night began by TF’s Alex Hurst introducing NUFC Fans food bank champion Bill Corcoran, who explained the role of the food bank and the contribution from NUFC fans to this great cause. The Magpie Group Chair Wallace Wilson and member Adam Widdrington then followed with a short explanation about their contribution to their own campaign so far.
The main event then followed, with the first panel comprising of local based journos George Caulkin of the Times and Luke Edwards of the Telegraph responding to questions about the current situation at NUFC, their thoughts on the state of the club, Rafa’s own position and future, as well as a number of other NUFC related matters.
After a short break to announce the raffle prize winners and to allow the appreciative audience time to refill, the second panel convened, and consisted of award winning journalist David Conn, representatives from Liverpool’s Spirit of Shankly , Jay MacKenna , and Rangers Sons of Struth, Craig Houston as well as former NUST Chair Norman Watson and TMG’s Wallace Wilson.
Both Jay and Craig spoke at length about struggles with their owners and the action they had taken, whilst David Conn spoke about the wider issue of football governance in the game. Both Norman and Wallace brought a local slant to the proceedings. The audience appeared to be both captivated by the stories they were hearing and inspired to hear the stories of fellow football fans in their struggle against poor owners.
We would urge fans to listen to the whole evening which is available on a Podcast via True Faith NUFC Podcast, donations to go to NUFC Fans food bank.
All in all, a great night with more than £2k raised to support NUFC Fans food bank. Thanks to all who gave up their time to take part.
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.”
The second open meeting organised by The Magpie Group took place at the Labour Club last night before a packed audience who listened to local MP’s Chi Onwurah, Ian Mearns and FSF CEO Kevin Miles.
The trio of speakers, all NUFC fans, spoke passionately about Newcastle United, their love for the club clearly demonstrated to an appreciative audience.
The evening began by Chi outlining the work behind her petition presented In Parliament about the ownership of NUFC which caused so much concern in the Ashley camp which led him to formally respond. She went on to explain how she now intended to ‘follow the money’, citing in particular the deal regarding the land at Gallowgate Car Park on Strawberry Place.
Life Long fan Ian Mearns, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Football Supporters, then followed, highlighting his travels following NUFC over the years and explaining his role as Chair and its purpose which is to protect the interest of football fans. He spoke passionately of his desire to see fans come together to protect the future of NUFC.
Ian was followed by Kevin Miles from FSF who briefed the audience on the role of the FSF and the work they have done over the years to help football fans up and down the country offering the help of the FSF to fans. As longstanding members of the FSF we can vouch for the excellent work they have done over the years.
It was then over to the floor with a wide range of questions /suggestions and opinions from a packed audience which covered a number of areas. The audience were encouraged to provide their feedback on the most popular suggestions made by fans following literally 100’s of suggestions made from fans.
Word reached fans in attendance that Mr Ashley was in town …well slightly out of town….and a contingent of fans including members from NUST headed up to Ponteland to register disapproval with the owner and to display Ashley Out/Sports Redirect banners. The night ended with the owner giving the V’s to fans….what more can you say!
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…
For the last five years the Football Supporters Federation have carried out an ‘Away Fans Survey’ in order to record the experience of fans following their club away. Feedback from supporters allows the FSF to gather information about such areas as pricing, facilities, stewarding and much more. Last season’s survey was completed by more than 3,800 away fans-Southampton being rated highest in the Premiership.
The survey provides the FSF with an enormous amount of feedback on how fans feel they are treated and the data is shared with clubs in order that they can consider how they can improve the ‘away experience’ for fans.
We’ve not been without our problems here at NUFC with many of our longest trips being moved for TV scheduling and further problems being created by the short re-scheduling of the Everton away fixture –which caused NUST to seek compensation from the club for fans -and the never ending saga of our trip to Tottenham.
If you want to make your voice heard please fill in the survey which can be accessed via the FSF website; www.fsf.org.uk
The NUFC Fans Foodbank is now well established here at NUFC, setting up opposite the Gallowgate End every home game, as well as operating from a Unit within the Grainger Market .Last year saw the first National Fans Foodbank Conference hosted here at NE1 with attendees from a variety of fans groups from up and down the country, with speakers from Everton, Liverpool, Celtic as well as our own NUFC Fans Foodbank. The Conference inspired fans of other clubs to set up their own match day collections and the movement appears to be growing.
It is credit to football fans up and down the country that they have got behind this initiative and here at Newcastle we are proud of the contributions made our supporters .NUST are happy to have played a part in our own NUFC Fans Foodbank and we will continue to assist where we can.
This year’s national National Fans Foodbank Conference is due to take place in Liverpool on 19th October and we are pleased to report that we will have an NUST representative in attendance. We will report back on progress that has been made by fans since last year’s Conference.
True Faith have announced their latest “True Faith Live” event which will be held at the Tyneside Irish Centre on Thursday 11/Oct/2018 with all proceeds from the night going to support the NUFC Fans Foodbank.
The previous events in September 2017 and February 2018 were very well organised, sold-out and a worthwhile night of debate and discussion about our beloved Newcastle United.
Our very own Colin Whittle will be attending as a speaker alongside lots of other noteworth NUFC writers.
For further information and to purchase a ticket, please click here.
I don’t spend a lot of time at AGMs; in fact, the Sports Direct version held in a partly finished floor space at Academy House today was my first. I could be wrong, but I’m fairly certain they usually last more than 15 minutes for large scale businesses such as this.
However, after the cursory/derisory amount of time allocated to the meeting, and Ashley’s appearance after saying he was too busy, the most striking aspect of the non-event was the complete absence of a Q&A session involving shareholders in the audience (not to mention the sprinkling of Mags in attendance) questioning the board of directors.
The ‘meeting’ was chaired by Keith Hellawell, who has previously relied on Ashley’s intervention as Chief Executive and majority shareholder to retain his position as Chairman following shareholder unrest. After Hellawell confirmed his and non-executive director Simon Bentley’s resignations, he covered some admin points before giving some guidance on the polling card, which contained the 18 Resolutions that were to be voted upon. Questions were invited from shareholders/proxies, but specifically regarding the 18 Resolutions only. When there were no takers, the board hastily relocated to a nearby meeting room, one making a glib comment about getting to the pub early.
With people unclear whether the meeting was over or briefly adjourned, the room started to empty. There was no ‘any other business’ or opportunity for an open forum Q&A session. As far as I could see, there wasn’t even a printed agenda, only a few rows of plastic seats on a bare concrete floor. I asked both a reporter and a shareholder whether I was wrong to expect a Q&A, and both confirmed that it is normal practice to include this in an AGM.
While Q&A sessions are not a compulsory element of any AGM, they are seen as an ideal opportunity to engage with shareholders and let them have their say. Indeed the ICSA (Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators), who ‘champion good governance practices’, identify the Q&A as one of the main reasons shareholders attend an AGM. It is also seen as an opportunity for good ‘PR’ in front of the media.
Given the current climate of shareholder unrest, including advisory groups advocating voting against Ashley and Hellawell, this should have given the board some much needed face time with their investors. It raises further questions about the corporate governance of Sports Direct, which is at the top of the list of current shareholder concerns, along with a falling share price, the reported £5million payment to his daughter’s boyfriend, and the House of Fraser buyout.
There were no presentations, speeches or any sort of board-shareholder engagement that (according to my research) are common practice in corporate AGMs; Ashley remained silent, with a decidedly uncomfortable look on his face. On reflection, the whole meeting came across as scripted and stage-managed, an approach with which all NUFC fans are all too familiar.
Is this just another example of ‘typical Ashley’? He is either gambling on shareholder loyalty, as he does with ours, or it is another display of outright arrogance and contempt; in my opinion, it is a mixture of both. To quote a recent headline from the national press: “The investors aren’t happy. But Mike Ashley doesn’t have to care.”
“The club apologised for delays in the regularity of Fans Forum meetings. The club … hoped that supporters ………. would acknowledge how committed the club has been to communicating openly as part of the Forum.” – extract from Fans Forum minutes 25th April 2018.
This is what the club said in April at their first meeting for over 18 months. They’re supposed to arrange at least two meetings per year but this hadn’t been happening. At the request of the Supporters Trust representative on the Forum they agreed to diary a programme of future meetings, the first being Tuesday 28th August.
On Monday 27th August the club sent out a message cancelling the meeting.
This at a time when there has been considerable unrest amongst fans and huge media attention about all matters Newcastle United. Protests and fan group meetings, disgraceful inaccurate statements being made by so called pundits and questions being asked at Government level about the ownership and management of our club. Could there ever be a more important time for the club hierarchy to meet with fans and discuss openly their ongoing concerns?
They’ve said they are committed to communicating openly with fans. Actions speak louder than words, however, and the Fans Forum would appear not to rank high enough in their priorities.
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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