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.