The pressure on Steve McClaren’s position is becoming intense. Failure to beat Bournemouth today would likely see a much more vocal response from disgruntled supporters than the angry exchanges between Daryl Janmaat and some of the travelling faithful who witnessed the capitulation in Stoke midweek. But, this is nothing we’ve not seen repeated year in, year out. John Carver invited some fans to the training ground to smooth things over following the offer of a fight in the car park last season during his poor spell. Alan Pardew spent the entire ninety minutes uncharacteristically pinned to his seat for the visit of Cardiff in 2014 as he was roundly booed every time he stood up. So, when McClaren does eventually depart, will the club do a better job of finding a manager that gets the endorsement of the crowd? The recent fans forum provided me some insight into this question.
A year ago, in the fans forum of March 2015 Newcastle United were challenged by the supporter representatives on the effort they had made to promote the event to a wider audience. The club do a fine job publicising open training during school holidays, signing sessions when new shirts are released and a certain payday loan companies efforts at supporter engagement. But not the fans forum.
The forum is a UEFA sanctioned activity the club must partake in, so the cynic might think the club would prefer to get it out of the way as discretely as possible. However, from the minutes of that meeting a year ago the club promised to “look at ways to enhance this so that more fans are engaging in the process”.
In October, Lee Marshall, the club supporter liaison officer (another UEFA sanctioned role the club is forced to have) offered to meet me for a chat and I asked him about the issue. I asked why can’t the fans forum be broadcast on Periscope for everyone to watch and join in with? Questions could be submitted by anyone viewing. They could be submitted via Twitter, Facebook or whatever social network the club has a presence on too. None of this would be difficult to implement. We know the club has the technology because they proudly Periscope every new signing along with training sessions and pre-game. I was told it was something worth looking at.
Roll on to the fans forum this week and once again the club were challenged on the very same issue. This time “The club agreed with members’ views” and “stated the club would discuss options with local media outlets in order to give members the opportunity to discuss their experiences on the Fans Forum.”
If the club agreed with the point a year ago and nothing has changed, why would supporters have any faith that something will be done this time?
Some might say that this is the last thing the club should be worrying about right now, but this is the entire problem at Newcastle United in microcosm. Lip service paid to fan representatives and the entire supporter base by extension, empty promises made on improvements to come, and complete inaction or inability to effect positive change. If they can’t get it right with something so basic, what chance do we have?
Of course, that cynic would say that the forum works exactly as the club want it to and nothing will change. Last July, in the fans forum the club stated bluntly that they used only the Daily Mirror to announce Steve McClaren’s appointment to fans to “best control and reinforce the positive messages the club wished to deliver to them”. For the exact same reason we have a two or three day wait to read the sanitised version of events, we have members banned if they write about their views on the forum without club approval and we won’t see any changes, no matter what they say.
Similarly, despite talk of ambition, there is no change to the criteria in making major appointments at the club. Inexperienced chief executives without the wherewithal to tell Mike Ashley where his model fails is what Ashley prefers. Chris Mort, Derek Llambias and Lee Charnley weren’t appointed for their track record in the game, but for their compliance and this won’t change. Cheap British managers with Premier League experience are what Ashley likes so it’s what the fans have got and will continue to get, regardless of their failures at smaller clubs. Cut price players, often out of favour at their current club are bought for the bargain rather than to fill clear needs within a severely lopsided squad.
As long as Ashley remains Newcastle will struggle, regardless of who the manager is.