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Passion, fury and ideas: minutes from NUSC's latest meeting

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Passion, fury and ideas: minutes from NUSC's latest meeting

 

 

George Caulkin

 

They came in their droves and nobody came alone; each person who stepped through the doors of the Tyneside Irish Centre carried with them love and commitment and decency. Some brought fury, some brought optimism and others desperation, some were moved to tears by the raw emotion. But nobody came alone. This was Newcastle, united.

 

How do you collate the views of supporters who can fill a 52,000-seat stadium? How do you represent the generation of fans who have been priced out of football, or the exiles spread around the world? How do you speak for them and decide what your aims should be? Can it even be done? Should a club which has consistently taken its core support for granted be confronted or engaged?

 

These were, and are, some of the difficult (and almost irreconcilable) questions facing the Newcastle United Supporters Club (NUSC), a body established in the wake of Kevin Keegan’s departure as manager this season and still in its formative stages. They were debated at a well-populated, articulate and spirited open meeting on Wednesday night. Here are some random observations.

 

1. Your club needs you. Grave concern was an obvious, overwhelming theme of the evening; concern that relegation is a real possibility, concern that Newcastle’s ownership has been more interested in asset-stripping than squad-building, concern that after too much grim football and too many broken promises, fellow supporters are on the brink of giving up and walking away.

 

2. Should I stay or should I go? How to channel that concern is a thorny problem. Boycott home matches? A divisive proposition impossible for most to contemplate – you support the shirt. Cancel season-ticket direct debits? A tactic which would hit Mike Ashley in the pocket, but would also mean sacrifice given that buying individual match tickets is more expensive.

 

3. Anger is an energy. Should the NUSC stand under a simple banner – Ashley out? Again, this is not a straightforward issue; not for everybody, anyway. On one hand, the evidence of incompetence is everywhere, from the £8 million profit made in the last transfer window, the league position, the baffling lack of communication, the botched appointment of a recruitment department.

 

For some, Ashley, Derek Llambias and Dennis Wise are symbols of a club which is self-destructing; reason enough to protest, demand their removal and call for change. And yet Ashley has already tried and failed to sell the club and that presents a dilemma. There are those who argue that attempting dialogue is the only sensible way forward. Finding consensus here is probably NUSC’s greatest challenge.

 

4. Where’s Waldo? Needless to say, Ashley did not buy a round of drinks at the Irish Centre; he seems to have stopped doing that. Wise wasn’t there. Neither was Llambias, although the hitherto invisible managing director will be answering questions from readers of two local newspapers on Friday. Some suggestions were made. Most of them were even printable.

 

On a related subject, here’s Joe Kinnear on Thursday morning. “The guys at the top know they need to communicate better, which is why they are speaking to the two local papers. I think they will sit down with supporters’ groups and fans and the people of Newcastle at the end of the season – I know they want to do that.” So why not now, when the loyalty of their supporters is needed more than ever?

 

5. NUSC 4 NUFC. The people running the supporters club are smart and enthusiastic, motivated by passion not ego. They have a committee, a treasurer, an official website (www.newcastle-united-supporters-club.co.uk) and many have lost money for a cause they believe in. It has taken time. The contributions of influential, independent voices such as true faith, The Mag and nufc.com have been vital.

 

6. Lights, camera, action. So what happens next? For one thing, visibility is required. The NUSC intends to remind people that it exists, that they have a collective voice. They will step up their media campaign. If invited, they will take their message into local communities, dispatching representatives to pubs and clubs to canvas support, raise awareness and ask for guidance.

 

On February 22, prior to the home game against Everton, there will be a rally (note the choice of word – rally) at the Monument in Newcastle’s city centre. A recommendation put forward at the meeting was that t-shirts promoting the NUSC could be distributed outside St James’ Park, issuing a statement to the Newcastle hierarchy. Look at us; you can’t ignore this.

 

7. There is power in a union. Why do we love football? Is it the escapism, the drama, the glitz and the talent? Or is it what Sir Bobby Robson has described as “the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride in your city?” Perhaps some of those bonds are being stretched for Newcastle supporters, but there is an alternative to helplessness. It is fragile and these are early days, but it is there.

 

As Neil Mitchell, one of NUSC’s committee members, put it, “We’re tired of the divisions within the fanbase. It feels like divide and rule and these divisions are easily exploited by the club. There’s only one way to bring everyone together and that’s through having a shared voice. We want to find common ground, and move forward. If the Supporters’ Club can achieve that, then brilliant.”

 

There are common misconceptions about all supporters, but Newcastle’s have suffered from repeated, lazy stereotyping, particularly this season. In part, the club are to the blame for that – during Ashley’s tenure they have never attempted to promote a positive image of themselves, to fill the vacuum. But those stereotypes were never in evidence at the Irish Centre. Newcastle, united.

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So many things wrong with the club and such a small likelihood of them being addressed by the club - even though some of them are fairly simple to do.

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You know what's funny to me about this whole thing?

 

All Ashley really had to do to make money on this thing was not fuck this up. That's it.

 

Do you have any idea how many professional sports teams/ clubs would kill to have loyal fans like Newcastle fans? Folks who year in, year out will attend the games no matter how good/ bad the team is? Buy all the new merch? Buy season tickets? Support the sponsors? Last time I looked, even with all the drama of this season, NUFC still boasted the 3rd highest average attendance in the Premiership this season. 3rd highest for Christ's sake! (behind only ManU and Aresenal, BTW)

 

Honestly, it might have taken a little more time than selling off decent players and turning a profit via the transfer window, but seriously- all that fat bastard had to do was pay off the debt and just not fuck up. He didn't even really have to succeed.

 

Amazing.

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