Throughout my childhood Newcastle United sold out. The club sold top class players on the idea of joining an ambitious, progressive club. A club that routinely finished in qualifying places for top European competitions.
Fans (not that they needed to be) were sold on spending their hard-earned cash on the team of their childhood; the team of their heart. Prior to the level 7 extension, I was one of thousands of fans on the season ticket waiting list. The club could almost name their price for match tickets,such was the overwhelming demand. The fact we even had a waiting list was prideful in itself; a club growing faster than its skin.
The club sold us hope, sold us pride, sold us a strong sense of identity and the club and the city (and all those within it) were aligned.
Then Mike Ashley happened.
He tested the passion / pride / patience / will (choose the word that best describes it for you) of supporters to the limit by being the antithesis of what the club was previously striving to become. We once broke the world record transfer fee, you know. We played in the Champions League, beating Barcelona amongst others, you know. We made back-to-back FA Cup Finals, you know. We finished second in the league, you all too sadly know!
The day I finally got my season ticket was a moment I’ll never forget. For a young man from Hertfordshire born to a Geordie dad (who moved down south for work in the 1970s) this was a moment I yearned for and dreamt about for many years. My bedroom was covered in NUFC posters. I had a collection of NUFC season review videos from age 7 onwards. I was only one of two NUFC fans at my school and bloody proud of that fact.
At the dawn of the Entertainers this all changed, even in the small London commuter town in which I lived. Our independent sports shop started selling NUFC kits which was amazing enough to witness having been a lone Toon Army wolf down south throughout my childhood; what happened next will stay with me forever. The new 1995/96 kit was launched alongside kits from traditionally popular and local Premier League teams such as Arsenal and Tottenham (80% of my friends supported one or the other) – there was only one kit and poster on display in the shop window – it was ours. A full Newcastle United kit on show, taking pride of place in an Arsenal-Tottenham catchment area.
My mind was blown. Ambition brings success. Ambition breaks down geographical barriers. Ambition brings relevance nationwide (and beyond). Suddenly I was cool for being a Newcastle Fan. Newcastle United were able to sell out their kits in regions the club previously had zero foothold.
I moved up to Newcastle as soon as I could – I did my A-levels up here and have remained ever since. Despite the fact that I have family in Newcastle, undoubtedly the primary reason for moving was to become a Newcastle United season ticket holder. I collected match programmes. I loved finally being able to read the Pink after every match which was delivered to my door. I thoroughly enjoyed the full pre-match and post match experience. I’ll never forget the Geordie Dancer (“Pull your fucking pants up!”), nor the curry challenge, nor the other visually-appealing entertainment on offer.
Those were the days. It was a ‘failure’ that Sir Bobby Robson finished 5th with us one year. A man that I adored and had his autobiography before he even joined us lost his job and – perhaps most shockingly – I could see the logic in that decision.
Newcastle United wanted more. We were all sold on the dream of being the very best that we could be.
Then Mike Ashley happened. We all know the sorry story of the past 12 years – I’m not going to bore you with it all here – instead, lets fast forward to the present after a brief interlude in the summer of 2017.
They did it. They finally did it. For me the club had completely souled out. We had a world class manager (Rafa) and a supporter base fully behind their manager and players. Mike Ashley fortuitously found himself in this situation where his legacy could be completely re-written by simply backing a manager we all loved. Rafa was all-in. The fans were all-in. The players were all-in. And yet still, Ashley wasn’t sold.
I gave up my season ticket in disgust in 2017. The club that sold a young boy from Hertfordshire on the dream of supporting an ambitious club had completely lost its soul. We were going no-where, only treading water. We all feared Rafa wouldn’t stick with us for much longer and there were no signs anything was about to change. A season ticket that at one point I spend a third of my annual income on (I was a student living at home) was now worthless to me.
Fast forward to the present day and it appears the club now agrees. After a successful boycott led by an unprecedented collective of fans (including the Magpie Group) which led to 10,000 season ticket holders giving up their seat the club had a decision to make. Options could have
● The club coming out and fully explaining what happened and how they couldn’t convince Rafa to stay.
● To explain to the fans how they see the next 5 years going under the stewardship of a non-world class manager.
● An effort to speak to fans in a more effective way instead of the sham supporters forum in which Mike Ashley never attended.
● An invitation to the fans collective to sit down and discuss our boycott plans and understand where we were coming from and take advice on how to turn supporter opinion around.
● An attempt to encourage the boycotters to return (I’m not saying this would have been successful, but at least the club would show they care and are trying).
● The replacement of Rafa with another world class manager (a fanciful idea that this version of the club could attract such a manager, which in itself makes it all the more galling that the club effectively let Rafa reluctantly leave without a fight.).
Instead of any of the above options, the club responded to the boycott by GIVING AWAY over 10,000 season tickets partly in a spiteful effort to undermine the boycott efforts. Within days of the announcement, the club gleefully announce they have completely sold out tickets for the Everton game. SOLD OUT!
Although this sell out doesn’t include our absentee owner who rarely fills his seat, it does include tens of thousands of loyal, long-suffering season ticket holders who paid full price at a time of uncertainty in the midst of the #IfRafaGoesWeGo movement.
Many of these fans have stuck at it due their 10 year season ticket deals. What a kick in the teeth to these loyal fans to now be surrounded by people who have got into the stadium for free. Weused to be sold by the ambition of the club and would always find a way to pay for our season ticket; now season ticket holders are being sold down the river.
Next summer will provide the next litmus test for the club and its supporters.
● Do fans continue to buy season tickets now the club have form for giving away free season tickets to plug the gaps?
● Do even ‘10 year deal’ season ticket holders decide enough is enough?
● Do the club try and show real ambition to win back the support and good faith of the disenfranchised fans?
● Do the club start paying the going rate for players?
● Do the club start paying the going rate for accomplished managers?
● If not, do the club intend to genuinely try and sell the club with no strings attached? It shouldn’t cost a £15m non-refundable fee (allegedly) just to see the detailed books.
Or will the zero value of the season ticket truly reflect the ambition of the club in the future?
The club have indeed sold out. They have sold out to paying season ticket holders. They have sold out on having any ambition or hope for a brighter future. They have sold out on trying to engage fans on the deep-rooted disconnect between themselves and the fans.They have sold out the value attached to owning a season ticket – one that many young fans dream of growing up.
I should know; I was one of them.
Part of The Magpie Group
Find me on the @MaintainSJP twitter account