The battle for the Toon has just begun

Janek Speight Columnist

By Janek Speight, Janek Speight is a Roar Expert

18 Have your say

    Newcastle United face a relegation fight in the second half of the Premier League season.

    As Harry Kane broke away and slotted home his 30th goal of the season it was as if a fire alarm had sounded. St James’ Park emptied faster than pre-game pints at The Strawberry.

    Outside the iconic stadium, home to the passionately supported Newcastle United Football Club, there was a boycott going on, one which had been threatening to happen for too long. Better late than never, I guess.

    For those fans that were inside the stadium it was a wonder why they had even bothered. Throughout the 90 minutes they sat in silence just as they have done for about the past five years. Suffering in silence and turning up because they do not know any better.

    #BoycottSpurs was the call from leading up to the match, and a large crowd gathered to carry out the pre-game and post-game protests. Newcastle fans fed up with Mike Ashley’s ownership of the club have finally had enough and are fighting back with their feet.

    The official figure on Sunday afternoon for Newcastle’s 3-1 loss at the hands of Tottenham – the club’s sixth successive league defeat – was about 47,000. Down from the usual 52,000, that was a fair chunk taken away from Ashley’s pockets. It was, however, still the highest attendance in the Premier League for the weekend.

    From viewing the Sky Sports footage the figure was clearly skewed. Premier League crowd figures always include season tickets no matter if the holders attend or not, and it is likely quite a few of the protesters were club members.

    The lowest crowd St James’ has seen since upgrading to more than 50,000 seats was 41,053 in 2010 during a midweek game. The Spurs match on Sunday would have gone close.

    Yet it should have been more. Unfortunately, in the city of Newcastle, Toon fans are too stuck in their ways. They support the club through poor results, relegations and bad management no matter how dire the circumstances.

    At one time there was a sense of romanticism about such loyalty. Now, however, it is tinged with sadness. When these fans attend St James’ Park they think of their families, their friends, their childhood. They hold good memories within its confines, both sad and joyful. It is always hard to break-up and say goodbye, even if it is for a good cause.

    Getting rid of Ashley is indeed a good cause, although one-off boycotts are likely nothing more than a symbolic gesture.

    The first time I attended St James’ Park was in 2004. The Toon played out a 0-0 draw with Arsenal and despite the lack of goals it still remains one of the most electrifying atmospheres I have witnessed, competing alongside some of Europe’s most famous arenas and the Socceroos qualifying for the 2006 World Cup.

    In April last year I returned for the first time since 2011 and was shocked by what I experienced. Newcastle lost their fifth consecutive match against Swansea, which came amid a spell between December 2013 and October 2014 where the club managed just three victories.

    Yet it was not the performance on the pitch that stood out – though it was extremely woeful. It was the resignation among the fans. They just did not seem to care. Even the full-time boos were tired and disinterested. The heart has been ripped from the club, the soul long gone.

    Family and friends have stopped attending. Paying Β£40 for a ticket where the football is drab and the stands are full of zombies is not a good time. The once rocking Gallowgate end is now a debilitating sight when compared to past years.

    Newcastle fans do not ask for much, despite the common theme that they are overly expectant when it comes to success. A trophy would be nice, but really all that is pined for is attacking, attractive football, a few local lads coming through the youth teams, defeating Sunderland and a decent cup run here and there. A few wins against the bigger clubs is also welcome.

    None of the above is even an option anymore.

    The club runs at a profit but is still heavily in debt to its owner, Ashley. He has turned Newcastle United into a business, it is no longer a football club.

    The only ambition is to finish in the top ten of the Premier League and a cup run is seen as a distraction. Three wins in the FA Cup in 14 attempts over the last eight years, including losses to the likes of Stevenage, Brighton and Leicester, is a good representation of the club’s attitude to bringing any kind of joy to its long suffering supporters.

    Local and national media organisations, such as The Chronicle, The Journal and The Telegraph, being banned from the stadium shows the dictatorial nature of the current regime. The departure of Kevin Keegan still riles, as does the replacement of Chris Hughton with Alan Pardew, and the renaming of St James’ Park to S***** D***** Arena will never be forgotten.

    The stadium’s traditional title is now back, yet the hoardings of advertising for Ashley’s retailing business, which he does not pay for, is just as suffocating as the dribble on the field.

    Towards the backend of 2014 the Newcastle fans began voicing their discontent. Yet it was misdirected at Pardew as fans called for his head. The real culprit has always been Ashley, as I wrote in January.

    Now the club is managerless, winless in six games and frighteningly close to a second relegation in seven years. The Tyne-Wear Derby has not been won since 2011 and the last five meetings have resulted in defeat.

    Life as a Newcastle supporter has never been easy but it has somehow still been enjoyable.

    Whether that was watching Alan Shearer raise that right arm in a match between two sides battling within mid-table ignominy, seeing Sir Bobby Robson make a triple substitution to turn around a 2-0 deficit, or watching Laurent Robert do this, excitement has never been too far away.

    Now, however, that excitement is nowhere to be seen and showing no signs of a return.

    The Spurs away fans were almost mocking Toon supporters on Sunday while celebrating Kane’s strike as Newcastle shirts filed out of St James’ Park all around them. Not that they would have instantly realised it.

    β€œHe’s one of our own, he’s one of our own, Harry Kane, he’s one of our own,” they sang.

    Newcastle fans no longer have anything that is their own. This is not their club anymore. It is a skeleton of a way of life that died a while ago. Unfortunately, it is common theme running through modern day football, but at least the support is starting to unite in discontent.

    It may be an ultimately losing battle, but it is one worth fighting.

    Janek Speight
    Janek Speight

    Janek is a freelance journalist based in Berlin. You can follow him on Twitter, @JanekSpeight

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    The Crowd Says (18)

    • April 20th 2015 @ 11:22am
      PGNEWC said | April 20th 2015 @ 11:22am | ! Report

      Ashley relies on bargain basement players this was OK when Alan Pardew was around who seemed to get something out of them initially but the policy seems to be once they get any good they are sold on. Newcastle fans have always had the ambition to be top shelf like the Manchesters and the Liverpools but have never had the ownership structure that will get them to the next level

    • April 20th 2015 @ 12:58pm
      nordster said | April 20th 2015 @ 12:58pm | ! Report

      They really would benefit from a more bundesliga style atmosphere at st james park. More than most clubs. Nufc should be like Dortmund with a wall of noise at one end. That would engage younger fans and really return a lot of spirit to the ground.

      For all the positives of the EPL, the controlled atmosphere affects clubs like Newcastle more than most. Atmosphere and passion could push them higher rather than becoming such a morose, whiny fan base they are now.

    • Roar Guru

      April 20th 2015 @ 4:26pm
      Kaks said | April 20th 2015 @ 4:26pm | ! Report

      Seems like a very short sighted view from the Newcastle fans. Not everyone can be challenging for the title. Who do they think/want to replace Mike Ashley with who they think will pump money into the team?

      A couple of seasons ago they came fifth, didn’t hear a peep from the fans then.

      They wanted Pardew out, who is a good manager, for the sake of it without a replacement in mind. Now look at where Pardew is with Palace and where Newcastle is without Pardew. The points Newcastle won while Pardew was at the helm look to save Newcastle from relegation this year. Will they thank him for that?

      • April 20th 2015 @ 8:52pm
        Batou said | April 20th 2015 @ 8:52pm | ! Report

        Nick Tanna?

        Oops, wrong thread… πŸ™‚

      • Columnist

        April 20th 2015 @ 11:12pm
        Janek Speight said | April 20th 2015 @ 11:12pm | ! Report

        Pardew was/is a decent manager. Nothing more, nothing less. Calls for him to go came at a time when the club had won just three games in almost a 12-month period. If you followed his career he is known for great spells followed by very poor spells.

        After Newcastle finished fifth the club then sold their top goalscorer the following season and did not replace him. No ambition to kick on, just another mid-table finish please.

        • Roar Guru

          April 21st 2015 @ 1:03pm
          Kaks said | April 21st 2015 @ 1:03pm | ! Report

          Janek, they tried to replace him. They bought Siem De Jong who was sidelined before the season started, hardly Pardew or Ashley’s fault. And yes Pardew does not have the best record, but he showed that he was a very capable manager. The Toon faithful called for his head without an accomplished replacement in mind. Now look at where they are

          • Columnist

            April 21st 2015 @ 5:26pm
            Janek Speight said | April 21st 2015 @ 5:26pm | ! Report

            Luuk De Jong*, the striker, came to Newcastle in January 2014 (he was never injured by the way). Siem De Jong came at the start of this season and is a midfielder. He should prove to be a decent player once back from injury.

            But we’re talking about the 2012-13 season, no? The season Newcastle played in the Europa League and sold Demba Ba.

            Also, try not to define all Toon fans as those who called for Pardew’s head. That’s like labelling all Arsenal fans as wanting Arsene Wenger’s resignation.

            • Roar Guru

              April 22nd 2015 @ 11:10am
              Kaks said | April 22nd 2015 @ 11:10am | ! Report

              Janek, Siem Played as an attacking midfielder and as a striker while at Ajax, he was seen to be a potential goal scorer for Newcastle who would add genuine quality and be a possible leader considering he was captain of Ajax.

              You cant blame the Newcastle board for Demba Ba leaving, he had a small buy out clause and wanted to go when Chelsea came knocking. Newcastle also had Papisse Cisse who they thought would be able to score goals at the time. In hindsight it looks like that was a poor decision.

              Yes Janek, not all of the Toon faithful wanted Pardew gone, but a large portion did. On all message boards and at all games there were calls for him to go if they were not winning. There were plenty of “good riddance” comments when he did go to Crystal Palace as well as newcastle fans saying that the other fans would regret what they have done – Read the comments here

              • Columnist

                April 23rd 2015 @ 4:16pm
                Janek Speight said | April 23rd 2015 @ 4:16pm | ! Report

                If you’re reading the Daily Mail you’re doing it wrong…

          • Roar Pro

            April 21st 2015 @ 6:40pm
            Wynter said | April 21st 2015 @ 6:40pm | ! Report

            Pardew has always showed he’d a capable manager as long as you keep him for one season, then his tactics come undone.

    • Roar Rookie

      April 20th 2015 @ 5:58pm
      Alex Chisholm said | April 20th 2015 @ 5:58pm | ! Report

      To be fair Kaks Newcastle is one club town, hence their ‘short sighted views’. They will always hope their team will do better than they should. In terms of wanting Pardew out it is more a case of the fact that Pardew came in with the Ashley take over, therefore placing him in the ‘Cockney Army’. Any excuse was found to want him out.

      Spot on though Kaks about the points he has won. It is prolonged their survival for longer but it is hard to know whether or not the Toon Army would thank him or not.

      • Roar Guru

        April 20th 2015 @ 9:42pm
        Kaks said | April 20th 2015 @ 9:42pm | ! Report

        For the last few years it seems like the same old story for Newcastle. They seem to think they are bigger than they are. Granted they do have a massive following and a very nice stadium, but they seem to not realise – or not want to realise – that they are a very limited club. Who takes over from Ashley who will provide them financial security? Who takes over from Pardew to provide them a very good manager with their limited resources?

        Ashley came in when Newcastle were relegated, and within a couple of seasons they were fifth in the Premier League and he is not too far from most modern day owners of ‘mid table’ clubs where you wont get the major splash of cash for the worlds best players.

        People keep saying that Newcastle buy cheap players because Ashley wants to make money out of the club, however they have players like Janmaat and Cabaye who are/were great players. They bought Remy Cabella who was thought to be an outstanding talent, however he has failed to deliver. There are other players i can name who, when purchased, were considered to be great buys but the players never delivered. Seems like the fans are very short sighted. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

        • Columnist

          April 20th 2015 @ 11:05pm
          Janek Speight said | April 20th 2015 @ 11:05pm | ! Report

          Ashley did not come in when Newcastle were relegated, he arrived in 2007. He got them relegated Kaks. He hired Dennis Wise to undermine Kevin Keegan’s position and then used four managers over the course of the 2008-09 season.

          • Roar Guru

            April 21st 2015 @ 1:01pm
            Kaks said | April 21st 2015 @ 1:01pm | ! Report

            You’re right Janek, i should have googled it before hand. However my point still remains, who do Newcastle believe would be better than Ashley?

            • Roar Pro

              April 21st 2015 @ 6:44pm
              Wynter said | April 21st 2015 @ 6:44pm | ! Report

              Anyone who has a genuine passion for the club, not an owner who is about to offer Carver the full-time job (Carver’s hinted at it in press-conferences) despite his inability to win a football match.

              An owner who doesn’t sell one of your key players (Santon), when the club is already short in defensive reinforcements, basically an owner who has a vested interest in the football team and not an owner looking to squeeze every last drop out of a club which is now slowly dying.

    • April 21st 2015 @ 12:18pm
      Frederick said | April 21st 2015 @ 12:18pm | ! Report

      Brilliantly written. Enjoyed that – nice one, Janek.

    • April 21st 2015 @ 10:07pm
      Slim said | April 21st 2015 @ 10:07pm | ! Report

      Love to see Harry Kane in Sydney FC colours, oh hold on Janek, we have the low salary cap even the marquee system won’t get him here. Never mind great player though.

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