This was written to Mike Ashley, 2 years ago today. Obviously, since then, we’ve been relegated and now it looks like we’re going to come straight back up, but not as comfortably as many of us thought (myself included). After a dismal season when we only just barely stayed up, the fact that Ashley spoke to the press and the fans for the first time and assured everyone that he meant to make this club successful again, means that relegation was inexcusable in the first place.
I hope and believe that we will be looking forward to a season in the Premier League by this time next month, but really that puts us in the same position we were in before the 2015/16 season… in the division, but expected to struggle.
Things are looking more promising with Rafa at the helm, of course, but I hope that Mr. Ashley really does take it seriously this time and not pull the rug out from underneath Rafa, the players, and the fans, like he has done in the past.
This open letter is just as relevant now as it was then.
Dear Mr. Ashley,
My name is Robert Waters. I am a life-long Newcastle United fan and have been a season ticket holder since 1998. I have recently become a co-moderator of a small Facebook group [name omitted] that invites fans to share their opinions about the club, and about happenings in football in general. From this recent experience, I feel it necessary to provide you with a summation of some of the thoughts of some of the fans of the club, including myself.
In 1998, I lived in Kent and regularly made the 600-mile round trip to see the home games at St. James’ Park. My family and I willingly made this trip as, whatever the result, we enjoyed the style and quality of football played by our team, week-in, week-out.
Living in Kent, I was surrounded by fans of the London clubs and the otherwise heavily-supported clubs from elsewhere in the land. The most common were Man Utd, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham and West Ham. I was constantly the butt of several jokes and jibes at school, but I would often retort (and rightly so)… “well, we’re better than you”. It is safe to say that I was a very proud Newcastle United supporter.
As I’m sure you’re aware, the situation has changed drastically in recent years. Now, children are sometimes ridiculed in their own city for supporting the local team and the state of affairs at Newcastle leaves them completely helpless to defend themselves. Now, suggesting that we are better than any other Premier League team, given our performances this season, can rightly be met with derision from pretty much any other club’s supporters. There is a very real danger that the club is about to lose an entire generation of fans due to the continued floundering of a club, the stature of which should have us challenging for European football every season, not fighting relegation.
I think it is safe to say that all Newcastle fans feel that the football club needs to be run as a football club first, and a business second. We understand that you have balanced the club’s finances and we are grateful for that, however as the people without whom the club could not continue to function we feel that we deserve better. For too long now, the club has been run without treating the game as a priority and this, quite simply, is unacceptable and an insult to tens of thousands of people. This may not be your city, but if you are going to represent it, at least treat the indigenous people with some dignity and respect as opposed to the apathy and contempt you have displayed thus far.
Promises of money spent on signings, or appointments of new staff, need to be honoured, not used to temporarily appease the fans then reneged upon as soon as the transfer window is over. An example of this is the appointment of John Carver as head coach of Newcastle United. I do not have any experiences of Carver’s influence in training or in the dressing room, however it is clear to see from his conduct on the touchline (for several seasons), his tactical decisions (this season) and post-match interviews (this season) that he possesses neither the mentality nor the ability to manage a football club of this stature. Not only that, but he had no experience as a manager anywhere other than Toronto, never mind in the top flight of one of the most prestigious leagues in the world. His win percentage before he was Newcastle manager was 31%. Since becoming Newcastle manager, his win percentage has been 13%.
The only conclusion that the fans can draw from Carver’s appointment is that he was the most cost-efficient and convenient option available and not a single consideration was given as to whether he might actually be the right man for the job. This is one of many situations that need to be resolved as soon as possible. Should we still be in the Premier League at the end of this season, which I desperately hope that we are, we need a manager who has the maturity, the tactical nous and the man-management ability to run a football club at this level.
Aside from the manager, the level of ability in the squad is not congruous with a club of this size. Without disrespecting any individual players it must be said that there are several first-team regulars who are not of sufficient calibre to represent a Premier League club, let alone one of this stature. There are a few exceptions but the squad on the whole must be improved if the club is to even stay in the Premier League, let alone challenge for silverware or European football. This means spending money on quality players and building around them, not looking for bargains who can be sold at a profit, thus never giving the core of the team a chance to gel together.
Newcastle fans do not necessarily expect to win trophies, but we do expect a team of decent quality to perform to the best of their ability in every game, and to finish the season in a league position befitting the relative stature of the club. Whether this is a top-half finish or a European challenge may not be for me to say, but we should be outdoing the teams around us who are not in as good a position, financially, as we are. There aren’t many clubs that can come close to matching us in this aspect, yet we are languishing in the bottom half, fighting relegation and relying on youth players to fill in the gaps. We have lost 6 games in a row, equalling a Premier League record which will likely be broken on Saturday when we host relatively in-form Swansea City. This run of form is inexcusable for a club of our stature.
The fans will not accept another relegation, especially one from which we are much less likely to recover with the players at our disposal. They will not accept another uneventful transfer window, especially after the recent figures from Companies House which suggest there is over £30m available for transfers and players’ wages. I implore you to take this seriously or we will surely be relegated next season. The only thing that has kept us up this year was the anomalous 5-game winning streak under Alan Pardew; we cannot count on something that unlikely happening again.
This message does not come from a Newcastle fan who smashed windows after a defeat against Sunderland, but from one who watched it happen and fully expects to watch it happen again. It comes from a Newcastle fan who, after 17 years of season ticket holdership, recently decided to boycott a match (against Spurs) for the first time ever. The boycott may not have had the desired effect, but the truth remains that no fan, whether they attended on Sunday or not, wants to see factions of the most passionate football fans in the world refusing to watch the game out of disdain for the atrocious performances and the incomprehensible contempt shown for them by the people in charge.
This city and its football club, while they may not be close to your heart, deserve the best representation they can get. In the name of all of the legends; Hughie Gallacher, Jackie Milburn, Alan Shearer, Gary Speed and many others whose legacy you deemed fit to chuck in a skip only last week, please start running this club like a football club, rather than a device to make money at the expense of the people who make it possible.
If you do not want to run a football club properly, please leave, along with your money, and invest in something else.