We’ve been here before haven’t we? Rafa has gone – and as a result, there will be another bout of handwringing and agonising about NUFC, all laid out in public. The press will have their say, there’ll be phone-ins to Five Live, and most of it will miss the point.
As plenty of supporters have said, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that Benitez has gone. He deserved better. Anyone with any sense would walk away from an association with the rotten ownership of this club. The incompetence, the greed, the PR disasters and the lack of vision is too much to bear for most of us, never mind one of the top managers in the game. It’s clear that the one thing that has kept Rafa in Toon is us – the fans, but it’s equally clear that it can’t be sustained.
From day one, Rafa’s been treated without any respect by Mike Ashley, someone who doesn’t understand the first thing about football, our fans, the region or Newcastle United. In fact, Ashley acts like someone who doesn’t even seem to know why he bought the club: it might as well have been Slazenger or Dunlop. He’s a gambler, someone who buys Adidas shares one week and sells them the next for millions of profit. That doesn’t take intelligence, just a large pot to gamble with. He’s an asset stripper and a chancer. I’m pretty sure he wants to move the club on, but equally, he has such wealth that he doesn’t have to. He’s in no kind of hurry, and he doesn’t give a damn about the damage he causes on his way out.
This is all very well – and people should be angry. But here’s the really important thing. It’s not about him, it’s about us. We already know what an utter bastard Ashley is. This is the owner of Sports Direct, a company which has one of the worst reputations in the country for how it treats its staff. A woman gave birth in his Shirebrook warehouse, because she was so scared to miss her shift, for God’s sake. He has no morals, and will never make a moral decision about Newcastle, so we’re going to have to do what any good trade union would do with an appalling, exploitative boss, and force him.
Yes, we’re going to have to do it ourselves. Not relying on a lucky billionaire buyout, or some local hero to rescue the club. Newcastle fans are going to have to stop expecting someone else to do the hard work for them and start being serious about how we really boot Ashley and his crew out. Let’s be honest: up until now, we haven’t been serious, with the exception of a small group of determined activists (I salute you). Occasionally breaking into “get out of our club!” isn’t going to do it, and neither is sulking on the sidelines.
Now it’s time for three things to happen: firstly, for the rest of the 50,000 in the ground to grow a conscience and take some responsibility, instead of sitting there in a comfortable seat watching this disaster unfold. Secondly, for people who are staying away (which is a principled stance) to join up the dots and organise alongside those who still go to games – we need to end that divide, by having visible protests at the ground. Thirdly, we need to realise that a real campaign doesn’t have one strategy, it offers a load of ways for people to protest and campaign, and builds it into one.
For Newcastle fans as a whole, we need to fight for our club. We’ve have had ample opportunity to protest and campaign against Ashley’s shambolic regime and been scuppered by something quite simple: a lack of solidarity. People acting as individuals, instead of a collective (the Toon Army). The result is clear to see. Ignorance is no longer an excuse, neither is laziness. It’s time for people to get off their knees. Because you get nothing in this life without a struggle. Trade unionism and politics has taught me that, granted. but it’s true of football as well.
Those in the ground need to stand up and show some solidarity with those who’ve boycotted and stayed away. I must admit, I find it astonishing and depressing that people can watch what is going on at the club, and yet not be prepared to miss the first 11 minutes as the smallest of protests. Those who are not prepared to do anything, are absolutely complicit in standing by while the club we love gets dragged through the mud. It’s no longer controversial to say that, and we can do without the faux outrage from those who sit on their hands.
That doesn’t mean that we don’t have to think about the way we campaign and organise against Ashley. Again, this is about being serious and strategic: you don’t carry on with a tactic that doesn’t work, and you alway listen to those who, for instance, don’t want to boycott – and look at other ways of putting pressure on the club hierarchy: But the fact is that many fans haven’t been prepared to entertain any form of protest, and that needs to be challenged if we’re ever going to get change at this club. Refusing to get involved isn’t “supporting” the club, it’s supporting the status quo.
A bit of perspective might be useful, and I think people would do well to look back at what fans at this club were prepared to do the last time we had regime change at NUFC: sit down protests, mass rallies after the game, noisy protests inside the ground, leaflets, posters, ‘Sack the Board’ t-shirts all over the North East, an activist group around the Mag who directed it all. In the 1990s, we were rightly angry at McKeag and what that awful, conservative old guard was doing to our club. We realised that the power was with us, and that it wasn’t just about boycotting, it was about an active, organised campaign, including direct action.
Some Newcastle supporters understand that, and are trying to resurrect that spirit, but the real issue is that the vast majority are either silent in the stands, or silently boycotting. And silence is the last thing we need. What we need is loud, in-your-face protest, at every game, in the town, in our fanzines – combined with a campaign targeting Ashley’s reputation & his business interests. It needs to be structured like a serious political campaign, with an aim to build, week by week, until he goes. I know there are people already doing this. The problem isn’t them: it’s the hundreds of thousands who are on their knees at the altar of the club’s hierarchy. It’s time to get up off those knees and understand the meaning of the phrase: ‘it’s our club’.