Mark Brophy

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Utopia

Let’s get something straight from the off. Newcastle United does not belong to Mike Ashley, to his business or to some combination of holding companies. It is our club, contrary to what it says in the ledgers of Companies House. They only keep track of who has legal title to the stock. In the eyes of the law, this information is all that matters, we are merely paying customers whose only right in relation to the company is to be able to take our custom elsewhere. We all know the real story is somewhat different. This is a club where those with its best interests at heart, those who are truly there for the long haul, whose interest in it is selfless and not motivated by personal gain, are not members in any meaningful sense. Nor do they have any tangible financial stake in it. It’s ours because however far ahead you look into the future we’ll still be here, just as our fathers were, the long-dead unknowns who lived in our streets were, and as our children will be if we have anything to do with it. Whether activist or apathetic, each has an equal share.

There are many whose attraction to a campaign against the current speculator will have evaporated as the great run of November extended into December. Even if that run of 5 wins from 6 at the time of writing is still going as you read this it doesn’t invalidate the aim of such a campaign, whether Time4Change or another. Success or failure has nothing to do with it. Look at one of our recently vanquished opponents, Manchester United. They have been the dominant club in England for many years. That doesn’t mean they have good owners, far from it in fact. Their success has been in spite of the owners not because of them, and the money drained from the club finances to pay for the privilege of ownership by the Glazers is probably the major reason why they have fallen behind global giants Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, possibly for ever. Just as it is there, so it is also true for us. No matter how positive our current form is, it only masks the fact that we could be doing better without breaking the bank, without the overriding priorities of someone who isn’t interested in making the side as good as he can dragging us down like an albatross around the neck.

So if you thought ahead 5 years, or 10, or even 20, how would you want our club to be run then? Assume Ashley has gone. Think about what would be the ideal. Again, there are many who hope only for someone even richer than the sugar daddies bankrolling success elsewhere to buy out our current shareholder. That would show a lack of ambition in a way. Though the desire is for someone else’s money to win us trophies, it would put us back in the same position we always have been, subject to the whims of owners. It might not even have the desired effect, the currently financially dominant having done their best to ossify their advantage through UEFAs Financial Fair Play (FFP) system. If the idea is just to swap one owner for another then whatever’s going wrong now, or has done in the past, is bound to happen again eventually.

The first hope therefore has to be fan ownership, preferably total but if not then whatever can be achieved. The worry is that it’s never likely to happen, the chances of fans being able to fund a buyout of any kind of significant stake looking thinner with every passing week of austerity. The thing is though, none of us know what the future holds for sure. Football governance and fan engagement seems to become higher in profile with politicians all the time. With an increasingly bitter election to be fought in 2015, those from all sides looking for votes may well come up with something tangible to attract crosses in boxes on ballot papers. Supporters Direct and their supporters in Parliament are currently pushing the idea of Community Shares as a vehicle to aid fans groups gaining a stake in their clubs. Who knows what imperatives may be introduced upon club owners to ensure this happens?

Even if owners were compelled to sell a proportion of their stake to a fans trust, it wouldn’t necessarily make it an easy process. People still have to come up with money. Someone needs to organise it and gain buy-in from the rank and file. For that reason, it would be imperative that the club provide some benefit to inspire and justify all the trouble that people would go to. Not victory, or success, because they cannot be guaranteed. Of course, the intention would be to have as much success as possible. If the club were truly self-sufficient, reinvesting the profits to improve the club and the team, FFP would work in the favour of Newcastle United compared to most other mid-table Premier League teams, and we’d be left poised to go even higher. The benefit would be the pride we could have in our club, in the way it was run, knowing we were reliant on no-one to make it happen. If it’s all about pride of course, then how we did things would be all-important. Think ethics, and how much more pride would be involved if we didn’t have sponsors whose business was impoverishing or making ill our friends and neighbours. Think how proud we could be of a club which reached out into the community, supporting grassroots football and programmes of help for the disadvantaged, or those who otherwise need it. Think how proud we could be of a club which wasn’t contemptuous of fans, no longer valuing them only as a source of funds. A club which promoted a positive image for the region. Think how proud we could be of our club.

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