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It’s possible that there has never been an equally inglorious start to anybody’s job in professional football, and it comes as no great surprise that it should have occurred at Newcastle United. The return of Joe Kinnear to St James Park was always going to be a hard sell for the owners of the club, were it not for the apparent fact that the owner of the club, Mike Ashley, long ago stopped trying to sell anything – apart, of course, from the stock of his sports barn warehouses – to any Newcastle United supporters. In this case, however, the return of a man whose first period in charge of the club could hardly be described as an unparalleled success seems to have fallen flat before a ball has been kicked – indeed, before even an official announcement has been made by the club.
If Mike Ashley’s time at the club can be characterised by anything, it can be characterised by the extent to which so many of the decisions made seem to have been done in a state of flux, with no consideration afforded to the possible effects of these decisions. Alan Shearer, a man with no managerial experience, was inexplicably appointed as the manager of the club at a time when it needed careful nursing if it was to avoid relegation from the Premier League. His replacement, Chris Hughton, did an understated but brilliant job of returning it back to the top division with the minimum of fuss, but his reward was to be replaced by Alan Pardew just a few months later. Pardew has had mixed fortunes at St James Park, with arguable overachievement during the 2011/12 season being balanced out by a poor performance last time around.
Many Newcastle United supporters believe that they know the reason for Kinnear’s sudden arrival at the club this summer, that Alan Pardew’s ill-advised comments about Ashley were likely to be construed as open criticism, and that the likelihood of him staying at the club for the entirety of the lavish eight year contract that he signed in September of last year. It has been argued that the appointment of Kinnear into the Director of Football position may be a ham-fisted attempt on the part of the club to nudge Pardew towards the exit door at the club without paying him the severance money that it would have to if it just sacked him. Of course, such behaviour on the part of the club would amount to constructive dismissal, so even if this were true it would be a cold day in hell before the club admitted it, even if it were true, and somehow it feels difficult to believe that it is, if only because so little of what has gone on behind the scenes at Newcastle United in recent years has seemed to have had any planning whatsoever behind it. The PR department at St James Park, it is easy to believe, may well be a locked broom cupboard with yellow and black tape across it and signs in multiple languages warning passers-by not to enter on pain of death.
Is the lack of an official confirmation of the appointment by the club wasn’t troubling enough for supporters, then the final straw may have been seized last night when Kinnear agreed to be interviewed by the radio station TalkSport. A full – well, almost full – transcript of the interview can be seen here, but amongst the many lowlights of this slow motion train crash were Kinnear’s repeated mispronunciation of the names of both players and even Managing Director Derek Llambias, claiming that Llambias had resigned ten days ago, which was presumably news to both Llambias and Mike Ashley, stating that he hadn’t actually met Alan Pardew yet – oh, to be a fly on the wall at that particular meeting of minds – claiming that, “I can open the door to any manager in the world, anyone,” insisting that, with regard to the club’s supporters, he had “more intelligence than them,” and trying to claim the credit for a number of successful Newcastle United signings of recent years which were, quite pointedly, nothing to do with him. He packed a considerable amount into quite a short period of time, it has to be said. Small wonder that, as social media groaned under the weight of anger and, more commonly amongst the supporters of other clubs, bemusement, Newcastle player Sammy Ameobi commented on on Twitter, ‘Wow at least get my name right.’ Well, quite.
Indeed, the events of the last few days coupled with the silence of the club have led some to the conclusion that this appointment might be a figment of Kinnear’s fevered imagination, and were it not for what we already understand about the way in which Newcastle United has been run in recent years this would be a tempting position to adopt. Until the club itself comes out and says one way or the other the other whether he has been appointed or not, the innuendo will continue, and the club’s continuing silence on the matter is only digging a deeper and deeper hole for it to have to dig itself out of. Yet this has been a common enough theme of Ashley’s time at the club – what may or may not be an ill thought out decision followed by an apparently stubborn lack of interest in any sort of amelioration of the feelings of supporters or repair collateral damage being done to the club’s wider reputation as a result of the appointment and the language used by Kinnear last night.
We have suggested on these pages before that, whilst the more furious aspect of the feelings of Newcastle supporters towards Mike Ashley might have fallen away in recent years, he is still, broadly speaking, unloved at St James Park and that what has existed at the club over the last couple of years has been an uneasy state of détente rather than any deal of affection for the owner. And while we would steer clear of the ‘Newcastle supporters deserve better’ trope of recent years – the overwhelming majority of football supporters in this country deserve better than they get at the moment, in several different ways – no support base should be insulted in the way that Newcastle supporters were by their apparent new Director of Football last night.
Moreover, however, there is a sense that this sort of fuss is the hint of a wasted opportunity for the club. The Premier League will start next season will start in a state a flux that is unprecedented in recent years, with widespread managerial changes giving the hint of an opportunity for the status quo to be upset and the colossal new television deal offering a window of opportunity in the transfer market for any club that can marshal its resources sensibly. Newcastle United, a club that is plenty capable of filling its 52,000 capacity stadium under the right circumstances, is a club that should be ideally positioned to exploit these potentially changing times, but the carelessness with which the club seems to be managed seems likely to throw a spanner in the works before a ball has even been kicked in anger. If Newcastle United realises the error of its ways over Kinnear, there is a possibility that a degree of harmony may be restored to the club before the start of the new season. History, however, seems to indicate that this isn’t exactly Mike Ashley modus operandi, do it seems more likely than anything else that the Newcastle United soap opera will rumble on into to the season. Another wasted opportunity. Another year passed since it last won a major trophy.
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Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.
On the subject of ticket prices I’ve been doing a lot of reading around the issue, in particular at the contrast between the Premier League and the Bundesliga.
The problem is one of lack of capacity. English stadia are on average sold out more, whilst German stadia are bigger which is quite a lot to do with 1.4 billion euros worth of public money spent on them immediately prior to World Cup 2006 – It also helps that German stadia have terracing.
I’m not one of the football is a business types, but the issue is that (in the English model at least) to compete at the top level clubs need to generate all the revenue they can and spend as much on wages as possible. Not to do so would mean dropping out of the Premier League and missing out on the lucrative broadcasting money so the choice then would be to run an unsustainable wage bill and climb back out of the Championship before the parachute payments run out, or go to the wall trying.
Going back to grounds clubs were forced to develop their stadiums in the 1990s, and 2000s but now in the Premier league these are mostly full – around a 95% capacity utilization rate across all clubs. This creates a problem where supply is often below demand and as clubs need to maximise revenue to remain competitive the incentive for them is to charge higher and higher prices.
Just to compound things developing a new ground is a risky business and requires a serious commitment to bankrolling the team while revenue is diverted into the project. Throw in issues around planning, transport and local politics and you have some big barriers and the bigger the stadium the bigger the issues – as this story about expanding St. Mary’s stadium shows http://www.dailyecho.co.uk/sport/saints/news/10353818.Special_report__Should_Saints_expand_St_Mary_s_Stadium_/
And as long as someone is prepared to pay the highest price there is a reduced incentive to actually take the risk of development as the extra supply would potentially have the effect of reducing price so the extra revenues from additional capacity may well be quite diminished.
So basically the best way to lower ticket prices would be to host a World Cup. This would bring in investement, political will and public money into the equation. In terms of the Bundesliga it is this which has allowed the German model of bigger stadiums and lower ticket prices. Apart from a World Cup terracing would be an easy way of increasing capacities and reducing development costs, but for obvious, and very valid, reasons this isn’t a straightforward move.
In the current system clubs will never lower ticket prices as revenues are all important to success, the option here is for fans to simply say enough is enough, but ultimately reducing a clubs revenue streams will make them less able to compete for the top players and therefore suffer from the competition.
For me the most sensible option would be for the Premier League to introduce a rule that a set percentage of the additional revenues from the new broadcasting deals – which are still way in excess of the other top leagues is spent, not on increased wages, but on subsidising matchday tickets and away travel. Were the league to enforce this clubs would not be at a disadvantage vis-a-vis other clubs, though there would be a potential danger of clubs being outbid for the top players by other competitors from among the big-5 leagues. Were this to happen the effect on the English model of top wages for top talent would be a catastrophic bursting of the bubble resulting in a Seria A style fall from grace with the irony being that then ticket prices would come down for sure.
Oops not sure how this ended up here. Was meant to be on the ticket price post!