A group of Newcastle United fans staged a mock funeral in protest of the removal of signs bearing the name "St James' Park" from what is now known as Sports Direct Arena before Saturday's match against the Wolverhampton Wanderers. The protest, explicitly directed at controversial owner Mike Ashley and chairman Derek Llambias, featured a man dressed as a priest delivering a eulogy as pallbearers carried a black-and-white striped coffin. The priest, played by local actor Steve Wraith, declared the name change as "sacrilege" and urged fans to join the movement to get the St James name reinstated.
Wraith explained the protest to Michael Brown of The Chronicle:
The only thing they have done by removing the St James Park signs in this way is antagonise the fans. We know money talks and if they had changed the name to the Fish Finger Stadium or the McDonald's Stadium and said we were getting £10m for it then fans would have perhaps accepted it more. But this is just trying to show people what could be done - if we are going to have the name sponsored, at least get someone to pay for it.
I've included some brief commentary after the jump.
The protest has produced a wide array of reactions from the Toon Army, ranging from moral outrage over a lack of respect for the dead to total and complete support. I have to admit that I have a few reservations over this, but I should be clear when I say that no part of my reaction has anything to do with moral grandstanding. I have no problem with the fact that a coffin was present or that the protest was billed as a funeral - it's not a lack of respect for any dead person, in my opinion, though I can certainly understand the view that says that comparing the name change of a stadium to death can be trivializing. Such a display might be better suited for a protest of Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill, for example. Nevertheless, I didn't find it to be inappropriate.
Neither did I find it to be sacrilege, as some have suggested on Twitter. I work as a minister. It's not a fact that I usually advertise on this or any other blog on SBN, mostly because it's irrelevant. Let me say this, though: If you're a religious person and this offended you, please consider lightening up. I didn't get into this line of work so I could be grumpy about such trivial matters.
If I can get this back on track, this protest fell flat for me in two areas: (1) it was sort of cheesy, and (2) it probably won't really do much at all to accomplish the stated goal. At the end of his message, Wraith urges his congregation to join the movement to restore the St James' name. And what movement is that, exactly? The one where we sing songs and add hashtags to our tweets? Sure, as a result of the display, more people are discussing the issue...or are they? No, we're talking about a certain form of protest. Ashley and Llambias were already aware that the supporters disapproved of the move, and it's clear that they don't care. This story will be out of the news cycle in 24 or 48 hours, and the only people that will remember anything about it are the ones that were there or the people who love to hate Newcastle and will bring it up anytime the team loses. I enjoy slacktivism as much as the next guy, but in the end, what is accomplished?
What do you think? Are you offended? Are you in support of any form of public discourse that registers your distaste with the current regime? Or, are you somewhere in the middle, as I am?