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Opinion: If Rafa Goes, the Fans Will Stay

Fans have claimed that If Rafa goes, so will they. The harsh reality is that next year they will all be there regardless of Rafa being there.

Newcastle United v Liverpool FC - Premier League
bye bye bye
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

There are less than 10 days until Rafael Benitez’ contract with Newcastle United runs out.

Let that sink in for a moment. There are less than ten days until the contract of one of the greatest and most liked managers in Newcastle United history runs out. There are less than ten days until the contract of the only manager in history to have won the UEFA Europa League, UEFA Super Cup, UEFA Champions League, and the FIFA Club World Cup runs out. There are less than ten days until the contract of the man who unlocked the potential of Sean Longstaff, discovered the hidden gems of Fabian Schar and Martin Dubravka, and there are less than ten days until one of the only symbols of hope in the Ashley era’s contract runs out.

You should be mad. As a matter of fact, if you are a Newcastle fan reading this right now, you are probably livid.

The incompetent powers currently in control of Newcastle United are to blame for not getting the extension of a manager with the caliber of Rafa Benitez sorted earlier. There are no acceptable excuses as to why this deal has not been completed because the club has had two years to get this sorted.

Rafa’s demands have been very straightforward. He wants written in transfer budget guarantees and an investment in the youth academy as well as the clubs’s facilities. These demands are not too much to ask for considering Mike Ashley has promised these things publicly to Rafa Benitez, and has subsequently broken all of these promises during the Spaniard’s tenure at the club.

Yet, these things are evidently too much to ask for in the eyes of Mike Ashley, resulting in a 2 year period of back and forth, drawn out negotiations that caused frustration for all of those following the club.

Just as the season ended, giving the club an entire month to solely focus on getting Rafa back on Tyneside next season, news broke that the Bin Zayed Group was staging a takeover over Newcastle United. As great as this news was, it created further complications in figuring out the future of Rafa Benitez.

So now here we are, less than 10 days from Rafa’s current contract expiring wondering what happens next.

Last summer saw the emergence of a movement that became the story line that defined this past season. The #IfRafaGoesWeGo movement was birthed after yet another disappointing start to a transfer window in the Mike Ashley regime. As contract talks with Rafa were being made public, the fans began to side with Rafa Benitez, claiming that if the Spaniard were to leave the club they would leave with him.

The Twitter account that birthed the movement amassed upwards of 25,000 followers in less than a week, and was one of the key organizers behind the protest group “The Magpie Group”. The Magpie Group was formed as a way to put pressure on Mike Ashley to do what is right for the club by being a frustrating thorn in his side through various protests.

The unofficial goal of the group was to get rid of Mike Ashley, under the guise of their official goal of holding the ownership of Newcastle (whoever that may be) accountable for their actions. The group wants the ownership to simply do what is best for the club

One of the ways the Magpie Group felt the ownership could do what was best for the club was by retaining Rafa Benitez, a move that would practically secure Newcastle’s Premier League safety for the duration of his contract. This exacerbated the #IfRafaGoesWeGo movement, as may began to associate the actions of The Magpie Group with the movement.

Newcastle United v Southampton FC - Premier League
Rafa was responsible for the crazy successful season this man had
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

The #IfRafaGoesWeGo movement gained steam as the season wore on. Multiple players began to state how important he was to Newcastle United, pundits began to speak his praises, and Rafa was getting results that no other manager in the prem was. While other relegation battle teams were struggling, Rafa put together one of the most dominant second half of the season performances in recent memory.

This season more than even last season, proved Rafa Benitez’ worth to fans, and it appeared as if fans began to really buy into the #IfRafaGoesWeGo movement.

The issue was, nobody actually thought he was going to leave.

Any moron with two eyes and a brain knew that re-signing Rafa should be the club’s priority. The common sentiment was that the club needs to re-sign Rafa and back him. “He was able to get us a top ten finish last year and another good campaign this year without much financial support, imagine what he could do with proper backing”, was the cry among many.

Fans began to swear that once Rafa leaves, they would be cancelling their season tickets, boycotting matches, and would refrain from supporting the club they loved so dearly.

Yet, here we are, less than 10 days from Rafa potentially not being here and the fans are still here.

The biggest issue with the #IfRafaGoesWeGo movement is that it is incredibly easy to say that if “Rafa Goes I will Leave”, but incredibly difficult to do.

It is easy to be passionate about something on Twitter because there often are no real life ramifications. Sure, if you say something racist or incredibly controversial, that could have an effect on your life. But for the most part, especially when it comes to sports, there really are no consequences for your actions.

This means that there are thousands of Newcastle fans on Twitter who are all talk, and no game. To tweet your support for the #IfRafaGoesWeGo movement was popular, and not at all edgy. It was easy to do, would guarantee you some iterations on Twitter, and overall created a sense of euphoria as you were able to air out your frustrations with the club.

Tweeting about the movement was also popular because nobody was prepared to hold anyone responsible for their actions. Nobody realistically felt that they would need to forgo their season ticket, because nobody realistically felt as if the club would let their best manager in years walk away from the club.

Even with other popular takes on NUFC Twitter, such as the chatter regarding The Magpie Goup’s movement, nobody was held accountable for the things they would proclaim on Twitter. The Magpie Group, to their credit, organized various protests in order to allow their massive following to get involved. Unfortunately for them, they would often find that out of their over 12,000 followers, only 30 or so people would show up to their organized protests.

Newcastle United v Manchester City - Premier League
A sad si in as the highlight of this season’s protests
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

The culmination of this disappointing call to arms by Newcastle fans, was the Man City sit in. The sit in came to be after thousands of fans on Twitter expressed that Newcastle fans needed to boycott a nationally televised game. When the Magpie Group entertained the idea of actually carrying out the boycott, the same fans who were calling for the boycott began to have second thoughts. They thought the idea of a boycott was a little extreme considering the amount of money they already spend on the club, or that the boycott would be ineffective since “the fat man already has our money”.

This led to the Magpie Group suggesting a sit in after the Manchester City match. The entire week leading up to the match people seemed excited for the idea of sitting in after a nationally televised mid week match against the league leaders. All of the UK and the world would be watching which would give the Toon Army the platform they desperately needed.

Two things happened that match day: Newcastle won, and the club transfer record was broken.

Those events led to an almost laughable sit in of maybe 20 or so people after the match. What could have been a statement to Mike Ashley an the word about the lack of ambition from the Newcastle owner quickly became a joke.

Newcastle fans were so caught up in the short term gratification that they missed out on a key battle in an almost 15 year war with Mike Ashley. The saddest thing about the whole situation, was that it wasn't surprising in the slightest.

Newcastle fans have this unique talent of being able to spot the bullshit from Mike Ashley, and be upset about it without taking action.

Fans knew in the bottom of their hearts that the Manchester City win, or the signing of Miguel Almiron did not mean that Mike Ashley was going to be a better owner. However, that did not encourage them to take any action.

Even if you want to isolate the incident and make the argument that the sit in would have been a bummer on a night where everyone wanted to celebrate a win, Newcastle fans still had 3 months to make a statement about Mike Ashley and never did.

The Magpie Group virtually fell off the face of the earth. The If Rafa Goes we Go Twitter account began to tweet general banter. Fans began talking more about how high up the table Newcastle could climb rather than how we can apply pressure on Mike Ashley to re-sign Rafa or show any ambition when managing the club.

Newcastle United v Manchester City - Premier League
people made a lot of noise, but took no action
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

It was not like there were not opportunities to have another sit in, or organize more protests. Newcastle were still on national TV multiple times after the Manchester City match. Yet, the fan-base remained silent.

Sure, people complained about Mike Ashley on Twitter, but there were still no actions being taken. We regressed to being content with our current situation and did not have the balls to actually take a stand.

Now we find ourselves in a situation where Newcastle are less than 10 days away from Rafa Benitez leaving the club.

As we get closer and closer to the prospect of Rafa Benitez leaving, I have grown more and more concerned that if Rafa goes nobody will actually go.

Maybe the Twitter account that birthed the #IfRafaGoesWeGo movement will be deleted, but there is no way to know whether or not the creators of the movement truly will walk away from the club.

Of the thousands who tweeted all year that they would leave the club, maybe 50 will actually follow through.

All over Facebook blokes are posting about season ticket renewals, and figuring out how to buy the new home kit. On Twitter people are already discussing travel plans for away matches next year. On Reddit Americans are seeking advice on what to do when they travel to Newcastle for a match next season.

Nothing will change, because the actual act of leaving a club you love more than anything is tough. No one man is greater than the club, and despite what Mike Ashley does, fans will still show up to matches.

As a fan-base we can hope for change, but nothing will change until the fan-base takes action.

Newcastle United v Liverpool FC - Premier League
this is all the action fans have taken thus far
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

It is easy to admire what other groups have done with various protests and aspire to one day do that in order to drive out Mike Ashley. However, it is equally as easy to sit back and make excuses for why that would never work with Newcastle supporters.

At some point, Newcastle fans have to actually take it upon themselves and make the tough decision to boycott a match, or not renew, or participate in a protest. It is a difficult thing to do, but nobody promised that sparking change would be easy. If it was easy to enact impactful change, the world would be a much better place.

Maybe Rafa leaving will actually spark a revolution, but the club have seen worse things happen under this regime and the fans have continued to support the club.

Recent history leads me to believe nothing will happen when Rafa leaves. Please prove me wrong.