Throughout all the negative comments and judgements directed towards Newcastle fans regarding the acceptance of Saudi involvement in their football club, my response has remained consistent. Although there is clearly an issue here, I believe that there is nothing wrong with accepting what you can control and what you can’t and realising that there are some issues too big for you to influence. Recognising that Newcastle United fans can not alter human rights issues thousands of miles away is not turning a blind eye to it. If you gave 100% emotional effort and moral commitment into every unjust incident in the world your mental health would suffer enormously. You are of far greater benefit to the world, and yourself, if you focus on small changes you can personally impact. As an individual, or even as a group of fans, we cannot change a country’s behaviour but our potential to change the lives of those on our doorstep is enormous.
The Newcastle West End Foodbank is Britain’s biggest and busiest foodbank and receives support from Newcastle United as a club, as well as individual players such as Isaac Hayden and Allan Saint-Maximin raising awareness and helping on their own time. Demand for food has soared during the Covid-19 pandemic and new data from The Trussell Trust showed that April 2020 was the busiest ever month for foodbanks, with an 89% increase in the need for emergency food parcels and 107% increase in food parcels given to children compared to April 2019. There are many tales of people who previously donated to foodbanks ending up needing their help to get them through difficult spells, as an estimated one third of the population have less than one month’s wage in savings. In other words, a substantial number of us are one crisis away from poverty.
In addition to the rising demand caused by Covid-19, the foodbank’s main source of donations was suspended indefinitely when the Premier League was forced to cancel attendance at football stadiums and the NUFC foodbank match-day collections were therefore stopped. As well as individuals raising money in a variety of ways or donating regularly to the foodbank to help make up the loss of match-day income, NUFC.com recently held an online auction for Newcastle shirts from across the years, which raised over £6000 from fans around the world. Almost £700 of this total was from people donating their losing bids!
Even for those not requiring the help of the foodbank, financial difficulties during the last few months have caused many people to make sacrifices, including selling possessions online to cope with short-term cashflow problems. A couple of weeks ago, a fan posted on Twitter that he was selling a signed, framed Newcastle United shirt for this reason. There was almost instant response to this in the comments but rather than offers to buy the shirt, fans were imploring him not to sell such a coveted item. It didn’t take long for one fan to set up a GoFundMe account, inviting others to contribute whatever they could afford to raise an initial target of £500 so that he could keep the shirt and still be helped out. This target was passed within hours as people who did not even know the man contributed anything from £5 and upwards with little hesitation. The funding page was closed hours later as the total donations surpassed £1100 from 103 different people.
The intended recipient of the money, on realising the amount that people had donated in such a short space of time, requested that people were refunded as he felt unable to accept such a large amount from strangers. Although he was blown away to see such human kindness and a fanbase coming together in such an impromptu and united fashion, he was uncomfortable taking what he described as charity when he saw others who were less fortunate than himself. This was then fed back to the people who had donated, who unanimously agreed that the money should be donated to the foodbank rather than be refunded back to them. That total amount raised will now feed 215 local families for a week as the foodbank uses their experience, skills and contacts to stretch every pound to its maximum use.
In a difficult period for all of us, a story like this highlights my initial point that if you focus on small changes you can personally influence as an individual, or even as a group, the potential to change the lives of those on our doorstep is enormous. Bill Corcoran, of the foodbank, summed this up nicely on Twitter when he said, ‘You friends are exemplary in your comradeship. No one can teach Newcastle United fans about morality and ethics. May people learn from this example of helping others, even when you’re in need.’
Look after yourselves, and each other. Howay the lads.