When broken down to its most rudimentary level, what is the point of a football club? It depends on who you ask.
For an owner, depending on their reason for investing, it could be profit-driven, their own desire for success (in trophies, praise from the masses, a boyhood fascination with a club), or even their personal brand, however close it may be tied to the club.
But what about the football supporter? As far back as the sport goes, it was for them. Not an owners’ ulterior motives. Not even really for the players, outside of their performance equalling a victory for their side.
So it has to be said from a supporters perspective, Newcastle United Football Club is surely a joyless existence.
Let’s start with the owner and the club’s structure. When Mike Ashley purchased a majority share of Newcastle United in 2007, the club was worth an estimated £260m, making it the 13th most valuable club in the world and, somewhat remarkably, 5th in England. Entering the 2010’s, there was plenty of room for the historic club to explode on the international stage, with streaming and television rights gaining traction in places like the United States and young football fans choosing their allegiance based on the latest version of FIFA.
Fast forward to 2021, and Newcastle United have finally fallen outside the Top 20 football brands in European Football, currently valued at £393m. In comparison to clubs positioned closely to the Toon in 2007, Tottenham Hotspur grew from £243m to an astonishing £2.3bn. Everton, who 14 years ago were well behind Newcastle at £165m, are now valued at £658m - nearly double the North East clubs valuation.
The potential for growth under Mike Ashley has been neglected, ignored, abused, and downright wasted. Adjusting for inflation, it’s hard to pretend any real growth has even happened, as the club seem all but on the verge of falling from the Premier League stalwarts into very murky waters.
The way the club is run is quite literally anyone’s guess. From the academy, to decision making at every level - owner, the wide and unknown gap of responsibility between owner and coach, and manager/coach - the organization is steeped in deception. Rarely ever producing a single academy prospect as a success with the first-team, one has a right, if not an obligation, to question how the club is investing in local talent. Furthermore, questionable and sometimes seemingly random player acquisitions continue to happen. From Rodrigo Vilca (a 22-year old who is now on loan with mid-table League One side Doncaster Rovers, signaling just how far away he is to ever pulling on the black and white kit) to what genuinely seems to be a publicity stunt in Santiago Munoz (who was compared to the fictional character Santiago Munez from the film GOAL!), there is a sporadic and unorganized method to bringing in younger prospects.
The photos of Magpie players cooling down after a training session in what appears to be an inflatable children’s pool found at the nearest All In One Convenience store has been seen by many. And it’s a sad reminder that while some clubs are pouring everything the club can generate into world-class facilities for their talent, Newcastle United are operating on a shoestring budget. Why would a player have Tyneside as a top destination on their wish list?
Relations with the supporters - the lifeblood of the club - have been nonexistent. And when club officials do pop their head out of the ground for 15 seconds, supporters receive an anonymous, egregiously tone-deaf “club statement”. This statement, in which the ghost writer attempts to defend the stagnation (and regression) of this once great club, uses absurd time frames and subjective financial data to make their case. Of course, because the letter is unsigned, and not addressed to a supporters group with any chance to respond, it’s clear feedback was not and is not welcome. They have justified everything to this point in their own eyes, and that’s all that matters.
Meanwhile, player sales are almost nonexistent, as they are routinely recruited with no actual plan to use them (Andy Carroll, Henry Saivet, Kevin Mbabu), or without any long-term plan in place (the re-signing of Dwight Gayle, Ciaran Clark, etc.) The club re-ups their aging, out of form, and unused talent to salaries unwarranted, and then blame a transfer policy “heavily influenced by player trading” as the reason for a lack of new signings. Rinse, repeat.
The managerial situation is entirely another story all to itself (which I’ve covered at length on this site.) It appears that once supporter-favorite Rafa Benitez left Newcastle United, no other coach in their right mind would put their reputation and future on the line working at this club. That left the ‘hierarchy’ in the perilous position of hiring a man who’s last Premier League experience was a 2014-15 campaign that ended in relegation, and was followed by wholly unimpressive seasons in the Championship with 3 different clubs.
However, when you’ve shown absolutely no ambition in the transfer window, no desire to improve the academy, no willingness to improve the training ground, and no chance of backing the manager, you’ve painted yourself into quite a predicament.
Alas, Newcastle United are struggling mightily, clinging to a few good players and praying that their individual performances are good enough to keep them afloat for another pathetic, bottom half of the table season. (They’ve already been booted from one domestic cup and there’s not much reason to expect anything else in the FA Cup.) The team have been woefully below average thus far, picking up two points from a possible fifteen. After a run last season which saw the Mags win just two of 21 matches (all competitions), Steve Bruce has led his side to no wins in six, including seven goals allowed in three Premier League matches at St. James’ Park. But at least he’s seen positives.
The takeover is long talked about but seems lightyears away at this point. The owner has clearly given up even pretending to care about his supposed £300m investment. There has been no sign of hope on the horizon when it comes to training ground improvements, bolstering of the academy program, or a 21st century approach to player recruitment. And the club shows no need, much less desire, to communicate openly and honestly with the supporters.
It has reached the point where it almost feels wrong to hope they score a goal. If Jeff Hendrick (apologies to him personally, but he fits the bill) scores, it justifies an owner who thinks his transfer policy is acceptable, a manager who finds it acceptable to play such an unqualified player, and the club as a whole for hiring and continuing to employ a manager who claimed a desire to move the club forward but in reality, has only spent money poorly, ravaged a top half defensive side, and seen most, if not all, first-team players regress.
Apparently, the most desired outcome for Mike Ashley and Co. would be a 17th place finish, with early Cup exits (to avoid the unbearable burden of having a solid rotation of qualified players on the wage bill), and a slightly positive transfer receipt. That might work for a season or two, but we’ve already seen twice in his tenure, relegation is only a few mistakes away. To top it off, supporters that scrape together what money they have to purchase a season ticket are subject to negative, unexciting, unambitious, hopeless football. They deserve better. But what they have now can be summarized in one word: joyless.