Newcastle Fans Should Be Ecstatic About The Sports Direct Arena

Nostalgia has no place in the modern game, and Newcastle fans should be glad that at least we have a commodity that can bring in extra revenue to help keep up with the Jones's...
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Nostalgia has no place in the modern game, and Newcastle fans should be glad that at least we have a commodity that can bring in extra revenue to help keep up with the Jones's...

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When last I penned something that was perceived to be of the pro-Ashley variety – as a life long Newcastle fan there’s nothing that could be further from my actual viewpoint – it was regarding Joey Barton. There I said I wouldn’t miss him, that he wasn’t that special, that he was borderline psychotic in his personality, ravenous street thug one minute and prospective Dalai Lama the next. I’m never one to gloat, especially over the medium of the internet where e-pride invariably comes before a fall, or at the very least your e-mail being located and signed up to a series of transexual dating agency websites ensuring an inbox full of sexual suggestive messages from men called Barbara for the rest of your days…

But I was right. The team didn’t miss him and doesn’t. The team spirit we’ve garnered from the culling of such feverish egos has been instrumental in seeing us propelled up the table and at Q.P.R. Barton has been exposed as the decidedly average player he is, talk of England appearances having dried up and the headlines surrounding him relate solely to his constant attempts to regurgitate the musings of philosophers whose names he can barely spell, let alone whose ideas he can grasp. Yes, he might tweet about us every time we get a result but I suggest that is down to the fact he truly misses us more than we will ever miss him.

I do understand why so many of our number panicked though. Barton had finally started to show us some sort of passion on the pitch, that emotion that is synonymous with life at St. James Park. Us fans will tolerate all sorts of nonsense if you just show us you care. Whether you’re a manager having a mental breakdown under the strain of losing a twelve point lead, or a player constantly appearing in the dock for a series of minor crimes, we will bestow the title “legend” on you and sing your name if you just show us that you give a shit.

I used to buy into this but the reality is here we are having our best spell since the nineties under a manager who has all the trappings of a mid-tier call centre manager. Cold, impassive and more than happy to tow the party line, the Pardew era should have been as much of a mismatch as Allardyce. Instead it has proven to be a revelation and we find ourselves battling for Champions League football with one third of the season gone.

The name “St. James Park”, while comforting to the traditionalists, does nothing to aid our fortunes on the pitch.

It’s not just on the pitch where huge improvements have been made. We’ve gone from being a club haemorrhaging money with over-inflated wage bills, a roster of faded journeymen and demanding wannabes, to a streamlined club that might well soon be on the verge of breaking even annually. An incredible feat considering the valuation of just eighty million when we were relegated was deemed to be “pricey” by that bunch of swindling Africans.

So, with all this in mind, with evidence of the benefits of the calm and rational approach plain for us all to see, I must again go down the road of voicing the unpopular view and ask for some semblance of sanity regarding the renaming of St. James Park. It pained me a little too when I awoke to find that the place where I watched my first games as a child was now little more than a giant advertisement for the highest bidder. Still, if you’re sentimental about such things to that degree then you must have realised by now that the modern game is not a place for you.

Nostalgia isn’t the commodity it once was and to retain it doesn’t just require a diligent mindset and an affinity to the club, it actively costs you money. Clubs know this and secretly curse every fan uprising when the suggestion to rename or even move stadiums comes up. It is a domino effect though… Once one team had made the move, the rest having to do so in order to keep up with the Jones Utd’s was inevitable. Today, it’s the turn of Newcastle and let’s be thankful we’ve actually got a commodity worth selling because the name “St. James Park”, while comforting to the traditionalists, does nothing to aid our fortunes on the pitch.

If you want to get back to grass roots and the purity of the game, you know where to find Gateshead

It’s a reality that clubs of all sizes have had to face up to. With the global financial crisis seeing sponsorship money reduced as well as the lavish spending in the professional game being regarded as tasteless by the public, clubs have had to think on their feet and offer more and more of themselves to bring in the cash that is the lifeblood of a premier league club. It’s not just Bolton getting in bed with Reebok, or Swansea being freed by the property money of Liberty… No, it’s good enough for clubs such as Arsenal and Man City too who, much like ourselves, have enjoyed periods of plenty and prolonged spells of famine.

Speaking candidly today the club’s Managing Director, Derek Llambias, was lambasted by fans for not respecting the proud traditions of the club, for selling off pieces of heritage as if they were little more than souvenirs in the gift shop. The reality is that is all they are and only a few can afford them. If we can generate the proposed £8 – £10 million a year off the back of this and maybe use that to pad out our thin squad with a bit of quality, then who is to say European football couldn’t be a reality come the end of the season? I’d much rather have to dust off my passport again for away days in Europe than be sat battling against Wigan, chatting to the purists through gritted teeth about how great it was we managed to keep the name.

The money will definitely come in and if we’re successful this year, it presents an opportunity for more. If this time, unlike previously, that money is allowed out of the club coffers and can actually be spent by our manager who has shown a surprising eye for bargain talent so far, we’ll finally feel like a real football club again and not the soap opera spin-off from Match of The Day we’ve been for too long.

I don’t know if the objections stem from some sort of regional arrogance, a notion that we can do things different to the Southerners. We may be out in T-shirts in Bigg Market whatever the temperature but there are some climates that we’re not cut out for. Romanticising the past is all well and good but in doing so we neglect the future. There’s no logic in resisting the move or protesting it. Nothing the fans have done has altered the path we’re on and finally it seems as if we’re on the right one, more than likely despite Ashley rather than because of him. Still, can we not rock the boat of something so ultimately trivial?

“The history is always going to be there, we need to become part of the history," Llambias said and fans have responded by adding “it will always be St. James Park”. Hell, they’re not even going to change its name on the Metro. Even if you were likely to embrace the change can you see Sports Direct Arena sticking and becoming popular? Me either. Given that logic if anything we’re exploiting the money men who will invariably come in and want their name plastered all over it.

It’s too late to rally against the commodification of football. It’s too late to complain about big business interests eclipsing that of the fans. There’s no innocent parties that can actually complain in earnest without having to shoulder some of the guilt for this happening. You’ve paid over the odds for season tickets, you’ve forked out for the latest hideous away shirt, you’ve applauded the signing of stars on huge salaries, you’ve ordered pay per view matches on your satellites. Football is a business and we’re all consumers. If you want success and competing at the highest level, this is the “ugly” reality of doing so. If you want to get back to grass roots and the purity of the game, you know where to find Gateshead

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