The agony and ecstasy of Newcastle United’s new era
Written by Nathan Cliff on 31st March 2023
How the Saudi-backed NUFC takeover has left the owners wondering how to prevent St James’ Park from becoming a closed shop.
“What is a club in any case?” Sir Bobby Robson’s famous quote still stands to resonate with Newcastle fans to this very day. But for some small boys the prospect of walking the steps to St James’ Park’s hallowed turf seems an impossible dream often stuck behind a huge queue.
Ticket demand is at an all-time high with thousands of fans queuing for tickets for every home game every week. Hoping for a chance to see the team they love in person. In years gone by, the prospect of a Newcastle game selling out seemed a far cry, due to the poor football and dull atmosphere that the Mike Ashley reign left.
Even though the former owner was scarcely present at St James’ his depressive aura almost lingered above the stadium on matchday, leaving a reminder that the club seemed to be stuck in the same cycle year on year.
But that all changed in October 2021.
The Saudi-backed takeover has brought back a feel-good factor that had not been since the 90s when Keegan’s Entertainers thrilled Toon fans weekly.
Those who have one of around 35,000 season tickets, almost equivalent to getting a golden ticket, have a front row seat to the new era, and the likelihood of them giving it up is extremely low.
Thus, leaving a huge number of members and former season ticket holders scrambling over around 14,000 tickets for every home game.
Being a member does not guarantee a seat at a home game, yet there were over 40,000 fans queuing up to get one before the season.
For the owners, there needs to be a way prevent St James’ from becoming a closed shop.
“Other than the sort of lull under Steve Bruce, even when Pardew had us 5th and stuff you could have had 60,000 fans there at least anyways.” Charlie Bennett is somebody who knows all too well about the struggles of not securing tickets for his boyhood club’s matches.
The NUFC reporter and fan, alongside thousands of others, gave up his season ticket under Mike Ashley to try and force the former owner out.
He missed out on tickets for the Carabao Cup Final and only occasionally gets to home games despite being a club member.
Getting tickets for Wembley was a flashpoint into just how large the demand for tickets is. In the video above Charlie Bennett discusses his views on how the Wembley ticket situation was handled.
Back at home expanding the stadium is an option for the club and there have been reports suggesting that the owners have enlisted help from the minds behind the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium to find a way around the limited room St James’ offers.
A few weeks ago, the club made a breakthrough in what could lead to an expanded stadium.
The land known as Strawberry Place behind the Gallowgate End, which once belonged to Newcastle United, was controversially sold by Mike Ashley leaving little to no room for expansion of the stand.
Due to financial difficulties the land was never built on, and Newcastle’s owners swept in to buy back the land. This could lead to an expansion of the Gallowgate and subsequently give more fans the chance to get a ticket.
Bennett has high hopes for the use of the land and what it could mean for fans like him who were not able to get a season ticket.
“It’s gonna have to be the Gallowgate, obviously the stadium will look a bit mad because the east stand will look tiny but it’s gonna have to be done.
“I don’t know how it’s gonna work out, I mean you’ve got the road that The Strawberry is on, Strawberry Place but yeah it’s good news for Newcastle fans it’s nothing negative.”
But that is not the only issue.
If getting tickets for home games is like finding a golden ticket, then away tickets are something even rarer.
Before the takeover, away games would regularly filter down to those with low amounts of loyalty points. But now you are unlikely to get to an away game if you do not have over 70 points.
This is a system that needs to change, says Bennett.
“Well I’ve actually thought about this, like I’ve mentioned before it is a closed shop, the loyalty points system as it is came out in 1994 I think, and I’m born in 1997 so somebody could have racked up 100 points before I’ve even had a chance to get 1.”
“Points that you gained in 1997 or whatever still count today and I believe that there should be a moving like points that you’ve earned over five years, seven years, shouldn’t count after a certain point, so it almost slides like that with each season, either that or there could be some sort of ballot like at Wembley, I think that could be more realistic.”
A major issue for the club is keeping a balance of loyalty to the fans who have supported the club for many years but also continuing to expand and be inclusive of their newer fan base, which will doubtless grow as the club becomes more successful.
Loyalty is something that “should always be rewarded”. That is the view of Newcastle Fan TV host, Sam Mulliner.
“I do think that loyalty points should’ve been awarded to members who go to away games though. It’s a difficult one as our away following is unrivalled. I.D checks may have to be introduced to deal with those abusing the system.”
Mulliner talks of those who abuse the system, referring to fans who will buy as many tickets as they can and sell on for either a higher price than face value, or just rack up their points and sell on anyway.
The demand for tickets is going nowhere and with the inevitable successful future of the club, it will only increase.
Solving these off-field issues should be as much a priority as solving the on-field ones.