As we all know, or should know by now, is that there has been a fan’s forum created in a bid to improve communication between the club and the fans. How representative this forum is, or how far they intend to push, prod and hold the club to account, remains to be seen, but they have asked the right questions so far, and have received some interesting, if unsurprising, answers.
This week the club responded to some of the pressing concerns raised by the forum, and the club fielded a strong representation, which included Lee Charnley, Wendy Taylor and Lee Marshall, among others, but was, of course, missing the likes of Joe Kinnear and Mike Ashley. This was to be expected of course.
Here is a selection of some of the more interesting questions posed, and the answers to those questions.
Questions from members adjudicated by Club Ambassador Bob Moncur:
Phil Patterson (PP) – “Can you explain a bit more about the club’s five year plan?
The club’s board (LC and JI) explained that the club has a football plan that it works to. Last season knocked the club back a little and resulted in the club revising its expectations for this season. The club’s intention last season was to finish in the top eight. Because we finished lower, the club re-evaluated and we want to finish in the top ten this season.
The board added that the type of player that we want to bring into the club hasn’t changed. Given the club’s wage bill and the quality of our current squad, we think we can and should reasonably expect to finish in the top ten this season.
Chris Forster (CF) – “What are Mike Ashley (MA)’s long-term intentions?”
The board explained that MA has no real intention or ambition to sell – he is as committed today as he was three or four years ago. He wants the club to move forward but to do so within its means. He wants the club to stand on its own two feet.
The club’s business model was outlined, which is to get club on an even keel financially, then make it stronger and more self-sufficient.
CF – “What irks some fans is that we’ve received increased revenue but haven’t spent it (e.g. TV money).”
The board stated that the club doesn’t look at transfer windows in isolation but rather as a trading year. The club spent a net £30m in January because of the league position at that time but also in the knowledge that the TV deal would create an inflated market. If the two windows in 2013 are combined, Newcastle United are in the top ten spenders in the Premier League.
The board added that the financial regulations which prevent clubs from spending over and above their means will mean other clubs will not be able to spend the sums they have this year in the near future.
Peter Fanning (PF) – “Do Sports Direct pay the going rate for advertising, their adverts are all over the stadium?”
The club explained that the advertising boards in question were installed with Sports Direct branding as a showcase for unused space. Sports Direct don’t pay, but it would be sold if other advertisers wanted the space.
PF – “Looking at the accounts, looks like MA was going to take out £29m (£11m had been repaid, plus another £18m due). He continues to be owed £111m and that’s listed as long-term funding… what is long-term funding?”
The board stated that relegation came with hefty price tag and that fortunately, we have an owner who was able to fund that by injecting £29m interest-free. This saved us millions of pounds that would have been incurred had the club had to take on external debt. The intention was always that the £29m was a short-term loan to get the club through the relegation period.
£11m was duly paid back, with £18m due to be paid back. That sum has not been paid back yet, nor is there an intention to pay it back this season. MA had to put £111m in to clear external debt and won’t be paid back until the day MA sells the club. JI explained that an interest-free, long-term loan of this kind is as good a debt as you can get and we were very fortunate to have it.
Of that, £58m was for the stadium and £29m was needed to clear the outstanding transfer fees that we owed other clubs for players that we’d already bought prior to MA purchasing the club (Albert Luque, Damian Duff etc.).
The board explained that due to MA, we now have a policy of paying up front in cash for players and that in turn can save the club money.
Andrew McClay (AMc) – “JK is at the forefront of most of the discussions on forums etc. His comments were ‘judge me on my signings’ and he didn’t make any.”
The board explained that it was not through lack of effort that the club did not make a permanent signing in the summer window and that JK was absolutely not responsible for deals not materialising. They added that some of the circumstances were beyond the club’s control (agent demands etc.).
Liam Hall (LH) – “There is a lot of frustration over transfers. Why couldn’t we have made more loan signings?
The board explained that we did the majority of our business in the January window. The club has space for 25 squad members and named 24 (Ryan Taylor is long-term injured so we had 1-2 spaces). They added that any club can sign bad players; signing good players to improve the squad is not easy. We actually think we’ve got a strong squad and we are capable of finishing in the top ten of the league.
Bob Moncur (BM) – “So can you clarify that money was there to spend?”
The club confirmed that money was available.
SC – “Some of the January signings should have been here the summer before (e.g. Debuchy).”
The club explained that the plan was to hold onto key players last summer and not to trade. With Vurnon Anita coming in and with younger players coming through, the club felt it had a good enough squad.
Phil Patterson – “Realistically, the cups are about the only chance of silverware, but year in year out we don’t seem to target one, why not?
The board said that we utilise the cup competitions to secure match experience for the wider squad. The club is also mindful of injuries following last season’s Europa League. Our primary aim and focus has to be the Premier League and we don’t want to jeopardise that.
Chris Forster – “A cup would be success for fans.”
The board said the financial rewards of being a PL club are so great that we have to make sure that we do everything we can to stay in that position. Examples of three recent cup winners who are now no longer in the PL were given. The board added that the extra 14 games we played in the Europa League and the injuries sustained had contributed to a lower league finish.
VV – “What are the plans for investment in youth structure behind the scenes versus what goes on in the first team.”
The board stated that the club had spent significant sums on the development side to get the Academy up to Category 1 status (i.e. investment in staffing and facilities). Primarily, the club wants the Academy to focus on local youngsters. We hope to get local talent up through the system and into the first team. In relation to the development squad, our ideal-world scenario is a structure whereby we have a layer of players immediately below the first-team who will push the first team players and will be their replacements if they move or are injured etc.
PF – “Up to June 2012, commercial income had reduced from £15m to £13m. Man Utd have just reported commercial revenue of £150m. What plans are there increase commercial income again?
The board explained that the club operates on a three-year cycle tied to the current TV deal. Newcastle United are in a better financial position than most clubs outside of the top four or five in respect of turnover, wages, external debt etc.
In reality the new TV deal assisted those clubs who weren’t operating as shrewdly as we have been. Commercial income is an area where there is room for improvement. The number of supporters we have is a massive plus for us, but as a proportion of clubs’ income it is becoming smaller. We’ve been weak on the commercial side but we are becoming stronger, especially now have that we have Wonga on board. The next accounts will show our strongest commercial position ever. We are working with Puma to improve that deal, and if we can bring in new revenue we will.
On top of these questions, it was stated that Joe Kinnear was Ashley’s personal choice, which is something we all had an inkling about.
It would appear from some of the statements above that the club had absolutely no intention of signing more players in the summer, nor did they have any intention of signing more first team players last summer. The same excuse has been used – “with the current crop of players, as well as younger players coming through the club felt we had a strong enough squad”
I’m sorry, that simply does not cut it! What youngster came through into the first team last season? Bigi played a little bit, Sammy Ameobi was sent out on loan, Tavernier didn’t cut it, Dummett was on loan last season. Adam Campbell sat on the bench and Shane Ferguson is still on loan! That argument may be slightly (only slightly) more convincing now with Dummett and Sammy threatening, but that still doesn’t mean that our squad, which finished 16th last season, didn’t need to be improved! It simply beggars belief.
Also, it would appear that the owner is likening our club to the likes of Wigan and Birmingham ie clubs who have got relegated after winning a trophy, and it would appear that he sees targeting a cup as “jeopardising” or Premier League survival. Once more, this is a load of old rubbish. Had the club done the necessary business in the summer, and signed the 3-4 players we needed to kick on, we would have had a very strong squad capable of competing on an array of fronts. As it stands, we can barely compete on one front.
As for this “30 million net spend for the year 2013”, what planet are they on? I would like, nay demand, to see a break down of where they are dreaming up this entirely fictitious number. Or does this include agents fees? Interestingly, we are the only club who includes agents fees when discussing the amount required to sign a player. We mentioned it when we sold Carroll as they were keen to point out that we didn’t have 35 million to spend, and they mentioned it when we signed Ba for free, when they were keen to point out that he actually cost a whopping 2 million pounds.
These comments from the club are nothing short of disgusting and disgraceful. We are deliberately not targeting a cup, Mike Ashley freely admits to paying squat for the awful Sports Direct hoardings, and we’re being lied to over and over again with regards how much money we’ve spent and whether we are legitimately trying to sign any new players.
What do you think? Are you happy with the answers given by the club? Would you have asked any other questions? What questions would you like the Fans Forum to ask the next time they meet with the club? I’d love to hear your views.