A widespread boycott of Newcastle's home game versus Tottenham Hotspur is planned for Sunday, but what has finally tipped the Geordies over the edge?
Local newspaper the Newcastle Chronicle published poll results this week that showed 90% of their readers supported the planned protest against the Mike Ashley regime at Newcastle United. In reality, it is expected that an estimated "15 or 16,000" people will not attend the Spurs game, out of an average attendance of 50,021, according to Newcastle United Supporters' Trust (NUST) chairman Norman Watson.
A 32% boycott is not insignificant and it is hoped that this will have an impact on owner Ashley, who many fans agree has been let off lightly as the club have continued to flounder in the Premier League.
What has finally made the Newcastle fans snap, is the question most observers are asking. Certainly, the club has struggled to repeat the near-successes of the Keegan/Dalglish/Robson eras of the 1990s and Ashley's ownership of the club has been littered with controversies, and frustrations have been growing.
Recent financial results showed a record £18.7 million profit and also unearthed a figure of £34.1 million sitting dormant in the club's accounts. While fans have been stunned by this discovery in the light of years of meagre investment on the pitch, it is said that this was not the trigger for Sunday's protest. So what has finally made the Toon Army flip?
In reality it is a combination of things and a growing feeling that apathy is not going to resolve any of the many open issues at the club. The Newcastle fans don't have a common cause to rally around, that being a viable alternative to the status quo, they simply want 'change', and that lack of a tangible aim is perhaps a weakness in the boycott and also a reason why it has taken so long to happen.
But certainly the following factors have combined to see the passionate Geordie fanbase finally say 'enough is enough':
- A lack of investment on the pitch which has seen a string of sub-standard foreign recruits fail to lift Newcastle into the top half of the table, and also saw the club fail to turn Loic Remy's loan into a permanent move.
- Mike Ashley's involvement in Glasgow Rangers where he bought an 8.92% stake in October 2014. Ashley has expressed a wish to extend that shareholding, but is already proving unpopular with fans of the fallen Scottish giants. Ashley has openly had Newcastle on the market for many years and his desire to get involved at Rangers has hardly improved his standing at St James' Park.
- Five consecutive defeats to local rivals Sunderland is an embarrassing statistic, certainly considering Sunderland are currently in the middle of a relegation battle and had recorded only one win in the calendar year of 2015 prior to the 1-0 derby victory at the Stadium of Light. Either side of the Newcastle win, Sunderland have been trounced at home 4-0 by Aston Villa and 4-1 by Crystal Palace, and Newcastle's lack of spirit in the encounter probably put paid to any chance John Carver had of landing the Magpies job on a permanent basis.
- The decision to hand the manager's job to Carver on an interim basis when Alan Pardew resigned to join Crystal Palace in January 2015 was perhaps the factor that pushed Newcastle fans closest to the edge. Pardew was an unpopular figure at Newcastle, though a run of six straight wins in October and November 2014 had silenced the vocal detractors in the St James' Park crowd. It perhaps incensed the Geordie faithful and weakened Ashley's position more that Pardew left of his own accord after all the vitriol that had been thrown his way. However, despite Carver's undoubted popularity at Newcastle, few fans felt he was the right man for the job and the move reeked of a lack of ambition and being the 'cheap' option in the circumstances. The current run of five straight defeats, which leaves Newcastle still mathematically open to relegation, has not helped any argument that this was the right move.
Now it seems the Newcastle fans have rallied themselves sufficiently to stage a protest, although feelings remain mixed, with those still attending the Spurs game on Sunday not necessarily doing so as an endorsement of the Ashley regime, but because they put supporting the team above anything else.
This is the crux of what always makes a supporter boycott a complex issue. If you accept the status quo you can be seen as siding with the enemy, and yet a boycott goes against the very ethos of what a football fan is. There are, indeed, other ways to hit the Newcastle hierarchy in the pocket, and other ways to make the voice heard, but equally a boycott is a 'shock' tactic that sometimes needs to be employed.
Newcastle fans have protested before, with a march through the city centre in October 2013, but Sunday's protest is a more visible act and will be forever etched in historical records as the day a significant number of fans stood up against what has been accepted as the norm.
What form change will, or should, take is what the Newcastle fans need to look at next.