The summer of 2019 will go down as one of the most bizarre periods in Newcastle United history. From the highs of a takeover bid from the Middle East and dreams of signing Kylian Mbappe, through to Rafa Benitez leaving and Mike Ashley doubling down on his desire to keep the club and fans planning boycotts.
There has never been a more volatile feeling around Newcastle United than there was towards the end of this summer. When Rafa Benitez left fans turned on Mike Ashley – more so than ever before. That was before talks of a takeover collapsed once again, conveniently for the club, just after it was decided that Benitez’s contract would not be renewed. Just when fans felt that things couldn’t get any worse, just when it seemed like the club had reached the lowest point it could heading into the new season – Steve Bruce became the bookies favourite to take the Spaniard’s place.
NUFC Twitter became the most volatile place on the internet, it could be argued that it still is. A movement broke out and seemed to really take off, #BoycottArsenal was all I could see on my timeline. It felt like for the first time in a long time, fans were united behind a common goal – finding a way to get Mike Ashley out of the club.
The big issue, as it always will be, was that Twitter is never an accurate representation of the fan base. It’s such a small percentage of fans, that no matter how hard people campaign on that platform, the message will never spread as far as it needs to without the support and backing of traditional media outlets.
Nevertheless, fans pressed on, getting as much motion behind the new boycott as they could. There were thousands of season tickets cancelled and it really felt like there could be a huge impact felt on the first day of the season… and then the signings started to come in.
The move for Joelinton had been rumoured and potentially even in the works since January, however it’s believed that Benitez wasn’t keen on the striker, and would have preferred to keep the on loan Salamon Rondon. With Benitez now out of the way, the hierarchy made the decision to sign the Brazillian starlet from Hoffenheim, and bring him to St James’ Park. He was quickly followed by Allan Saint-Maximin, and suddenly there were a significant portion of fans starting to feel some excitement around the new season. The momentum behind the boycott began to slowly falter, with Geordies starting to buy tickets for the opening game of the season with a desire to see the new stars take the field at SJP.
Bringing in Andy Carroll felt almost like a given, just a matter of time before it was going to happen, but it’s another small move that boosted the morale of the fanbase slightly – the local boy had returned, to try and recover what was left of his career with the club that made him. On the same day the club made their final signing of the summer window, somewhat under the radar, in Emil Krafth.
You can read more about the up and down summer Newcastle had in this article.
With these summer additions, the tide began to turn, and it was visible to see even using NUFC Twitter as a barometer. Debates and arguments began to break out between fans, those that stood firmly behind the idea of boycotting the first game of the season, and potentially more after that, to show Mike Ashley that enough was enough. Others were pointing out that fans should be getting behind the squad, being the 12th man, and trying to give them the boost needed to stay in the Premier League – it was too early to write the team off and consign them to relegation, surely?
The first game of the season came and went, and the result of the boycotts were finally revealed. It certainly had some impact, with the final attendance being announced as 47,365, around 4,000 less than it had been for the opening game a year prior. However, it was nowhere near the decrease needed if the boycott was going to have any kind of real impact.
The reveal of final attendance figures, combined with the poor result, led some fans into absolute meltdown mode. Claiming that the team was destined for relegation, and would struggle to reach even the 11 point mark that Derby County set when relegated from the league 11 seasons ago.
Time to try a new tactic
There is one thing that should be absolutely clear at this point – the boycott didn’t work. It had almost no impact, other than contributing towards a poor atmosphere inside the stadium which failed to push on the home team.
There are fans claiming that they will boycott every game until Ashley is gone, fans that are still adamant that boycotting is the way to go, fan groups trying to push future boycotts. Surely we should have learned by now that boycotts simply don’t work? We’ve tried them before, sporadically, and they have never had the desired effect – they likely never will. So why waste time pushing this tired and pointless campaign?
When fans should be uniting, finding another way to attempt to push Mike Ashley out of the club, it feels like we are more divided than ever. Fans that don’t back the boycott are regularly berated by other fans for ‘supporting the regime’ or ‘not caring about the club’, when in reality they just have their eyes open. They’re trying to support their club in the way that they know best, while trying to find another way to out the man that many feel is killing it.
There are some fans that seem to have lost sight of the real aim. Fans that seem to be so consumed by their hatred of Ashley, that their love for Newcastle United is now second to that hatred. They don’t seem to realise that this notion of boycotts is tired and defeated, and that we need to collectively come up with another idea. I wouldn’t sit here and suggest that I know what that idea is, but these boycotts are doing nothing but hurting the fans and the club without having any impact on their desired target. It’s pointless, ineffectual, and redundant.
There is one thing that we should never, ever, forget.
“What is a club in any case? Not the buildings or the directors or the people who are paid to represent it. It’s not the television contracts, get-out clauses, marketing departments or executive boxes. It’s the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride in your city. It’s a small boy clambering up stadium steps for the very first time, gripping his father’s hand, gawping at that hallowed stretch of turf beneath him and, without being able to do a thing about it, falling in love.”Sir Bobby Robson