Newcastle United farce underlines importance of fan empathy

Most people who own professional sports clubs are in it for one of three reasons.

They might be diehard fans who want to give something back to their communities.

Or they are investors who think the club they buy into will be worth a lot more in future with a bit of personal glory along the way, perhaps.

For some, clubs are a plaything when they get bored of sitting in the bay just off Monaco, racing powerboats or attending glitzy parties.

A lot of these owners will come and go, their popularity or fortunes waning as their ambitions wither away, leaving their supporters wondering what went wrong.

Newcastle United have not enjoyed success for decades, despite huge investment and some of the most fanatical fans in the country.

Their support and the focus on the club within the city underlines how important success is in the North East and despite challenging for the Premier League title and reaching a few cup finals, silverware has been hard to come by.

I’m not sure what Sports Direct multi-millionaire Mike Ashley was thinking when he bought the club for £134m in May 2007 but overnight he went from a recluse who no one really knew to someone who wanted to wear the club’s shirt and sit with the fans.

Hiring Kevin Keegan might have been predictable, but it was a way of showing the fans that he knew what they wanted and the first step in possibly challenging for honours again.

By the end of last season, Keegan had gone and has subsequently won a constructive dismissal claim against the club, while Ashley has failed to sell the club on two occasions and seen its value deteriorate after relegation last May.

Even for someone with his money, the investment required and the hero-to-zero notoriety which comes with on-field struggles must have been something of a shock.

So Wednesday’s announcement that the club ground is to be renamed sportsdirect.com@St James' Park Stadium must rub further salt in the wounds of fans who have suffered greatly under Ashley’s reign.

As I said, owners come and go, but for supporters, developments at their club are front of mind almost all the time.

Footballers are getting more money while sponsorship deals are also on the increase yet the cost of attending games is increasing and almost prohibitive for a family of four.

This move looks like a way of boosting the owners’ coffers until someone is found who will buy the club when, possibly, they will have returned to the Premier League, instead of showing some empathy with fans who have witnessed the chaos going on at the club over recent months.

Perhaps renaming the stadium the Sir Bobby Robson St James’ Park would have been a better short-term solution until a big sponsor is found.

The late Newcastle manager was a legend on Tyneside and the move would have perhaps reminded fans that the club’s owners did have an ounce of understanding and sensitivity for them after all.