Flags Against Ashley

By The Way - Weekly Columns


By Christian Miller If you follow me on twitter, or if you listen to the Podcast, then there's a chance you're well aware of my recent ideas for anti-Mike Ashley protests inside St James Park in the upcoming weeks. On the off-chance there's something I haven't explained my position on, please allow me to clarify in this week's article, below. If, however, this is a completely new subject to you, allow me a brief recap of where we find ourselves thus far: Mike Ashley has long held an iron fist over public and media relations within and around Newcastle United football club. From banning certain newspapers, to having stewards eject voices and messages of dissent. Mike Ashley is also a tumour, for want of a more palatable analogy - apologies to those who are tired thereof, or made uncomfortable by the cancer reference. But with him as the pulsating brain behind the direction of our club, we face an almost certain death sentence. If there's anyone reading this who thinks we're better off WITH him than without, PLEASE make your case in the comments below - but I would do so anonymously, to save yourself the embarrassment of self-immolation. When Mr Benitez took over, after the winter transfer window in early 2017 - it was a handful of games too late. Steve McClaren had sunk the club, and whilst there was a glimmer of hope, it was too little, too late from the board. Except... it wasn't really the board who acted, was it? Rafa approached us. Ten games to save us. Roddy's ridiculous conspiracy theory from this week's podcast aside - we were relegated. Rafa stayed. He stayed at SJP for the fans, and it became time for the fans to repay the man, and the players, for their performances in the championship. The "flag movement" was born, and a group of dedicated, organized and driven Newcastle fans set about one of the largest and most impressive operations in modern NUFC history. Money was collected, personnel deployed, designs decided upon, physical materials ordered, collected, distributed. The organizers coordinated with the club officials, and some of the atmosphere was returned to St James Park! Flags and banners of all shapes, sizes and designs can now routinely be seen all over the ground, each bearing encouragement for the players, or the manager. A handful with political messages (see also, the rainbow flag), and some with memorials of players, managers and owners past, deceased or still with us. Now, today we find ourselves in a daze after one of the more crushing weeks in a long, LONG history of body blows received supporting our great club. After hearing nothing but "due diligence", "exclusivity" and "positive negotiations" being reported on, surrounding an ongoing takeover saga - we were told last week that Ashley will not be dealing with PCP or Amanda Stavely in the future. Let's bear in mind he also said he wasn't selling until we win something. Let's bear in mind he has promised investment and not delivered time and time again. Let's bear in mind his words are utterly worthless and that he's a proven, demonstrable liar. Not just the words of the fans, or even journalists, but proven in a court of law. He is a worm, a whistleblower, a liar and a cheat. I saw a twitter poll as recently as today that had 95% of respondents calling for him to sell up, no matter the cost - that is largely representative of the social media-using fans' feelings worldwide, but even tempering for the fact that the actual attendants of our matches are a somewhat more conservative bunch, I don't think it's out of bounds to say the overwhelming majority of fans, on any given home occasion, would prefer to see the back of the man. Now, I don't go to St James Park. And I'm very aware that learning a little more about me and my tenure as a Newcastle United fan would cause a lot of people to disregard this article in its entirety. No problem, glad to have held your attention so far. I don't believe my credentials are in question, but I need to tell you, I don't go. I can't go, I live across an ocean. But until i found that airport we're always bragging about, I went. As I said on the podcast, there is, unfortunately, a competitive air among fans of just about all top level clubs - a divisiveness. This is born of opinions being divided. Once parties face off with differing opinions, the weight of the opinion is never judged on its own merit, rather the merit of the person, their SuperFan™ status. The laziest version, of course, is that the older or longer serving member of the debate will default to that being the most appropriate measurement of worth (it's a ridiculous argument, that, essentially doesn't separate the person offering it from a tribesman, claiming the eldest person in the village should be the leader). So, with an open mind, and hopefully with an air of understanding and reasonability, I present to you the idea I had, on Friday. I tweeted about it at length, and spoke about it on the podcast. If we already have an established program of visual messaging on proud display within St James Park on matchdays - hundreds of flags - AND the overwhelming feeling is that we want Mike Ashley out... why not arrange, secretly, for a few prominent flags to display said feelings? I received, immediately, a small swell of supporting voices on twitter, I am delighted to report. However - whilst I received a single, cryptic message that the organizers plans won't be discussed publicly, there have been a number of public counterarguments put forth, each a number of times. Some came immediately on twitter, and some came to me, in the spirit of debate and holism on the podcast. I am yet to see a counterpoint that makes me agree that there should be no attempt, but here we are: 1) "What's the point, it won't get him out". This was incredibly common, in fact, this was the default position of any dissenting voices to my idea. And it is complete fucking nonsense, I'm afraid. If flags and banners have no effect as a protest, then they have no effect at all. Waste of money and time. Next? Of COURSE they have an effect, and the people who are responsible for the existing material are to be NOTHING BUT APPLAUDED for what they've done so far, I mean that deeply. The point is, of course, not the result, it is the attempt. The flags so far create a positive atmosphere, in the hope that that atmosphere translates to a good performance and a win. Hope. That's all a fan can do. So, if a flag were to appear with a message to get that fat bastard out of our club, the same logic applies - we hope it works. not to attempt is to remain impotent. (Side note - I wonder what the Venn diagram looks like covering the people telling me an anti-Ashley banner would have no effect, and also the people who were openly against a rainbow flag in the ground? Wonder how many of them thought earlier in the year that a pink flag could turn their son into a homosexual. Just thinking out loud). 2) "If you want something done, YOU do it then". Incredibly, this was offered as a real option to me a number of times, all of which were AFTER I had explained my position as a migrant and non-attendee. Not much I can say about that outside of, twitter and the podcast, those are my platforms. That's pretty much the end of that. 3) "They will be taken away by stewards". Oddly, this is the counterargument I don't understand at all. So? Good!! First of all, the level of organization so far has demonstrated that this concept could be easily avoided - Weldy on twitter solved it with one sentence "give those flags to the biggest lads" - but ignoring that for a second... so what? If the flags and banners displaying anti-Ashley messaging are taken away, then that means they have been seen and digested. And the local and national media have a story - you literally catapult your banner out of the stadium and onto the back page of, potentially, a national newspaper. Which leads me to the counterargument that nobody presented me with at all, that I came to of my own assumption and volition... the person or persons responsible may well then face punishment by Mr Ashley's despotic regime. I dearly hope some brave organizers take the infrastructure they have dedicated time, effort, their own and other peoples' money to creating, and use it in the manner I have dreamt of. In fact, I cannot possibly imagine they haven't thought of it themselves, but they certainly haven't done anything publicly with it yet. I'm hoping I'm wrong, and I'm happy to see what's coming in the future but... I have a feeling nothing remotely like what I've talked about so far will transpire. I will be delighted, but stunned, to see clear visual messaging against Mike Ashley inside that stadium. Given how representative it is of fans' feelings, I'm saddened that, at this point, i feel like it would be a surprise. When the messages to be displayed are positive - the persons doing the organizing gave up their time and their physical and mental effort pulling it off. I am not privy to the revenue or expenditure, nor do I care to be, but public money was collected, and spent on the process. In return, said persons got a small amount of limelight, presumably satisfaction in their accomplishments and the chance to work together with the club in a positive manner. If we think about what may happen should there be some "negative" messaging against the board, then presumably the same people would have to give up some time, effort, their own and other people's money (to whatever ratio - could all be someone else's, could even run at a net profit for themselves, if they did it in such a manner, none of my business) - they would get an enormous amount of limelight, be hailed as HEROES by fans, certainly by myself. If, as we hope, it resulted in something happening in the boardroom, an ENORMOUS amount of satisfaction of accomplishment. And all at the potential, not guarantee, potential cost of their own personal positive relationship with the very people we all despise - the current administration. I fear very deeply, that that last point is too large a personal price to pay for the people involved and that, ladies and gentlemen, is a crying fucking shame. I hope I'm wrong, I really do.