NUFC Board Answer Fans Questions!

The Evening Chronicle's much publicised question and answer session with the Newcastle United board has been published.

There are 14 selected questions from the fans, with all the answers below. How The Chronicle couldn't find an extra worthy question to make it a nice round 15 is a strange one. An additional question from my point of view would be; Just what exact pleasure does Mike Ashley get from being NUFC owner? Is seems to be the biggest mistake of his life, which he still gets abuse and criticism for, in which he continues to make ridiculous decisions and mistakes; but yet he is still here?!?! Why? Unfortunately my question hasn't been asked but here are the questions that were:

1. Where's the money that was pledged to be reinvested in the squad after the sale of Andy Carroll gone?

We made it clear when we sold Andy that the fee we received would stay in the club, and it has.

The money will be spent prudently within the club and on new players as and when we are in a position to do so. We didn't promise to spend all the money in this window. Money will be available going forward, for the right player at the right time. If the club had been able to move on other transfer targets this summer, then more money would have been spent.

It's a point we've mentioned before, but transfer fees are only one part of the cost incurred in signing players. A free transfer mistakenly indicates that it is without cost to the club, but no transfer is actually free. Most supporters will be aware that the agents fees, signing on fees and salaries are inflated in deals with free agents.

Our wage bill this season will increase by seven percent as a result of the business we've done, including new deals for existing players. Assuming a tenth place league position, that gives us a wages-to-turnover ratio of approximately 65 per cent.

Any suggestions that the owner has in some way profited from the sale of Andy are absolutely untrue.

2. Why is there such a lack of communication with the fans from Mike Ashley and his board?

When Mike Ashley bought the club back in 2007, we were keen to engage with supporters and did so with some regularity.

As a result of some of the things we’ve done in the past there will always be fans who will not like nor believe what we have to say. The upshot is that when we speak publicly more often than not we are criticised.

Some football club owners and board members talk regularly in public and enjoy it, others don’t. We much prefer to concentrate on running the club and letting the football do the talking.

After the statement I made last week, it was interesting to read comments from some supporters saying “I just wish they’d shut up!” Of course everyone has a different view, that’s football for you, which as we all know is a very passionate game.

We understand the natural appetite for information and the need for fans to have clarity on the direction we’re taking the club. It’s why we have committed to an annual mission statement from the board, along with regular communications from our media department.

Last year the media team facilitated over 500 interviews with the manager, players and other club officials which demonstrates that the club does place importance on communicating with fans.

3. In 2009 you outlined your plans for the club at a fans forum. Can you give us an update on how you see our position now against that plan and if it has changed? What is the long-term plan for Newcastle United?

Since that fans forum meeting in 2009, the club is now on a far sounder footing. Financially we are in much better shape, even taking into account the impact of relegation.

We urgently had to address a number of problems and we’ve made great strides in that respect.

Our long-term plan off the field is to make sure that Newcastle United is self-financing, which in turn will allow us to invest in the squad, our youth development system and our facilities, without having to rely on additional financial support from the owner. There aren’t many clubs in England who can hope to achieve that.

It’s obviously our football ambitions that supporters are understandably more interested in. This year we’ve set ourselves the target of a top ten finish in the Premier League.

In the coming years we will continue to build the club sustainably. We have a generous owner, but we don’t have the bottomless pockets that some clubs do. At the moment we cannot compete with the financial strength of the top six.

We are not a club willing to take a reckless approach and permit spending beyond our means, the result of which can be crippling at best and bankruptcy at worst. Instead we have a realistic view of what we can achieve at Newcastle and how quickly we can achieve it.

4. Can you justify why it took seven months to pursue a striker before failing at the eleventh hour to secure a signing?

We understand fans’ frustrations - we share them, as does the manager.

Despite what many may think we didn’t leave it late, in fact we started our search the minute Andy Carroll left. It’s difficult to convey the amount of work that goes into the process of scouting, assessing and analysing players to ensure that anyone brought into the club is of the right age, quality, character and team fit.

We have to be certain that our targets have the strengths and skills that complement the current squad and the balance of the side. Then of course there’s the transfer fees and wages to get right. The fee we received from the sale of Andy Carroll was a windfall, but it’s not money we can afford to waste, so prudence and adherence to our strict transfer policy is important.

The manager and our scouting team identified a number of targets very early in the year and we worked hard to secure those players as soon as possible. There are three parties involved in any deal; the buyer, the seller and the player, and deals can fall down for any number of reasons brought about by any one of those parties. Unfortunately it wasn’t until very late in the window that negotiations broke down.

At that stage we turned our attention to other available players on our shortlist. However we will not compromise our transfer policy by making rash and costly signings that are not right for this club. Many clubs live to regret knee-jerk business decisions conducted in the final few days of the window. We have no interest in players reaching the end of their careers who are offered for extortionate fees and demand long-term contracts and high wages.

The details of our negotiations in the window must remain confidential; suffice to say that despite our best efforts unfortunately we were unable to agree the right deal for an additional striker.

5. Public opinion on Tyneside from large sections of fans is that they no longer trust statements coming out of the club after several empty promises. What assurances can you give fans that they can believe what the club tells them?

We don’t feel we’ve made empty promises. Sometimes in these situations it’s impossible to win.

If we say nothing we are criticised. If we state our intentions and they are not realised, we are criticised.

Going back to the sale of Andy Carroll, just to reiterate we did not promise to spend all the money from that transfer in the summer. We said that not a penny would be taken out of the club and that is exactly what we have done.

In relation to Andy, it’s worth addressing the issue that upset fans back in January. Yes, we said repeatedly that Andy Carroll was not for sale. On reflection perhaps we should have chosen our words more carefully. We had no intention of selling Andy Carroll.

If I can draw an analogy: My house is not for sale. In fact you could offer me twice what it is worth and it would still not be for sale because it has a personal value to me right now that is greater than twice the price. But if someone knocks on my door with a truly extraordinary figure, a sum which I had never imagined would be offered, then there comes a time when I have to seriously consider it.

The same is true in football. We could not have imagined when we rejected offers for Andy of £25m and £30m that any bid in excess of that would be tabled. And that was our position in January: do we continue stubbornly to refuse to sell at any price, or is the offer now so high that it deserves serious consideration. The fee offered was a deal too good to turn down.

That’s just one side of the equation of course. On the other side is a player, and one I would add that we have the greatest respect for. He could see an incredibly attractive opportunity for him too. Eventually both the club and the player agreed that a deal would be in the best interests of both parties. Was it ideal that the bid came in on the final day of the window? No, but we stand by our decision that it was in the best interests of the club despite it being too late to bring in a replacement. Without Andy, we still achieved a very credible finishing position in the league.

So our statements that Andy was not for sale were not disingenuous. We had no intention of selling Andy, not at £25m, nor at £30m. Because we had never anticipated the vast sum eventually tabled then to all intents and purposes he was not for sale.

If some fans feel the can no longer trust what we say, that’s a shame, but all we can do is continue to tell it as we see it and hope that people will take us at our word.

6. Given that level 7 was deserted in some parts at the Fulham game, is there any reason why those who want to sing can't all be sat together rather than upsetting fans who don't want to sing, which appears to be the problem in the Strawberry corner? What has caused the club to fundamentally change its stance to standing in the stadium?

I think it’s worth restating the reasons behind the changes we’ve made to Level 7.

The Family Enclosure last season was extremely popular, so much so that demand regularly outstripped supply. It’s important for us to be a family friendly club and to encourage an atmosphere where future generations of supporters feel welcome and are properly catered for.

Given that our previous Family Enclosure wasn’t large enough to accommodate all those wishing to sit there, we took the decision to extend it from 5,000 to 6,500 seats, making it the largest dedicated family area in the Premier League. The sensible thing to do was to extend the existing enclosure into the North West corner, rather than ring-fence a separate pocket of seats elsewhere in the stadium.

The positive result of this has been that we now have an additional 1,000 children and their parents with season tickets in the Family Enclosure this year.

Understandably those fans who had to move seats as a result were disappointed to do so. Whilst it heralded the end of the Level 7 ‘singing section’, we didn’t want to create a new singing section elsewhere in the ground. We would far rather encourage a good vocal atmosphere around the whole stadium than in just one part.

The club hasn’t changed its position with regard to standing. Persistent standing has never been condoned, not least because it’s in breach of strict ground regulations that apply to every club in the country. The safety certificate issued to us by the local authority is conditional on us complying with those regulations. The bottom line is if we don’t take action to address persistent standing, then we will find ourselves in trouble with the local authority and ultimately the Football Licensing Authority.

Just to be clear here, we’re not talking about temporary standing during moments of excitement – that’s part and parcel of enjoying a football match. We’re talking about standing for long periods of the game.

We should point out that less than five percent of fans stand for long periods of a game. The vast majority want to use the seat they’ve paid for and abide by safety regulations. We’ve only had two home games so far, but we’ve already received over a hundred complaints from supporters upset that their matchday experience has been spoilt by a minority of fans who refused to sit down and on occasion used threats of violence and foul and abusive language in response to reasonable requests from fellow supporters.

A number of those complainants actually felt the situation was so disruptive that they chose to leave the ground at half time. That is not fair, plain and simple. We won’t tolerate persistent standing or foul and abusive language and we will look after the needs of the vast majority of supporters by issuing bans to those who continue to ignore our repeated requests.

7. Many fans clamoured for a marquee signing on the striker front. Are those days gone and can we expect more continental-based players coming in January, if any?

The days of Newcastle United acquiring ‘trophy’ signings who command huge salaries for past successes on the pitch are over.

Yes they have generated excitement and anticipation in the past, but ultimately many of them have left the club poorer and with little to show for it in terms of our standing in the league.

As for where we scout from, we have no specific policy to recruit continental players and we obviously have to satisfy the Premier League rules in respect of home-grown players.

It’s not about where a player is from, it’s about their ability, age, character and value for money. We’ve found this year that we have got better value for money on the continent which is why we’ve recruited well from France in particular this summer.

8. Are you concerned about the 10,000 drop in attendance and that fans are either not renewing season tickets or have headed to support local non-league teams instead?

On the contrary, season ticket sales are actually up on where we were this time last year.

We introduced a ground-breaking ten year fixed price deal for season ticket holders this year. This was a genuine initiative aimed at rewarding loyalty and guaranteeing long-term affordability for fans. The deal was very well received and in fact two-thirds of all season ticket holders have taken advantage of that deal. So we’re delighted to have introduced a genuine initiative which has been so popular, and we’re very happy with the number of season ticket holders we have this year.

It’s too early in the season to suggest there’s any trend emerging with regard to on-the-day sales. The Fulham fixture was a Sunday match and a 1pm kick-off, as well as falling during the school holidays too. Those factors undoubtedly played their part. Also of course Fulham’s travelling support was very small at just 433. The attendance was actually not far off what we had expected for that fixture. For the Arsenal game, the attendance was far higher than we saw for the first game last season which is fantastic.

The support this club receives is phenomenal and never taken for granted. If we do see a trend emerging for whatever reason, then we will look to address that.

9. Is Mike Ashley considering putting the club up for sale?

Mike Ashley has no intention of putting the club up for sale.

He is still extremely passionate about strengthening the club and making it a real success. We are balancing the books and getting the finances in order, but there’s plenty more work to be done and he’s committed to doing that for the long-term.

That said, it’s worth going back to the analogy of the house that’s not for sale. If suddenly an incredible offer comes in, he may have to consider it.

From time to time we are approached by people claiming to have an interest in buying the club. Our message to them is clear: buy a box for a commitment of five-seasons and then we’ll know you’re serious. No-one’s taken us up on that offer!

I’d like to make a further point here. This club can’t support itself without the financial backing of Mike Ashley; we still rely heavily on the owner. To date Mike has invested over £280m into the club, including £140m in interest-free loans. For him to continue to support the club, he has to be interested and enthused to do so. He deserves credit for his financial support but a section of supporters don’t make him feel welcome at St James’ Park, or when he attends away games. Criticism is part and parcel of the job, abuse is not. This makes life uncomfortable and certainly doesn’t make Mike feel more inclined to put his hand once again in his pocket. That’s not stubbornness, it’s human nature. I think most of us would feel exactly the same.

10. Newcastle United has the third highest attendances in the country, Sky TV and income from merchandising, plus a lower debt position than many in the EPL. Why in terms of player recruitment can Newcastle not compete with smaller clubs like Stoke, Fulham and QPR?

We're privileged to have a huge fan-base and the TV income and merchandising revenue that goes hand-in-hand with that.

The efforts we’ve made over recent years to reduce our debts has only been possible because we’ve kept our operating costs in check and carefully managed our wage structure, wage to turnover ratio, and transfer spending policy.

It would be inappropriate to pass comment on the way other clubs run their business, and it would be a largely irrelevant exercise. Suffice to say that we have a strong business strategy which we are committed to following and which we believe will reap benefits for the club and its supporters over the years to come.

11. Are you aware of fans' disgruntlement with the away ticketing policy given the Toon Army are among the most loyal fans in the UK, and will you consider reviewing the policy?

Yes, we’re aware that some fans are unhappy with the changes we’ve made.

There was however a lot of anger from the majority of law-abiding fans at the behaviour of a few at our friendly game against Darlington that evening, and it’s as a result of their behaviour that we have introduced these restrictions.

We did so to protect the reputation of the club. The scenes we witnessed at Darlington were disgraceful and cannot be repeated. The changes we’ve made ensure that the club has better control over who gets access to away tickets so that people who break the law are able to be identified much more easily.

If non season ticket holders want to purchase tickets for away games, then it’s very simple to do so by way of a club membership.

12. Alan Pardew said he was 100% convinced he would get a new number 9. What changed?

T was everyone’s desire at the club to bring in a striker. As I said in answer to a previous question, we worked hard to make that happen but ultimately couldn’t complete a deal that we’d hoped to.

Alan was aware of the efforts we were making in our negotiations and as such had every right to be confident. We were making good progress on a number of fronts, but unfortunately we couldn’t get the player over the line.

13. Why was Joey Barton allowed to leave for free and join a club that could be considered to be a rival in the Premier League?

Joey's a big character and a talented player, which is why we supported him from the moment he came to Newcastle, in spite of the difficulties he faced in his first two seasons here.

In January 2011, we were keen to offer Joey a new contract because we wanted to keep him at the club. We offered him what we considered to be a great deal but unfortunately Joey chose not to accept it.

We felt we couldn’t improve on that offer and therefore would need to consider selling. However with a transfer fee attached we received no formal interest from any club. We eventually made a decision to release Joey on a free transfer after well-publicised differences between the club and the player couldn’t be resolved. We wish Joey all the best at Queens Park Rangers and look forward to seeing him on Monday for our fixture at Loftus Road.

14. Many fans now consider us to be a "selling club" after the departures of Nolan, Enrique, Carroll and Barton. How do you respond to this?

The term "selling club" is a misnomer. In reality all clubs are selling clubs at the right price – even the Premier League’s top six clubs.

We’re no more a selling club than any other in the Premier League – you sell players, you buy players; that’s football. The Manchester Citys of this world operate on a different level to most other clubs, including ourselves, and it’s easier for those with greater financial clout to hold on to their best players and replace those they need to.

The fact is, we’ve done some excellent business in this window and brought in seven very good players. The quality of these new signings shouldn’t be overshadowed by the fact that we were unable to bring in an additional striker.

I’ve addressed the circumstances of Andy and Joey’s departure in earlier answers. In relation to Kevin Nolan, we offered Kevin a new contract at the start of the summer. Unfortunately he wanted a longer deal than we were prepared to offer and ultimately an approach came in from West Ham which worked for the player and his long-term security, as well as for the club..

The situation with Jose was very straightforward. We tried to negotiate a new contract with him early in the 2010/11 season, but the player wasn’t willing to enter negotiations at that time. When we did eventually get round the table with Jose we offered him an exceptional deal. His advisors subsequently made it clear to us that he wanted to pursue a new challenge elsewhere.

If a player wishes to leave the club, then there’s only so much we can do to try and keep him. We did everything we could, but he chose to move on. Faced with the prospect of running his contract down and leaving for nothing, we had to look to sell.

Selective responses:

It seems we have a 65% wage ratio. So given we have a turnover of £100m for being a Premier League club and an average operating costs of around £20-£25million, last season should have seen us make a tidy Net profit of £10-£15million........not including massive transfer money gained!! But yet we still had transfer spend this summer of practically ZERO!) Will be nice interesting reading when the finance details are released.

It seems clear from this that the club couldn't refuse to turn down the Andy Carroll transfer fee, so to create the 'transfer request' controversary they did, for the sake of saving a few bob on bonus money that would have been owed to Carroll due to selling him when he was still under contract, totally crippling his name and reputation amongst 'his own' geordie fans, was and is a total disgrace. I knew it at the time, and with every quote from all parties involved it becomes more and more clear that Andy Carroll doesn't deserve the label of 'Judas'. Which obviously harms any chance of the lad coming back to finish what he started. Shocking!!

You may be able to fool the sheep who follow our football club; but some of us can see the wood from the trees at a 100 miles away. The smell of bullshit is also overpowering at times. I have learned nothing from these responses, except the views I already have are pretty much confirmed and set in stone.

We are ran by bullshitting, self-sympathising, incompetent clowns. End of. The sooner this black n white double act are long gone from our neck of the woods, the sooner this football club will finally meet its potential again. 

What other fine mess do they have up their sleeves next?!

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