Why Pardew and his pals are no credit to Newcastle
20:48 GMT, 13 October 2012
Once upon a time, football fans knew
their place. That place was on a wind-blown, rain-lashed terrace, or
huddled inside a hazardous wooden stand. And as they endured this
primitive discomfort, they knew beyond question that the people who
controlled the game held them in the deepest contempt.
Well, the terraces have gone and the
stands now possess safety certificates, but the contempt is as odious as
ever. Which brings us, quite naturally, to the new sponsor of Newcastle
From next year, Newcastle shirts will
bear the name of a so-called ‘payday lender’ called Wonga. The details
of the deal are familiar, suffice to say the company, with its interest
rate of 4,214 per cent APR, has targeted a region which is experiencing
severe financial problems and therefore contains a disproportionate
number of the poor, the vulnerable and the desperate. Newcastle’s
black-and-white stripes are seen as an eminently desirable vehicle for
advertising the lender’s charms.
Motley crew: Alan Pardew and Derek Llambias welcome Wonga to Newcastle
Wonga pulled a similar stunt with
Blackpool when that club began a brief season in the Premier League. The
exercise was described and deplored in this column. I recall that the
company issued a press release which gushed: ‘Everyone here is bouncing
around with excitement and looking forward to the new footie season with
even more excitement than usual.’ Wonga’s income for the year in
question rose by 269 per cent to 45.8m. One imagines that the exciting
‘footie’ season played a helpful part.
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Curiously, it appears that the
Newcastle board were unprepared for the outrage their decision has
provoked. Much of the flak has been directed at the club owner, Mike Ashley, the plump and reclusive billionaire who was once secretly
photographed in a Chinese restaurant in Mansfield, stripped down to his
socks and boxer shorts and lashing his own back with a leather belt
while gyrating to You Can Keep Your Hat On, by Mr Tom Jones.
This, or so his detractors insist, is
clearly the kind of vulgarian who would leap at a four-year, 32m
sponsorship from Wonga. And they may have a point. But while the deal is
offensively ill-advised, Ashley can claim to have invested more than
300m of his own money in the club. It is a daunting commitment, even
for a billionaire. He has made many mistakes, of which this is the
latest, but, like Wonga’s customers, he deserves some credit.
Sadly, the club manager Alan Pardew
does not merit the same indulgence. Sent out to put a gloss on a shabby
arrangement, he shamelessly exceeded his brief. He played the victim
card, fatuously claiming that other clubs would not have received the
same negative publicity. He spoke of a reassuring conversation with
Wonga’s footie-loving owner Errol Damelin. And he hailed a cheap PR
gimmick as the game-changing moment.
Name game: St James' Park is to be reinstated
Ashley had created antagonism in the
North-East by renaming the stadium after his own company, Sports Direct.
The famous sign was taken down and a tradition was trashed. In truth,
it was a storm in a teacup, since nobody ever called it anything but St
James’ Park, yet damage was done. As Pardew well knows, Wonga was merely
making a virtue out of the inevitable when it announced that St James’
would reclaim his Park.
But the manager hailed the ploy with a fatuous babble of damp-eyed enthusiasm. ‘It’s emotive for me, the naming of the stadium,’ he said. ‘I am an emotional football person and that hurt me, it hurt our fans … The one thing I did say is that I would like the sign back up, even if it is dented still. Wonga was happy with that … That’s the sort of thing for me, for the fans, that we love — the romantic side of football. That’s the big news.’ He did add: ‘The second part is the money, if I’m honest,’ but by that time even the strongest stomach was turning.
Now, it is perfectly true that other Premier League teams are sponsored by institutions which, while entirely legal, sit uneasily in professional sport. Five clubs — Aston Villa, Stoke, Swansea, West Ham and Wigan — are subsidised by casino and bookmaking concerns, all approved by that temple of laissez-faire known as the Premier League. One day, the League may recognise the problems inherent in such an arrangement, but then, one day the Licensed Victuallers Association may come out in favour of temperance.
Put your shirt on it: Stoke are one five Premier League teams sponsored by bookmakers or casino
Newcastle’s deal with Wonga is something quite different. It is a cynical, demeaning alliance with a company which thrives on recession and which has patronised its prospective customers with ‘money-saving tips to beat the credit crunch’. These include: ‘Skip the tumble dryer: Hang your clothes to air dry’, and ‘Charity shops: Be sure to check out the shops in the posh areas as the locals tend to donate name brand fashions’. In short, it is a company which profits from poverty and desperation as the vulnerable of our society stumble from payday to payday.
Chi Onwurah, the MP for Newcastle Central, described it in a tweet: ‘Some of the richest young men in Newcastle to wear shirts calling on the poorest to go to a legal loan shark.’ She captured the situation with poignant precision. And if Pardew and his friends do not understand the offence they have given and the contempt they have conveyed, then it is high time they were told.
Celebrate a cheat’s downfall
Found out: Armstrong
When we remember 2012, we shall speak of great events; Olympics, Paralympics, Ryder Cup and the rest. Yet, in time, a dry, dispassionate 1,000-page report from the US Anti-Doping Agency may stand alongside those days of glory.
The fact that Lance Armstrong is revealed as a cynical, manipulative drugs cheat is hugely significant. Yet still more important is the fact that a major sport has been forced to confront a wicked reality. If sport is not clean, then it is no more than a squalid masquerade. Armstrong lived with that knowledge for a decade or more, viciously persecuting all who would challenge him.
Yet challenges there were, and it is right that we celebrate this rackety profession’s part in his downfall; most particularly the brilliant and tireless efforts of the Sunday Times journalists David Walsh and Paul Kimmage. But the real celebrations are reserved for sport itself. Cycling is cleaner. Other sports will surely find the courage to turn away from needle and tablet. 2012 was a year of sporting miracles and wonders. It will not be forgotten.
David Haigh is a member of the consortium bidding for Leeds United. An investment banker by trade, he is clearly aware that he may seem a remote figure to football fans.
It is important, therefore, to ingratiate himself with the common people, to speak the language of the ‘plebs’. Asked to describe the club, Dave replied: ‘Leeds is like a young Pamela Anderson. It’s in great shape, with superb assets and a great future ahead of her.’ There, I told you he was an investment banker.
There is a slim chance that Portsmouth’s supporters will end up owning their club.
After enduring all manner of boardroom spivs, the club are running short of fit and proper bidders. The debts are daunting and the signs are that they will be forced to start all over again.
But the fans are loyal and willing. For the sake of dear old Pompey, it would be good to see them given the chance.