Herding Cats
By Steve
Thursday 09 Jan 2014 10:45:00
Browse all Ian Cusack articles

Rise like Lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number -

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you -

Ye are many - they are few! (Percy Bysshe Shelley: The Masque of Anarchy)

On a gloriously hot Saturday in July 2013, I was proud to be one of the 150,000 individuals who converged on Durham for the 129th Miners’ Gala. Some were there mainly out of respect for tradition; others came merely for an all-day session in the Swan & Three Cygnets. Personally I was there as I felt honoured at having been asked to carry my union’s banner during the procession through the city. In my judgement, it seemed that all those people gathered on the site of the former Durham Racecourse, who heard impassioned speeches from RTM leader Bob Crow and Independent columnist Owen Jones, had come together on that day and in that location as we held a common, shared belief in the fact that the current Government have proven themselves to be flint-faced, implacable enemies of the working class in thought, in word and in deed. Not only that, but I sensed that a growing realisation is developing in this country that the Labour Party are finished; viewed with scorn by those they should be standing up for, who see them as utterly discredited as a force for positive opposition and change. While there were zealous Marxist ideologues and charismatic Leninist Vanguardistas among those voicing such opinions, most were just ordinary working class folk, fed up to the back teeth of cuts and austerity measures being foisted on them while the ruling elite and their mates the bankers continued to bathe in money. When those you’ve placed your trust in throw it back in your face with their smug indifference and zest for self-aggrandizement, the time has come to strike out in a radical direction.

I’m a Socialist; I don’t hide the fact and I make no apologies for referring to politics in this piece, but I am also a Newcastle United supporter and I can see so many parallels between the indignation, anger and desire for change expressed at the Durham Miners’ Gala and what is happening at my football club. In 2008, capitalism’s version of progress ground to a halt. There hadn’t been a natural disaster or food shortage, but simply the capitalist elite’s way of moving abstract loans and debts around had failed. The ruling class told us the only way the world could avoid calamity was for us all to agree to work harder for less money and for our bairns and grandkids to do the same. At the same time, Mike Ashley appointed Dennis Wise as Director of Football at Newcastle United. You hear what I’m saying? 

Cards on the table time; I am a passionate believer in fan ownership and would regard Ashley selling the club to another mega-rich Capitalist businessman as no sort of progress whatsoever. In my lifetime Westwood, Seymour, McKeague, Hall, Shepherd and Ashley have offered us nothing other than vague, empty promises of jam tomorrow; in a sense, Ashley is the most honest of that bunch as he offers nothing and promises less. My dream, idealistic though it may be, is of a sustained, mass, democratic, passionate, non-violent movement of Newcastle United supporters, with an agenda and an ideology decided democratically among us all, where our voices are of equal importance, bringing such pressure on Ashley that he cuts and runs, giving the club to the fans, washing his hands of the whole deal. At such a time, a properly constituted, democratic constitution, giving all members an equal say in the framework of the club, based not on our monetary interests but in the legitimacy of our involvement as supporters of the club, could be drafted, allowing for the provision of appointed, accountable, co-ordinating executives in a range of positions, both sporting and otherwise, to manage the club, but not for profit, ego or personal gain, simply for the good of the club, the city and the region. I’m talking Barca; I’m talking FC United of Manchester. Impossibly idealistic though this may seem; this is my fervently held hope. Remember, Newcastle United has existed since 1892 and the incredible pace and nature of the changes wrought on the game in that time may be dwarfed by what lies in the future. None of us know what that future may be, but we can all agree that, in the same way that Cameron and Clegg have managed to make the fiasco left behind by New Labour a whole lot worse, the 6 years of Ashley’s ownership have been even more disastrous than the Shepherd administration.

By any standards, the period following the end of the 2012/2013 has been even more farcical than usual at SJP. No new players and the appointment of a contemptible, discredited figure of scorn and abuse as Director of Football has had the effect of engendering a rekindling of the flame of sympathy for Pardew that was effectively snuffed out with his incompetent misuse of his 5 player get out of jail card from February onwards. However, tough as it may be to accept this is the case, it is my belief that whoever pulls on a black and white shirt, wherever we end up in the league and whatever happens in terms of back room staff appointments during 2013/2014, are all complete red herrings and as near as damn it utterly irrelevant to the ultimate future wellbeing of Newcastle United. Relegation has happened before and it doesn’t scare me; what scares me is the thought of Ashley remaining in charge of our club, which is why I urge us all to bury hatchets and accept olive branches, then get involved in a mass movement of fans to help topple this terrible regime, before we lose our club forever.

So, that is my position; what can be done to bring it about? Well, as I said before, this club is 131 years old; history tells us that we need to play the long game and we need to be organised. Perhaps the biggest criticism we have of ourselves as fans of Newcastle United has nothing to do with the insulting media stereotype of us as impatient cry-babies demanding immediate success or else (look at our history and laugh at that farcical opinion), but the fact that we have found it impossible over the years to work together. Ego, self-interest, back-biting and whispering campaigns have nullified all those supporters who’ve tried to work tirelessly for positive change in the past, but that was then and this is now. The time has passed when photographs of Steve Harmison joining NUST are enough to satisfy the desire for change among our support. To suggest such gestures, and I’m aware NUST do tremendous community work, are steps in the right direction or, worse, that our fans will forget all about this if we fluke a point at Man city on the opening day, is patronising, insulting and downright inaccurate. Ignore the smug Twitterati who claim this to be the case; as Secret Affair said, this is the time for action.

In the same way that Bob Crow at the Big Meeting called for the formation of a new party to represent the working classes now that Labour is finished, it seems to me as if the Newcastle United Supporters’ Trust have had their day; neither they nor The Mag appear to be interested in mobilising our support to campaign against Ashley, preferring mild hand-wringing in the case of the Trust and a head in the sand approach in the case of The Mag. Of course, they have time to learn the folly of their inaction and to get involved. I call on the Trust and those who relentlessly espouse its legitimacy as the sole elected voice of NUFC’s support, to do something other than repeat the mantra of the validity of elections; are NUST more like Kier Hardie or Milliband?

On June 24th, the only credible organisation able to mobilise anything other than a tiny number of supporters, namely Newcastle Fans United held a sometimes rowdy, sometimes ill-disciplined, but always passionate, meeting in the Labour Club to try and make some sense of the Kinnear appointment and take the temperature among the support. In retrospect, perhaps those of us involved in Newcastle Fans United were naïve in our expectations of how the evening would unfold; certainly my heart went out to Bill Corcoran and Steve Wraith who did brilliantly to keep the lid on a seething vat of hatred in the room, especially with local and national media present. Fair play also to the likes of George Caulkin and Mark Douglas, who penned superbly articulate pieces about the legitimacy of the gathering in the days after; their opinions educated many message board observers who had previously sought to denigrate and blackguard those involved and, for once, it appears that there is an appreciable groundswell of fan opinion in favour of Newcastle Fans United. Don’t just take my word for it; check out the website http://www.nufcfansutd.com/ then come along to our next meeting and get involved. We are a democracy and your voice is as valid as mine and every other member’s.

Newcastle Fans United  is a loose amalgam of support that is evolving meeting by meeting; what we are and will always be, is a democracy, that is a growing organisation and one that will be de facto even more democratic the more voices are represented. For example, I would love to see those from NUFC.com and Black & White Daft in our ranks.

However, Newcastle Fans United is not simply a talking shop; it is a dynamic organisation that encompasses diplomatic, cordial relations with the football club, with more firebrand opinions; in that sense, to steal a phrase from Gerry Adams, we have both the Armalite and the ballot box. It would be unfair to describe the meeting following Kinnear’s appointment as a bear pit, but the anger was palpable and demonstrated in the adoption of an uncompromising resolution drafted by Graeme Cansdale, of the Mike Ashley Out Campaign; yet the more the movement grows, the more we will learn whether this opinion is a majority or a minority one. Newcastle Fans United is democratic; the policies, opinions and campaigns involved come not from any assumed leadership, but from the authentic voice of our members. Come along and join in; all we have to lose are our chains.

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