LINES IN THE SAND
By Ian Cusack
Monday 06 Dec 2010 10:07:00
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Welcome to the debut issue of “Toon Talk.” Having previously scribbled about Newcastle United for (deep breath): “The Mag,” “The Mighty Quinn (aka “The Number 9”),” “Half Mag Half Biscuit,” “Talk of the Toon,” “The Giant Awakes” and, of course, “Players Inc,” I’m looking forwards to this new venture immensely. Personally speaking I’ve 20 years of experience of  writing for fanzines and it’s fair to say that during that time I’ve seen my fair share of squabbles, turf wars, personal vendettas and childish strops between writers of various publications; I’ve even been part of a few. However, those point-scoring, nit-picking days are gone. I am a member of NUST, I write for “Toon Talk,” I buy every issue of “The Mag” and I’ve got www.nufc.com as the homepage on my computer; I think that allows me access to a broad spectrum of fan opinion and shows I have a real interest in ensuring we all rub along together. I have to say, right from the start, that we need a broad, inclusive spectrum of opinions to act as a representative cross-section of Newcastle United’s support, both on paper and in NUST.

 

I recognise that my information intake doesn’t cover every single base, but I don’t have any interest in wasting my time by expending energy familiarising myself with the deluded ramblings of the cyber lunatic fringe and their ultra absolutist Geordie Taleban style position. I must state that their craven failure to either put up or shut up in the recent NUST elections shows them to be an irrelevant self-serving ragbag of persistent naysayers with nothing positive to contribute to our just and righteous cause. They are as relevant to supporting Newcastle United as the Flat Earth Society are to a conference of cartographers.

 

Wrapped up in the minutiae of supporting our team, we fans often fail to see the bigger picture. This summer, not having been able to attend the famous 1994 UEFA Cup game because of work, I finally righted a geographical wrong and holidayed for fortnight in Bilbao, a beautiful and amazing city, also taking in the rest of the Basque Country, from the seaside of Donostie to the architectural splendours of Vitoria-Gasteiz. As well as visiting the Guggenheim Art Gallery, not to mention taking tours of Athletic Bilbao’s San Mames and seeing the other Basque teams’ grounds of Alaves (Vitoria-Gasteiz) and Real Sociedad (Donostie), I found myself in friendly bars of an evening, enjoying tinctures of Rioja and litres of Voll Damm, along with complementary tapas, where conversation always turned to football. While Basques were, at best, ambivalent to Spain’s success in the World Cup, Bilbao fans especially were delighted with Newcastle’s promotion and were keen to wish our club, whom they hold in the highest esteem, the very best of luck for the coming season. It’s important to remember that the world out there isn’t populated by Lousie Taylor and Sod Liddle snipealikes.

 

Returning home, I found myself to be in the most relaxed and optimistic of moods. Admittedly Perch and Gosling weren’t Puyol and Villa, but we’d won at Carlisle and all seemed right with the world. My positive mood was blown to pieces firstly by a November style cloudburst as I stepped out of the arrivals terminal attired in Hawaiian shirt and Bermuda shorts and then, once I’d got home and dried out, by an email “Toon Talk” had received that day -:

 

Dear Steve

Thank you for your kind offer of space in the forthcoming first issue of Toon Talk magazine. Unfortunately, the Trust Board feels it is unable to take you up on this offer due to the current online imagery being used in connection with the magazine.

Regards

Tony Stephenson (Chair, Media Committee NUST)

I have to declare an interest at this point, having stood in the elections for the NUST committee. While I gained 105 votes and avoided the wooden spoon, I was as far from success as our esteemed Editor was from winning a seat on Gateshead Council when he stood for the Tories in Felling (where my late uncle John had been a Labour councillor). That said, no doubt like Steve when the citizens of Heatherwell Green and Split Crow Road had given their verdict, I commended the democratic process, congratulated the victors and pledged to give them my support. Obviously, unlike in Local Government, there were no party lines to observe; NUST is a vehicle for all Newcastle United supporters who aspire to the achievable goal of fan ownership of the club and who want to influence the future direction of our team.

In many ways, writing for fanzines is a similar exercise to being a part of NUST. Steve might be a Tory, whereas I’m a lifelong Marxist, who voted for the Communist Party in this year’s election (he didn’t get in by the way), but it doesn’t essentially matter. We’re both Newcastle United fans at the end of the day and the ability to cooperate, compromise and set aside personal vanity and hidden agendas is essential in compiling a fanzine as it is in every aspect of life, if progress is to be made. Obviously, referring again to NUST, lines in the sand have to be drawn when it comes to potential compromises relating to the “Yes We Can” campaign, or when underhand politicking is seen to be afoot. Unfortunately, at the moment, any form of interactive debate with the NUST committee seems impossible.

I have to admit to a gathering unease as to the nature and direction of NUST, who seem politically inert and oblivious to the existence of the ordinary member. The NUST election results came out at the end of March; at the time of writing, 4 months later, there has not been a single public meeting whereby the elected committee has accepted questions or comments from ordinary members as to the future policies, tactics, direction or role of NUST. Time is not standing still, even if NUST’s committee seem to be.

Admittedly the Trust has been commendably active in combating media lies about Newcastle fans, as perpetuated by “The Grauniad,” whether they are wildly inaccurate claims that there was a racist demonstration on the day Andy Cole made his debut or that Newcastle fans were singing offensive songs at Carlisle. Also, the attractive website is good at keeping readers up to date with events involving other clubs’ trusts, but there is seemingly no interactivity with the ordinary rank and file of the NUST membership. This is a grave error and one I urge the NUST committee to address at their earliest convenience, if inertia is not to give way to moribund indifference.

Nowhere on their website is there any reference to the constituent membership of the Media Committee, other than the mention of Tony Stephenson as its chair in the email received by “Toon Talk.” I respect the content of this email, as I have to say I’m not comfortable with sexist imagery; then again, adverts for lap dancing bars such as “For Your Eyes Only” or strippers in “The City Vaults” which I found equally discomfiting appeared in “The Mag,” which the Trust were happy to provide articles for last season. I wonder if this will continue to be the case.

Let’s be honest about this, if the NUST Media Committee have drawn a line in the sand, stating that they will refuse to work with any publication that uses images of scantily clad young women, then we have to respect their decision, even if we don’t know who made this decision. The fact I agree with this decision is irrelevant on two grounds; firstly, decisions of this magnitude made in secret seem to be undemocratic and an indication that NUST is failing to consult with the membership. Secondly, as NUST has happily provided material to go alongside the salacious adverts alluded to before, it seems both a disproportionate response and a tactical error in seeking to have a go at someone who wants to help NUST and Newcastle United, rather than the current ownership of the club who seem to treat both the Trust and the team with disdain.

If NUST Media Committee’s decision is simply a snub directed at “Toon Talk,” then that is a terrible slap in the face for Steve and all he has done to give NUST publicity, both in print in “Players Inc” and on air. Frankly, unless NUST’s committee are prepared to engage with the membership to discuss exactly who is on the various sub-committees and to explain the reasoning and legitimacy behind the decision making, then I fear for not only the integrity but also the future of the Trust and, consequently, for the future of  our club.



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