Chris Hughton is concerned that the fans’ outrage over the rebranding of Newcastle’s stadium may have a negative impact on club’s fortunes on the pitch. There are protests planned at this weekend’s home game against Peterborough by supporter groups who wish to voice their discontent over the decision to rename the club’s famous ground sportsdirect.com@StJames’Park, and there is a concern that these protests could cause the players to lose their focus for the game.
Newcastle have enjoyed a strong, if unspectacular start to the season, and find themselves two points clear at the top of the table after fifteen games played. The performances have not been sparkling but the results are good and if the squad steer clear of injuries and maintain their focus, there is a healthy chance of achieving promotion back into the Premier League. Attendances have been strong this season and the club appears to be a far healthier and more stable establishment than it was at this time last year. However the recent furore over Mike Ashley’s plans to sell the stadium naming rights could derail the club just as the furore over the constructive dismissal of Kevin Keegan thrust the club into turmoil last season.
It is imperative that the club do not repeat the mistakes that were made last year; the stakes are no less high this time. Newcastle United’s wage bill is one of the highest in the league and cannot be sustained if the club are destined for a prolonged stay in the Championship. If promotion is not achieved this season, the club can expect to lose more star names over the summer. The likes of Kevin Nolan and Steven Taylor as well as Argentine internationals Jonás Gutiérrez and Fabricio Coloccini will not be short of suitors if the club are forced to move them on. The knock-on effect of losing players of this quality will of course be that it will be even more difficult to achieve promotion the next season.
Whilst the fans’ discontent is understandable, it would be wise for them to look at the bigger picture. One isolated day of protest would be enough to make their point, but a prolonged series of protests could only have a detrimental effect on the stability of the club. By the same token, Mike Ashley should also consider taking a step back from his plans; his focus should be on giving Hughton all the support he needs to secure promotion. Once this has been achieved, Ashley could negotiate a more lucrative deal for the club if he is determined to do so; naming rights to a Premiership club’s stadium are surely worth more than rights to a Championship club’s ground. At present, this row is a distraction that can only harm the club’s ambitions.