Former Newcastle Chairman Freddie Shepherd has come out today and lambasted Mike Ashley for trying to sell Newcastle United’s soul.
St. James’ Park – the Cathedral On the Hill
As we reported yesterday it will be very hard for Newcastle supporters to accpet a new name for the stadium – like to be The Sports Direct Stadium, since St. James’ Park is a revered stadium – the Cathedral on the Hill, as Bobby Robson used to refer to it.
And even with the club in the second division of English football, the home attendances are still averaging more than 41,000 – better than all but about 3 of the Premier league sides – such is the legendary support of Newcastle United.
Ashley has stated that Newcastle will listen to companies interested in sponsoring St James’ Park, which would have its name changed to incorporate theirs.
It is not a new concept, and one which is widespread over here in the United States and has been adopted by Arsenal (The Emirates Stadium) and Wigan Athletic (The DW Stadium) right now, with more clubs likely to go this way in the future.
Freddy Shepherd has said he turned down the opportunity to rename St. James’ Park after interest from three or four companies including an insurance firm following United’s 1997 Stock Market flotation:
“I can remember when we had the chance to change the name of the ground when I was Chairman,”
“It was just after flotation and big-name companies were falling over themselves to get involved in football – and back then, Newcastle were right up there with the Manchester Uniteds, Liverpools and Arsenals.” (editor note: we’re not now)
“We were offered something like £3M for a five-year deal. The branding specialists did not reveal the identity of the interested parties, otherwise we could just have approached the companies direct.”
“The money could have been ten times that and I would still not have been interested. There are some things money can’t buy.”
“The decision not to go down that road was one of the easiest we ever made as a board. I can recall raising the subject with my fellow directors, recommending we reject the idea and within a minute or two, they had agreed with me and we moved on to the next item on the agenda.”
“I just can’t imagine St James’ Park being called anything else. Whatever next? Why don’t they just go the whole hog and change the name of the club itself?”
“I suppose nothing surprises me about the current regime so news that they are ready to sell the naming rights isn’t exactly a shock,” he reflected. “I appreciate we are living in a commercial world but there are some things money can’t buy.”
“St James’ Park is one of the most famous stadiums not just in Europe, but in the world. You can go anywhere on this planet and everyone knows St James’s Park is the home of Newcastle United. The two go together and are synonymous with each other.”
“Fans will be horrified, angry and upset. They have had to put up with a lot in recent months but this is just another blow for them.”
As we said earlier today – we hope that Mike Ashley will reconsider, but he has never yet indicated, in any way, that he takes any notice at all of what the Newcastle fans think.
So we’ll not hold our breath on this one – but it would be an excellent move for Mike to make – if he wants to improve his terrible current standing on Tyneside.