By Benjamin Zand
Mike Ashley has once again outraged Newcastle United fans by going through with his controversial plans to change the name of St James’ Park despite repeated protests from fans
The championship side will see its stadium’s former name of ‘St James’ Park’, which it’s held since 1880, changed to sportsdirect.com@St. James’ ParkStadium.
The North-Eastern outfit announced last week it was looking to sell the naming rights to St. James’ Park from next season, a decision which sparked extremely negative responses from the club’s supporters. The club has now decided though to utilize the ground to showcase the sportswear company, ‘Sports Direct’, controlled by current club owner Mike Ashley until the end of the season.
‘We will showcase Sports Direct until the end of the season’ chief executive Derek Llamias told BBC Newcastle.
‘I’m sure we’re going to get a sponsor for next season’
Fans have acted very angrily to the decision and a lot are upset at what they see as a part of their beloved club being lost.
Speaking to one supporter, 18 year-old Richard Thornton, a season-ticket holder from Newcastle who currently resides in Edinburgh, but still manages to attend every Newcastle match, he said, “It (the name change) is pointless, no money is even going to be made, it’s a historical ground and with the loss of the name, comes a bit of history lost in my opinion. It seems like he (Mike Ashley) is doing all he can to upset the Newcastle fans.”
When asked about what he thought of Mike Ashley as chairperson of Newcastle United he went on to say, “He’s not a football man, he’s a business man, he’s lost a lot of money through the club and he’s trying his luck with whatever he can to regain his losses, he just doesn’t understand how big this is to the fans, St. James’ Park is Newcastle United.”
Even former Newcastle chairman Freddy Shepherd criticized the move to re-name the stadium, claiming that “there are just some things that money can’t buy”.
These views seem to echo the majority of NUFC supporters, with many trying to halt the proposed plans through staging a variety of protests, such as the ones before and after Newcastle United’s game on Saturday against Peterborough.
The decision from Ashley came the same day as he took the club off the market due to failing to attract a buyer willing to pay the reduced asking price of £80m, leading many to believe the name change was just a ploy for Mike Ashley to further deepen his own pockets, rather than enhance the fortune and welfare of the club. Fans were further enraged and this notion supported with the announcement that the club’s plans to rename the stadium were for commercial purposes.
Mr Ashley bought the club for £134m two years ago when it was still in the Premiership, and has suffered considerable losses at his time at the club, with its decline into the Championship being a large factor.
Llambias, speaking to BBC sport, when asked if the name “St James’ Park” would always remain amid an angry response from fans, said: “Absolutely. In our reign, absolutely.”
“It’s adding to it, and if it brings in a good chunk of money to the club, that goes straight to the team, then do you know what, it’s a revenue we should look at.”
Adidas, Newcastle’s current shirt sponsors, were strongly linked with buying the rights to the stadium, but have brushed off reports, announcing they had not been offered the naming rights to the stadium and would not wish to take the rights if they were offered.
The controversy about renaming the stadium is only a recent problem in a very long and arduous feud between the Newcastle supporters and Mike Ashley, but Derek Llambias is confident that success on the pitch will heal the pain of the aggrieved fans.
Saying, whilst speaking to the BBC: “Success, really, will heal the wounds, and time, a combination of both. We are patient people and I think the fans will come around eventually.
“I have no idea what length of time that will be – I may be a very old man before it’s done – but I think the fans will see in the future that we do care.”