THE Newcastle United supporters group bidding to wrestle control from Mike Ashley have accused managing director Derek Llambias of not learning from his mistakes after he sought to justify selling naming rights for St James’ Park.
The Newcastle United Supporters Trust (NUST) – which has begun a huge campaign aimed at raising the cash to take the club under supporters’ ownership – has accused Llambias of misreading the mood at St James’ Park and patronising fans with the arguments set out in his programme notes for last weekend’s Swansea game.
Llambias had said that selling the naming rights for the ground made “commercial sense” – quoting Barry Moat’s support for the idea – and also appealed for unity between the club’s fans and the team.
But in an open letter to the club’s hierarchy the NUST said that Llambias had “reopened a running sore” and said that his argument about the commercial viability of sponsoring St James’ Park did not stack up.
“Your comments have certainly re-ignited issues which we would have thought you would best want forgotten,” they wrote. “Whether it be the forlorn hope you have of re-naming St James’ Park or questioning the fans passion by urging them ‘to get behind the team’, you have re-opened a running sore.
“You try once again to make the case for a ‘commercial deal’ on naming rights of St James’ Park. We are afraid your condescending lesson on the realities of commercialism of football are lost when you fail to fulfil the two main attributes of a ‘marketable product’.
“One – you have damaged the brand. Two – you have failed to listen to your customers once again. Over 23,000 signed a petition to say ‘you had gone too far’. That is not marketable, it is what’s called a ‘toxic product’.
“Your ideas on sponsorship have been openly ridiculed by marketing specialists because you are selling a product which you have damaged. Speculation has said you could possibly make three times the figure floated at the start of the season in sponsorship rights if the club was ‘detoxified’. I’m sure you know what that means.” The group also questioned Llambias’ appeal for the club’s supporters to get behind the team, arguing that United have received tremendous backing from their fans.
“Your comments about backing the team are truly amazing,” they wrote. “Have you been at the games this season when fans have risen above some pretty petty tactics employed by the club under your guidance as chief executive and backed the team to the hilt?
“They have a right to voice their anger at the way the club has been run, but that has been directed at the hierarchy not the team.
“In fact, the team has consistently praised the fans support this season. You seem to be the only one questioning that commitment and once again resorting to petty tactics to get your rather garbled message across.”