United drop prices to tempt back fans

NEWCASTLE United will attempt to lure fans back to St James’s Park by passing on this week’s VAT cut to them.

Mike Ashley

NEWCASTLE United will attempt to lure fans back to St James’s Park by passing on this week’s VAT cut to them.

The Magpies’ attendances have dropped more than any other club’s in the Premier League this season – with average attendances down by nearly 5,000. While the decision to cut ticket prices for Newcastle home games is a reaction to the fall in Value Added Tax, the club will be hoping it helps to fill the gaps in the St James’s stands.

The loyalty of United’s support is one of its most appealing selling points as unpopular owner Mike Ashley (pictured right) tries to sell them. But attendances have dropped off this season, a combination of the present financial circumstances and the club’s off-field problems.

Steve Wraith, editor of fanzine Fans Inc, sees the news as a welcome public relations move but not one he expects to have any great effect.

“I think it’s a good gesture on behalf of the club,” he said. “It’s good PR and a step in the right direction.

“In the whole scheme of things we’ve lost numbers because of the credit crunch but a lot of fans won’t come back while the current regime are still there and

unfortunately I can’t see that happening for a while. I don’t think there will be any big change (in attendances) until then.”

Only once this term has there been a crowd in excess of 50,000 at the Gallowgate, and the circumstances were exceptional. The visit of Hull City was Newcastle’s first match since Kevin Keegan’s departure and the crowd was swelled more by angry protesters than supporters eager to get behind their side.

Everton have also announced they will pass on the 2.5% VAT cut in this week’s emergency pre-budget report. The cut comes into effect nationwide on Monday but will not filter down to the price of United seats until the pre-Christmas visit of Tottenham Hotspur because tickets for matches between now and the December 21 game have already gone on sale.

The cheapest adult tickets for the Spurs game is now £29. The discount also extends to official United merchandise purchased from club shops. Merchandising has also been badly hit by the fallout from Keegan’s acrimonious exit in early September.

Angry supporters launched a “no cash for Ashley” campaign in protest at the way Ashley handled the affair. Fans were asked to boycott refreshments in the ground, official merchandise and products from the Sports Direct chain Ashley is the major shareholder in.

Having apparently bowed to fan pressure, Ashley is trying to sell United. But while he has received a bid from an American consortium, it falls way beyond his valuation.

Steve Harper has spoken about the effect the lengthy transitional period has had on him.

Ashley has felt unable to appoint a permanent manager, instead giving interim Joe Kinnear a rolling monthly contract, or to enter contract negotiations with those players whose deals are due to expire at the end of the campaign.

Long-serving goalkeeper Harper is one of them. But although the offer of an extension made to him by Keegan has been removed, the former Seaham Red Star player has vowed not to let it affect his performances.

“My contract is up in the summer, and I haven’t been offered a new one,” he admitted.

“I don’t know what the situation is. We’re in the dark as well as to whether the club’s being sold. But I’ve been fully committed here for the best part of 16 years, and I’ll remain so until somebody tells me otherwise.

“When Kevin was here he did mention he would like to give me a new deal, but he’s not here any more, and it’s died a death. If the option was there, I would consider it, but, at this moment it’s not.”

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer