Mark Douglas: Just who holds the power at 'we' club?

A Sunday Express story last weekend resulted in the paper being banned from St James' Park. Chief sports writer Mark Douglas explains

St James Park, the home of Newcastle United Football Club
St James Park, the home of Newcastle United Football Club

Newcastle United have gone from ‘wee club’ to oui club – and now it appears they’re the ‘we’ club.

How else to explain the curious statement released by the Magpies on Tuesday as they made a belated and ham-fisted attempt to regain the initiative following weekend reports Alan Pardew was just 90 minutes away from following Joe Kinnear out of St James’ Park?

The club mustered 213 words to thoroughly explain their decision to cast the Sunday Express to the naughty step currently inhabited by ncjMedia, a tally which bizarrely included an unneccessary justification of their decision not to ban the Daily Star.

By contrast they managed just 29 words (including a stern instruction there would be no further comment) on the ‘resignation’ of Joe Kinnear earlier this month, which is something Newcastle’s supporters might actually have been interested to hear more about.

Yet it was what was not included in the latest missive from St James’ Park which was really curious.

The second paragraph begins ‘We consider it extremely poor practice for a newspaper to print such an article without first seeking comment or clarification from the club.’ So who, Newcastle United, is ‘we’?

Is it Pardew? Is it club secretary Lee Charnley? Is it finance director John Irving? Is it club captain Fabricio Coloccini? Or is it Mike Ashley himself?

Who holds the power at Newcastle these days? Because if they can tell us that, maybe we’re halfway to getting somewhere in the messy business of working out who makes the decisions at St James’ Park.

At least when the club banned ncjMedia in October they gave us names. They reeled off every person who agreed with the decision before saying there was no comeback, which is a position which stands to this day.

Now Newcastle don’t even put a name on their statements.

Apparently, the Sunday Express reporter in question received a call from Keith Bishop after the publication of the article – a media management specialist employed by the club.

On his website he lists Newcastle United (and Rangers) as corporate clients and, while it might be a new name to the public, he has been in attendance when Pardew has given press conferences in the past.

Yet who – other than the catch-all ‘we’ – is making the decisions these days? Or is the situation paralysed by indecision with various tiers of management not entirely sure who wields absolute power?

If this is the case, it is no wonder Pardew remains as safe as houses at St James’ Park.

Ashley does not pay particular attention to Newcastle these days – he remains an absentee landlord who rarely, if ever, pays the club a visit – so how is he meant to formulate an opinion on Pardew’s body of work?

Normally, particularly rich men who own football clubs employ others to do this kind of thing for them.

At Manchester City they have a triumvirate of former Barcelona big-wigs who quickly and ruthlessly decided Roberto Mancini was not the man to lead them forward and took appropriate action.

Virtually every club in the United Kingdom has a visible presence in the boardroom who takes the big decisions and while the names may change – some are chief executives, some are managing directors and some are chairmen – we know they are essentially the king makers.

Who has that role at Newcastle?

It is this problem which leads to a creeping feeling of dread about a possible rebuild in the summer.

There are major, major decisions to be taken on Tyneside in the coming weeks and I’m not just talking about whether to sell Papiss Cisse and Steven Taylor to interested buyers.

As well as a vacuum at the top after Kinnear’s unlamented departure, Newcastle have a vacancy for a reserve team coach following Willie Donachie’s departure.

This is a role critical in bridging the gap between first team and under-21s – an area where Newcastle have struggled recently.

Talent tends to plateau at St James’ Park, as we have seen in the curious dip in Gael Bigirimana’s star, so this is a seriously important role.

It might just be the most crucial position that Newcastle need to fill in the coming days, weeks and months.

United need someone with a solid football background and progressive ideas to start working on a blueprint for how the club should play, how they should coach from under-16 to first-team level and to instigate a proper review of the club’s operations. Kinnear was meant to do that but he was, quite frankly, useless and was rightly shown the exit door.

It was not an instant solution, though. What we have now is inertia.

Things might be creeping along behind the scenes but the big decisions – like whether Pardew (pictured left) is the right man – are being dodged because no one with day-to-day knowledge of how things are has the authority to do anything about it.

Whether the boss likes it or not, he is hurtling towards a reckoning.

Newcastle might claim he is not 90 minutes away from the sack but there are questions to answer – about the lost momentum, the tactics, the way certain squad members have been alienated of late.

Someone needs to properly assess his efforts and not just hide behind the blithe attitude if he keeps Newcastle above tenth he’s done his job.

The problem is, as we search for answers which aren’t forthcoming, there is no one to perform that role.

The ‘we’ club continues to stumble along.


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