NEWCASTLE United chief Derek Llambias has sensationally admitted that the club’s owner Mike Ashley still calls their home ground St James’s Park.
The Magpies board has been slammed over changing the name of the famous old 52,000-seat stadium.
And the fury reached new levels at the club’s reserve-team derby with Sunderland last night when fans ripped down Sports Direct signs and threw them onto the pitch.
Llambias today admitted that he understands the naming rights issue is a ‘passionate’ thing, but insists Ashley isn’t trying to be disrespectful – but instead is trying to turn Newcastle into a club that can compete financially with the top four.
The Gazette yesterday revealed the club’s financial figures for the last year, with Newcastle close to breaking even after massively reducing their operating losses.
And Llambias has pledged to press forward with seeking a new naming-rights sponsor for the stadium, despite admitting owner Ashley still calls it St James’s.
Llambias said: “Do you think me and Mike call it the Sports Direct Arena? We call it St James’s Park, because it is St James’s Park.
“The naming rights is such a passionate thing. It’s not about being disrespectful or taking away the tradition or the history of the club – it’s about trying to get another Yohan Cabaye out there on the pitch. That’s how we see it.
“To optimise our commercial side, we needed to get that in there – other clubs do it.
“We’ve had to take the criticism on the nose. We’re not riding roughshod over people’s love. People come to see our players on the pitch. It’s about us, the fans, the manager, the players and the region – it’s an emotional thing.
“If we wanted to ride roughshod, we’d just put the ticket prices up. That’s not happening.
“We know we’ve got a huge responsibility, and we know there’s a lot of emotion involved and we are emotional people, too.
“We are not being disrespectful. Mike and I understand and feel for it.
“The only area of income we can really build is the commercial revenue. We don’t want to put ticket prices up. We have a 10-year ticket deal and now we’ve announced a nine-year deal.
“There are only a few ways to increase our income. We know the naming rights is contentious, but that income is something we need.
“Could our stadium be the O2 Arena of the north? I think it could.
“It’s already a cathedral, but it’s dead in the summer. There are things the club can expand on, but we are limited.
“Sports Direct is showcasing the naming rights, but without Sports Direct we would not be in Newcastle. That is the business that gives Mike the power to do what we’re doing, and the power to put £270m of his own money behind the football club.
“We’d have loved someone to come along and say, ‘We’re going to give you the money for the shirt sponsorship and the stadium.’
“We just feel it’s for the good of our club going forward and it could give us another player.”