United’s threat to council in stadium-name row

LEGAL THREAT ... Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley and managing director Derek Llambias.
LEGAL THREAT ... Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley and managing director Derek Llambias.

TOON chiefs tackled council bosses over a row about the renaming of St James’s Park it has been revealed.

Members of Newcastle City Council passed a motion criticising club owner Mike Ashley’s decision to rebrand the stadium the Sports Direct Arena.

Council leader Nick Forbes and opposition leader David Faulkner wrote to the BBC, ITV and other broadcasters urging them not to use the new name.

But Newcastle United managing director Derek Llambias hit back and wrote to Coun Forbes hinting at legal action.

In his letter, from January 25, Mr Llambias accused Coun Forbes of a “cheap publicity stunt” and suggested court proceedings would follow if the club lost any money due to the council’s action.

In his letter, which has only been revealed through a Freedom of Information request, Mr Llambias, wrote: “We feel this issue is being used by the council as a cheap publicity stunt during these hard economic times. As Coun Forbes and Coun Faulkner are no doubt aware, Newcastle United Football Club have under the present ownership had to face up to the era of austerity that affects all areas of life, of which professional football is no exception.

“Newcastle United also feel it is only right to point out several other professional football clubs had re-named stadiums in an effort to garner increased revenue.”

Mr Llambias goes on to say the club was heartened the BBC, ITV and other broadcasters were calling it the Sports Direct Arena.

He leaves open the possibility United could sue the council or individuals, such as Coun Forbes, if the club loses income.

Coun Forbes replied two days later. He said: “All councillors are elected to reflect the views of their community, so given the groundswell of public opinion against a name change, it is perhaps not surprising the council chose to debate this issue and pass a motion which reflected public sentiment at the time.

“That is democracy in action, and I am sure similar debates occurred in Bolton, Stoke, Wigan and anywhere else that clubs have chosen to break with tradition and change the name of the ground. The outcry is lessened in the case of new build stadiums, as opposed to renaming a club’s traditional home.”

A spokesman for Newcastle City Council said it works closely with the football club, but would not rescind the motion.

The spokesman added: “The club, as a private business, have the right to sell sponsorship at the ground, but they also have a responsibility towards the history and identity of it.

“There must be a common ground, which allows the club to make money from sponsorship while maintaining the historic spirit of the name St James’s Park.”

Newcastle United refused to comment.

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