Newcastle United fans reveals why they want a boycott of St James's Park

A group of Newcastle United fans is encouraging supporters to boycott the club’s season-opener.

By Miles Starforth, miles.starforth1
Tuesday, 02 July, 2019, 12:00
Newcastle fans at St James's Park.

The club, without a manager following the controversial departure of Rafa Benitez on Sunday, take on Arsenal at St James’s Park in front of the TV cameras on August 11.

And ‘Empty For Ashley’ want fans to stay away from the game in protest at owner Mike Ashley, who put the club up for sale in October 2017.

The group, rebranded from Boycott Arsenal, want Ashley – who bought the club 12 years ago and has overseen two relegations and one European campaign – to sell up.

Here, ‘Empty For Ashley’ answer our questions:

What do you hope the proposed boycott will achieve?

“The ‘Empty For Ashley’ campaign will follow on from the hard work carried out by other protest groups.

Mike Ashley.

“We feel that now is the time to act. Mike Ashley has allowed Rafa Benitez, our best manager for a decade, to leave the club while barely making any attempt to keep him. He has previously treated club legends the exact same way.

“This campaign has been set up for one reason, and that’s to force Mike Ashley out of Newcastle United.

“Before officially starting this group, we were in contact with Rangers fans who also successfully forced Ashley out in 2017.

“We did this research to gain an understanding of the action they took, and this is one of the reasons we have decided a boycott is the way forward.

Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley (left) in the stands during the Premier League match at Wembley Stadium, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday February 2, 2019. See PA story SOCCER Tottenham. Photo credit should read: Steven Paston/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.

“Over the last few years we have seen takeover negotiations falter. Successful boycotts will draw national media attention to what is happening to our club, and, over time, we hope he will decide that the only way to get himself out of this mess is to sell up.

“We hope fans will support this campaign. Any questions or concerns can be discussed on our Twitter account.”

What has been the reaction from fans so far?

“The ‘Boycott Spurs’ campaign was a success, but, given what has happened since then, we hope to get attendance figures below 30,000.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“As a group, we ultimately hope that our boycotts will be a success, with tens of thousands boycotting specific games that are picked depending on the opposition and whether it’s on TV.

“By success we mean that they will force Ashley into selling the club.

“The transfer window following the ‘Boycott Spurs’ campaign was our highest in terms of net spend for a long time, so for those fans who think protests don’t work, and Ashley doesn’t care, perhaps this proves differently.

“For this to be a success, we need to communicate with fan groups and local businesses. We are in the process of this, but if you’re reading, and could help, please message us.

“The reaction from the fans has been superb so far, and we thank them for their interaction with our Twitter accounts regarding what they would like to do during the match – whether it be local pubs which have streaming licenses or a fanzone.

“We have received many emails with reasons for not boycotting, but we have helped to change views, and most are now supportive of our action. All our boycotts will take place in a peaceful manner.

“Over the next few weeks we will be looking to get the message out about this protest in a variety of ways and there will be a presence in the city centre.”

How many fans do you hope will boycott the Arsenal game?

“This is a difficult question to answer. The club will not announce how many supporters have decided not to renew their season-tickets following the departure of Benitez. At the time of writing, the renewal deadline has not passed.

“The decision whether to renew is a personal decision, and, as a group, we will not attempt to force supporters into not renewing. We hope many fans will support a boycott of Newcastle’s first home game of the season.

“It may be a cop-out of an answer, but the answer is we really don’t know. The ‘Boycott Spurs’ campaign official attendance was given as 47,427, but we believe the actual figure was closer to 40,000.

“Hopefully, given what fans have witnessed since the ‘Boycott Spurs’ campaign, more will be able to support the boycott, and we can get the figure down to closer to 25,000-30,000.

“There is no way to estimate how successful this boycott will be. Our main focus at the moment is on Twitter, although we are in talks with multiple people – and businesses – about spreading the message, so those who do not have social media know about this campaign.”

Do you plan further boycotts?

“Yes, our aim is to pick out specific games where boycotts are going to reach their biggest audience, such as the Arsenal game, which will have a global audience.

“Many fans haven’t renewed, and therefore will be boycotting the whole season, but we cannot expect those who have renewed and are willing to boycott to not attend every game, so we have to pick and choose games in which the boycotts will take place on.”