Newcastle United's owners planning St James's Park renovation – and expansion

Sir Bobby Robson’s beloved “cathedral on the hill” needs more seats for a bigger congregation.

Wednesday, 23rd March 2022, 1:40 pm

St James's Park was all too often sold out during the club’s struggles during Mike Ashley’s time as owner. So imagine the demand for tickets to watch a successful team.

Expansion was never on Ashley’s agenda – the billionaire ditched plans for a 60,000 ground drawn up by the previous administration – and the stadium was neglected.

However, the Gazette understands that United’s new owners – the club was taken over by an ambitious consortium led by Amanda Staveley late last year in a £305million deal – are looking at “every option” to increase capacity.

The club is already working on plans for internal refurbishments for areas which badly need updating.

For many years, Newcastle fans mocked the pink seats at the Stadium of Light. The reality, however, was that St James’s Park also badly needed a internal and external facelift, something which has been underlined by photographs circulated on social media over the past few years. There were pictures of peeling paint, damp toilets, tiny TVs and dangling cables.

At the time, United robustly responded to suggestions that the stadium was being neglected by Ashley. It was claimed that, year by year, improvements were being made.

However, the figures told a different story. Just £200,000 was spent on infrastructure in 2019/20. Damningly, the club spent a “feeble” £11million on infrastructure under Ashley up to July 2020, according to analysis from Swiss Ramble.

The Leazes End of St James's Park viewed from Leazes Terrace.

The club’s owners intend to work their way around the stadium, which was expanded to its present 52,000 capacity more than 20 years ago.

That’s the easy bit. Increasing the capacity will be much harder given that the stadium is hemmed in on its east side by the Grade 1 listed Leazes Terrace.

Co-owners Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi, though, are undeterred.

“We’ll definitely look at expanding it,” Ghodoussi told The Athletic in February. “We're working with the city and council to see what we can do. If we can get it to 60 or 65,000 thousand, amazing.”

Newcastle United co-owners Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi.

The obvious solution is to expand the stadium at the Gallowgate End. The club used to own Strawberry Place, the land behind the stand, though it was controversially sold by Ashley to developers for £9million.

Newcastle City Council planners went on to give permission for a high-rise development, despite objections from fans who feared that the proposal would end any hopes for expansion.

At the time, I wrote that £9million “couldn’t even buy a Championship striker, yet it has effectively shaped the future of the club and its historic stadium”.

Maybe significantly, work is yet to start on that development. Staveley and Ghodoussi are fully aware of the situation with the land, which has only increased in value since its sale.

St James's Park is selling out for every home game.

Former chairman Freddy Shepherd – who sadly passed away in 2017 – had commissioned plans for expansion on that side. They were published shortly before Ashley’s takeover.

Speaking six years ago, Shepherd said: “It would’ve increased it by around 8,000 to take it over the 60,000 mark, but the costs got out of control.”

The costs may not scare of the club’s new owners, who also want to improve the team’s training facilities.

And, certainly, it's time to make St James’s Park great again.

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