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Toon Army stand ground on stadium name change

This is a story from the FSF archive – the FSF and SD merged to become the FSA in 2019.

It’s transfer deadline day and while most fans are happy to see a new name at their ground, the Toon Army are definitely not – and you can’t blame them either. As reported last year Chairman Mike Ashley intends to sell off the St James’ Park name to the highest bidder and fans are understandably up in arms.

The original plans involved a sponsor having their name incorporated into the stadium name, for example, “Sports James’ Park”. As part of any sponsorship deal Ashley also intends to install giant advertising hoardings across the Gallowgate End and Milburn Stands which dominate the city’s skyline.

However, this requires planning permission from Newcastle City Council which gives supporters the opportunity to register their objections, and they’re doing so in their droves. Understandably many of these objections focus on emotional arguments around history and traditions, which we entirely agree with.

When we first heard of these plans in October 2009 we wrote that Ashley was a man who understood the price of everything and the value of nothing. Even if the club does drive a few million in revenue from it, what does that buy you in today’s Premier League market? A journeyman squad player if you’re lucky. And is that honestly worth selling off a name which represents more than 100 years of tradition? We think not.

Even Newcastle Manager Chris Hughton said: “I sympathise with the supporters. I am quite sure though that, in everybody’s eyes, St. James’ Park will always be St. James’ Park.”

Nevertheless Newcastle United Supporters’ Trust, who collected more than 30,000 signatures in opposition to the original plans, point out that the local council may not have the power to object on these grounds. “It’s important to point out that in any objection you must concentrate on the matter at hand and not get too wrapped up in the moral or sentimental aspect of the application. It’s a matter of rules, impact, risk, valuation/devaluation and precedent,” said an unnamed planning expert on NUST’s website.

Helpfully NUST list 10 general principles by which anyone looking to lodge an objection can raise. While it might be tempting object to Ashley’s plans on emotional grounds it seems more likely Newcastle City Council will listen if supporters follow NUST’s advice. This tends to focus around the fact the signage doesn’t fit in with the surrounding area and is targeted at road users, which could prove distracting.

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