Friday 22 September 2017

Anger at Newcastle deal as internet loan firm reinstates St James’ Park name

Tom White

NEWCASTLE United's new sponsor Wonga has announced it will rename the club's stadium St James' Park.

The football club announced a new four-year deal today that will see the internet loan company become the club's lead commercial sponsor.

Wonga also secured the naming rights to the stadium, currently known as the Sports Direct Arena, and will reinstate the old name of St James' Park.

But the decision was met with anger on Tyneside with council leaders and MPs expressing reservations with the deal.

Fanzine editor Mark Jensen, from www.themag.co.uk, said he believed the renaming could have been done to deflect criticism from the club.

He said: "It's a clever move and clearly has been done in part to deflect some of the criticism of the business they have agreed the sponsorship with.

"The fans will be over the moon that the name will be back to what it's always been.

"But there will be mixed emotions on the subject as it's a sad indictment of today's society that a company like that is doing so well."

Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council, said the deal represented a "profit at any price" culture at the club and warned of the possible social consequences.

He said: "I'm appalled and sickened that they would sign a deal with a legal loan shark.

"We see the devastating consequences of people getting into financial difficulty and we spend a lot of money each year helping people who are in debt through companies like this.

"It's a sad indictment of the profit at any price culture at Newcastle United.

"We are fighting hard to tackle legal and illegal loan sharking and having a company like this right across the city on every football shirt that's sold undermines all our work.

"I fear the long-term social consequences of the decision and I will be writing to Mike Ashley and asking for him to fund the extra debt advice that we will need to provide as a result.

"Newcastle United is a role model for thousands of people so what they do matters.

"It sets the tone for the city and I don't want this to be a city built on an image of cheap and irresponsible debt."

Ian Lavery, MP for Wansbeck, is a season ticket holder at the club but has said he will now not set foot in the stadium.

He said: "A city like Newcastle and the region should not have any ties with an organisation like Wonga.

"This business makes profits off the back of deprived people who are desperate and who are the most vulnerable in society.

"It's an absolute outrage and I now won't set foot into the stadium."

Wonga said the name change came as a result of listening to the fans and asking them what they wanted.

Derek Llambias, managing director of Newcastle United, said: "We are building a club that can regularly compete for top honours at the highest level.

"As everyone knows, a strong commercial programme is vital to this goal and I am delighted to welcome Wonga into the fold as our lead commercial partner, alongside Puma and Sports Direct.

"Throughout our discussions Wonga's desire to help us invest in our young playing talent, the local community and new fan initiatives really impressed us and stood them apart from other candidates."

Errol Damelin, founder and CEO of Wonga, said: "We're really proud to be involved with Newcastle United.

"It is one of the biggest and most important clubs in the UK by any measure and has a fantastic following around the world.

"We're also really excited about investing in future stars both on and off the field. The Academy and the Enterprise Scheme gives us the opportunity to make a big difference."

British union Unite, which has mounted a campaign against payday loan firms, attacked the deal, claiming it was being used to "normalise legal loan sharking".

Regional secretary Karen Reay said: "This is the day when Newcastle's owners sold this city's great footballing name for 30 pieces of tainted silver.

"Payday lenders are preying on the poor and desperate in the North East, which has some of the highest levels of debt and borrowing in the country. Newcastle United is now being used by Wonga to normalise legal loan sharking.

"Newcastle fans, who could be borrowing up to £325 per month just to get by, let alone get along to a game, will feel sickened that the club they love will now be associated with the extortionate rates of credit that make their lives a misery."

Unite urged the club's owners to reconsider the deal, warning it will "tarnish" the city's footballing and community culture.

A recent survey for the union found that an increasing number of people were borrowing money from payday lenders to make ends meet before receiving their monthly wages.

The poll of 350,000 people revealed a "debt disease" spreading across the UK with more than eight out of 10 reporting that their wages cannot last the month, and 12pc of that group turning to payday loan companies to tide them over.

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