Outrage over change of Newcastle stadium’s name
CHANGING the name of Newcastle`s St James` Park ground is an "insult" and akin to changing the club`s colours to red and white, according to famous fan Steve Harmison.
United last night announced the 119-year-old venue is to now be called the Sports Direct Arena - named after owner Mike Ashley`s retail company - until a permanent sponsor can be found.
The club claim the move is necessary as it will allow them to generate extra income, but former England cricketer Harmison believes it carries the same sentiment as adopting the colours of arch-rivals Sunderland.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he said: "I can only liken it to changing the team's colours from black and white to red and white and making us look like Sunderland.
"That's how big a deal it is. You do wonder whether they would do that if the money was right.
"St James' Park means everything to me, it is a magical place. It is a special place for every single Newcastle United fan. Players come and go, managers come and go but Newcastle United and St James' Park stay the same."
Ashley`s four-year spell in charge of Newcastle has rarely been quiet.
Since taking over in 2007 he has overseen a number of controversial managerial changes, most notably the sackings of Kevin Keegan and Chris Hughton and the appointment of Joe Kinnear, while the club were relegated from the Premier League in 2009.
He also tried and failed to sell the club as his relationship with the supporters, who dubbed him and managing director Derek Llambias as the `Cockney Mafia`, reached an all-time low, while big-name players such as Joey Barton, Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan have been allowed to leave.
The waters have been smoother of late, though, with the Magpies still unbeaten in the Premier League and enjoying a rare period of stability under Alan Pardew.
But Harmison believes this latest move, which was initially mooted in 2009 to much disgust, could undo recent progress.
"Of all the things Mike Ashley has done since he became owner, I think this is the one people will find hardest to forgive and forget," he added.
"It is a very sad day and it's such a shame because the team are doing well, Alan Pardew has done a wonderful job and everything was going in the right direction.
"I'm not anti-Ashley, I never have been. He, along with Derek Llambias, has got the club into excellent shape. Financially we're stronger than we have been for years, but this will explode in their faces."
Harmison admits fans will be forced to eat some of their words if the move proves to be a financial success, but hopes it is not just something that will benefit Ashley.
He said: "If it's going to mean we can compete with the big boys again financially then it will be a necessary evil. But we want to see concrete evidence the money is going to be used in the right way, not just vague assurances. If it stays as the Sports Direct Arena the only person benefiting is Ashley.
"Giving Pardew a war chest of £20-30 million in January would be a start. This money has to be given to the manager, only then can I begrudgingly accept it makes sense. At the moment it feels like an insult."
Explaining the decision last night, Llambias said: "Our aim for Newcastle United is to continue to deliver success for the fans and everyone associated with the club. We must make this club financially self-sufficient in order to deliver that success.
"To grow sustainably and allow us to invest in our future, we will need to rely increasingly heavily on commercial income.
"These are very difficult economic times and the board have a responsibility to maximise all revenue streams for the benefit of the club.
"Stadium rebranding offers a lucrative way for clubs to secure significant additional income."