War clouds may not yet be gathering in Europe, but the financial system nears meltdown. Crisis is everywhere. Recession bites deeper. Tom Watson calls Murdoch junior a mafia godfather. People starve in Africa. And which of these is the hot news in the North East? Pete Sixsmith is up on his Soapbox to fulminate …
Well, I woke up this morning and I found that the world had not come to an end.
Outside the gates of Sixsmith Towers, people made their way to work, Arriva buses ran late and the cat demanded to be fed every 40 minutes.
Everywhere else, the threatened collapse of the eurozone dominated the national news agenda. But not if you lived in the goldfish bowl known as the North East, because the euro crisis, Murdoch’s attempts to flannel his way round a Select Committee and the idiocy of the Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry, were all shoehorned out of the way by the devastating news that St James’ Park is no more.
We had 18 minutes of it on BBC Look North last night. Interviews, with people shopping, interviews with Fat Freddie, interviews with John Hall outside his stately home at Wynyard, and interviews with a man who had painted himself black and white and who was carrying a piece of cardboard that carried that immortal message beloved by all those of a Magpie persuasion “Sack The Board” (at least it wasn’t “Sack the Borde – ed). I am sure there are babies in Byker who utter this as their first words, closely followed by “Gi us a tab”.
Anyone would have thought that Armageddon was just around the corner. Instead, we heard the usual slew of fanzine editors saying that the owners had shot themselves in the foot (no feet left after sacking Keegan and Hughton and overseeing a relegation). Nobody quite said “Armageddin sick of Mike Ashley” but you get my drift.
So, St James’ Park, the iconic home of the greatest underachievers in world football, is to become The Sports Direct Arena and then something else if they can flog off the naming rights. As if the majority of people in the North East care.
“It’s all about bringing more money into the club,” said the pundits. “We can raise £10m and spend it on players,” said the chairman Derek Llambias, a man as popular on Tyneside as King Herod was in the Bethlehem Maternity Ward. All of which is true and in many ways makes a lot of sense, but it cut no ice with the fans.
“It’s our spiritual home” they wailed. “It will always be St James’ Park.” And of course it will. They will continue to call it that. Signposts and Metro stations will not be changed. Nobody will refer to it by the sponsors name, which makes a sponsorship deal seem a wee bit less likely.
But what an over reaction. The ground stays where it is. The team is still Newcastle United. Presumably they will still be called The Magpies and will wear black and white stripes. Little has altered – a cosmetic name change at worst.
Instead we get a hysterical press and hysterical pseudo fans getting themselves all “upset” over a name. It’s as artificial as the row over the X Factor contestant who allegedly took drugs and was kicked off – a “career” over before it had even begun.
We lost Roker Park and moved on to a well built stadium that serves the fans well. We were upset and those of a certain age look back fondly on the old ground in a way that we can never look back at the SoL. But things change.
For Newcastle United things must always be as they were. I am sure that some of them would still prefer to be in a ground that was so decrepit that it was passed over for the 1966 World Cup in favour of Ayresome Park.
I look forward to my first visit to the Sports Direct Arena in March. By that time it may have undergone another name change. The Poundland Arena anyone?