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Newcastle back playing at St James' Park after original name is restored

Updated: Tuesday, 09 Oct 2012 18:43 | Comments

Newcastle fans will be delighted that St James' Park has reverted to its original name
Newcastle fans will be delighted that St James' Park has reverted to its original name

Newcastle United will play their home games at St James' Park once again after payday loans company wonga.com snapped up the naming rights to the stadium.

The Magpies today announced a four-year sponsorship deal with Wonga which will see the company's logo worn on their shirts from next season and £1.5m ploughed into the club's Academy and the Newcastle United Foundation Enterprise Scheme.

However, they left it to their new sponsors to reveal that they had also bought the naming rights to the 52,000-capacity stadium.

Having listened to the reaction of fans when news of a potential agreement emerged at the weekend, Wonga have ended a controversial period in the club's recent history.

A spokesman for Wonga said: "We listened over the last three days and we saw what really matters to the fans.

"Football is an emotional sport and it is obviously really important to them. We listened to what they wanted and that is why we did it."

Owner Mike Ashley sparked fury in November last year when he revealed that the name of the stadium had been changed to the Sports Direct Arena, after his sportswear company, in a bid to showcase the potential for a ground sponsor.

Fans who were just starting to come to terms with his unique style of ownership after seeing him preside over the Magpies' return to the top flight, accused the owner of riding roughshod over the club's history and tradition.

Managing director Derek Llambias insisted the move was born out of financial necessity and could net Newcastle up to £10m a year, although until today, they had been unable to find a buyer.

The weekend's speculation prompted an equally vociferous reaction from supporters, and insiders insisted there was no chance that the stadium would take on the Wonga name.

However, while the shirt sponsorship deal was expected, the company's decision to buy the naming rights came as more of a surprise, and their decision to return them to the fans could prove to be a masterstroke.

Local outrage

Civic leaders and MPs from the region were not impressed, however, with the club's choice of sponsors.

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."

Forbes said he feared the need for debt support in the city could now increase and that he will write to the club and ask them to help pay for it.

He said: "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."

Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle Central, tweeted: "Some of the richest young men in Newcastle to wear shirts calling on the poorest to go to a legal loan shark."

Newcastle United had risked its brand value by associating itself with Wonga, a marketing expert said.

Toon fan Dr Joanna Berry of Newcastle University Business School, who is based across the road from the stadium, said future sponsors might feel the club has been tarnished.

"If you were the Emirates, Virgin, British Airways or any of the global, creditable brands, would you want to follow Wonga?" she said.

"From a marketing perspective, the reputational risk is significant."

She said while it was a "clever" move to rename the stadium, it had never changed in the eyes of the fans.

She believed it was wrong that in the future, desperate Wonga customers who had to borrow cash would be in part funding the salaries of millionaire footballers.

"What is right about that?" she said. "The Bishop of Durham thinks it is wrong."

Catherine McKinnell, Labour MP for Newcastle North, said the deal was a "tactical error".

"I am disappointed that the board has chosen to associate our club, brand and city with practices which too often penalise struggling families," she said.

"I worry that by associating the club with such a company, it could normalise their practice and plunge many more families into the cycle of debt.

"Many will see this deal as money from misery."

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