Newcastle Fans Outrage at Stadium Name Change

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.''

The Newcastle United Supporters Trust this morning gave their reaction, claiming fans had been "softening'' their attitudes towards Ashley, but that the news had justified why people had remained ``sceptical''.

Writing on their website, www.nust.org.uk, the Trust said, "The Newcastle United Supporters Trust conducted some research among Newcastle fans last month and there was recognition that the current board had done well in controlling costs and that they had conducted some good business in the transfer market.

Allied to that, the team are sitting in the top three after the first 11 games and as a result, there was some softening of attitudes towards the owner.

However, despite the goodwill that this has brought the owner, fans told us that they remain sceptical about his motivations.

This latest news about renaming the stadium to the 'Sports Direct Arena' clearly demonstrates why they are sceptical.

Newcastle's ground has been St James' Park for more than 100 years and two years ago Derek Llambias assured fans that the stadium's official name would always remain St James' Park as long as they were in charge.

So, is it any wonder that fans told us they don't trust the board, want a new owner and why the majority of Newcastle fans want to own a stake in the club?''

THE HISTORY OF ST JAMES' PARK

1892 - St James' Park is first used by Newcastle United.

1905 - Development work is completed, with the capacity doubled to 60,000.

1971 - After years of the club's plans being thwarted by the council, agreement is finally reached for a new redevelopment of the stadium.

1972 - Work starts on a new Leazes Terrace stand, almost 50 years since the club had first applied for planning permission on that side of the stadium. A year later the stand is opened.

1978 - The Leazes End is demolished, but relegation and financial difficulties means a new stand is not built.

1986 - The West Stand is demolished following safety inspections in the aftermath of the 1985 Bradford City fire disaster.

1987 - The replacement for the West Stand, the Milburn Stand - named in honour of club legend Jackie Milburn - is opened.

1993 - The Sir John Hall Stand, built as a replacement for the Leazes End and named after the club's new chairman who had been installed the previous year, is opened in time for Newcastle's debut season in the Premier League.

1995 - The club submits plans to relocate to Leazes Park, but the proposal faces strong opposition and Newcastle decide to expand St James' Park instead.

1998 - Permission is obtained for redevelopment work to begin under new chairman Freddy Shepherd, who had succeeded Hall in 1997.

2000 - Construction work is completed, with the capacity taken to over 52,000.

2003 - Newcastle sign a deal with American-based hotel and gaming company MGM Mirage with a view to the construction of a complex - including a casino - on land by the stadium. The plans eventually fall through.

2004 - Shearer's, a bar named after the Magpies' record goalscorer Alan Shearer, is opened at the stadium.

2007 - Plans are announced for a #300million development of the stadium that will take its capacity to 60,000. These are later put on hold when Mike Ashley takes over the club.

2009 - Newcastle announce plans to sell the naming rights for St James' Park and then state that they intend for the ground to be known as the sportsdirect.com@St James' Park Stadium for the immediate future, taking in the name of Ashley's retail company Sports Direct.

2011 - The club announce that the stadium is to be renamed the Sports Direct Arena until a permanent sponsor can be found.

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