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Fan-tastic in theory, fan-tasy in reality! Lack of cash wlll scupper supporters' takeover bid.

Byline: GIBBO

MUCH has been trumpeted about the audacious bid by the Fans 410 consortium to take over Newcastle United.

With one-time England hard man Graham Roberts fronting the show and David Speedie lurking in the background, they made it to a lengthy meeting with Derek Llambias and cohorts at St James's Park less than 48 hours ago.

What is significant to me, regardless of the feasibility of turning grand theory into stark reality, is the fact the York and Sheffield-based group has recognised the growing importance of United's supporters in any future running of the club.

The people who Mike Ashley has consistently ignored have risen as one to demand he be banished and a future owner had better acknowledge the might of the Toon Army when they speak in unison.

It does not matter who owns the club - the fans are constant and are waking up to the fact they can be 'players' in the running of their great love. No longer are they merely turnstile fodder.

United's newly-formed Supporters Trust represents the voice of the man in the street - and it is both eloquent, shrewd and politically aware.

Not the dummy some like to portray it as being. Not by any means.

There are solicitors, political heavyweights, businessmen and the like within its ranks and it is being approached by big and small who wish to offer financial help.

The United Trust has cleverly sat on the fence during the Fans 410 drive - lending general support to any idea which gives power to the people. but not committing itself with heart instead of head to any and every plan mooted just because it pays lipservice to supporters.

There are other shows in town apart from Messrs Roberts and Speedie who are responsible for the name of their consortium - Roberts wore the No 4 shirt as a player and Speedie No 10.

Anyway, what are the objectives of Fans 410 and how does it plan to go about taking over from Ashley? My own personal belief - and I stress it is only mine - is that its detailed plan is strong on theory, even commendable, but very unlikely to reach fruition.

Barcelona of the North East, where supporters actually own their club, sounds brilliant - but it would take an awful lot of brass from an awful lot of Geordies in hard times to make it possible.

As I understand it, the group is not bringing any personal money to the table, which is unlikely to impress Ashley, but instead intends to raise the pounds 100m down payment and the rest for paying off debts and signing players exclusively from the pockets of supporters - whether individuals or businesses.

Can you find thousands of Geordies with that sort of fivefigure cash or willing to risk their pension plans to raise it? The figures are just too grand even in the revised plan from Fans 410 - too many people required to each put in too much money.

A watered down version of events, played as part of a cashup-front bid for power, would be much more likely to succeed.

In other words, give supporters a stake in their own club, and maybe a seat at the top table, but don't ask them to fund a full-blown takeover on their own.

Sir John Hall tried to give the club to the fans after his bloody war overturned the Newcastle board at the dawn of the nineties, but not anywhere near enough people were prepared to down hard cash and so his idea had to be shelved. He had to run things himself.

If the bottom line is the fact Fans 410 actually does not put in money to save United but makes a profit on its involvement, however small, then I doubt if supporters will take kindly to such a scheme, brilliantly thought out or not.

Too many people have made money out of the club in the past, giving nothing in return for supporters to accept any sort of repeat.

Should Fans 410 somehow come to fruition against all the odds, neither Roberts nor Speedie would run United from the boardroom.

Elected officials from the contributors would do that, which is a nice thought - but is it practical? The consortium's only imput, it would appear, would be appointing fans favourite Alan Shearer as manager. My overall impression is that Ashley does not care who he sells to as long as the money is right.

First-come-first-served is his motto. Put the right amount of cash down and the club is yours.

I don't believe, either, that Ashley will rush his sale at a knockdown price - even now after things have dragged on - or take the club off the market never to sell it.

He wants out and, while he would love that to be tomorrow, will if necessary wait as long as it takes to get his money.

Maybe he will suggest publicly at some stage that all is now dead but privately United will always be for sale as long as Ashley is owner.

He will simply run Newcastle his way in the meantime, slashing costs and shredding ambition as he goes along.

The idea of Graham Roberts and Co would take a long time to reach its desired conclusion, because collecting from thousands of fans is not like going round Northumberland Street with a bucket.

That would not matter if no one concludes a deal in the meantime, but what it does do is leave United in limbo on the field, where it really matters - and that gravely concerns us all.

Millionaire Geordie businessman Barry Moat has become the latest favourite to clinch a deal without being able so far to push everything over the finish line.

He wants Shearer as manager, of course, and it will be interesting to see in light of the emergence of the Fans 410 Group whether or not he attempts in some more minor way to utilise the Supporters Trust, which would politically be a shrewd move in gaining the acceptance and support of those on the terraces (his potential customers) and would also possibly help raise the extra few quid required.

One thing is for certain in what is a dreadful mess. Newcastle supporters can no longer be treated with disdain and disinterest when they are the heart and soul of the club.


UNITED AMBITION: Graham Roberts heads the Fans 410
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Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Aug 22, 2009
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