Football fans – Four different types?

After unsuccessfully visiting a number of craft beer establishments in Cologne and being thwarted by a regional bank holiday, we finally found refreshments in Gaffel’s authentic beer hall (established 2008!).

Aside from the enforced beer monoculture in this part of Europe, Kolsch or go home, it was a very pleasant way to spend the evening.

Never having to worry about your glass running dry is a truly relaxing feeling!

When people used to ask me if I was a football fan I used to jokingly reply “No I am a Newcastle fan…”. Let’s face it, under Ashley there were only very occasional outbreaks of football.

In general terms, there are at least a few different sorts of football fans…

Those like myself who follow one team and maybe have an interest in a few others.

Those who have an interest in a region or a league.

Those who just follow big successful teams.

Those who just like watching football.

When my beloved and I found ourselves in the beer hall; the free table had a prime view of the big screen.

After getting comfortable and having the first beers delivered, I realized that the match being shown was Bayer Leverkusen against Club Brugge.

Just as an aside from my (no longer) recent Man U baiting; lots of Jupiler Pro League clubs refer to themselves by an abbreviated form of their name… Club (Brugge), Cercle (Brugge), Sporting (Lokeren), Racing (Genk), Standard (Liege) to name a few of the more famous ones …anyhow, I digress.

Back to the story in hand, my interest in Club is so huge that I hadn’t realized that they were playing 10 minutes up the road while we were visiting Cologne.

As the evening progresses we start chatting to the locals, who all seem to be football fans of clubs in the Rhine Valley, rather than followers of a specific team.

Perhaps the diehard Leverkusen fans were all in the Bay Arena, or perhaps in another pub!

Their knowledge of what was happening in the Premier League was limited to clubs with German links and they were surprised that Newcastle United were possibly in the race for a European place. Kevin Kegan inevitably came up in the conversation but after the Entertainers era we had fallen off their radar.

Kevin KeeganFor a lot of international football fans, not playing in the big European competitions is tantamount to invisibility.

Let’s face it, the EFL Championship has neither the glamor or coverage of the Premier League, so why would anyone go out of their way to search for illegal streams when their TV provider of choice pumps the EPL, Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A etc into their living rooms.

The irony being that many top teams of Europe’s lesser leagues would probably fit nicely into the too good for the Championship and only just good enough for the EPL bracket, that we have, until quite recently, found ourselves in.

I got the impression that one of my new found friends had stronger leanings towards Cologne than the rest, proudly telling me that despite the fact that they had been relegated a couple of times in more recent times, they had attendances of between 30 to 40 thousand for home games… I told him of our similar recent troubles and slightly better attendances.

Here in Belgium, football fans often support one team in the Jupiler League and have an EPL club that they follow as well. I used to work with a guy who traveled over to see Tottenham a couple of times a year, plus I know a couple of others who travel over to see a random selection of EPL matches over a weekend in London. I have met Belgian Newcastle fans but they have been the exception.

The reality is that people who have a more casual relationship with their second or third club won’t hang around watching boring negative football. They won’t stick with club through thick or thin, but to be fair, they would also find it hard to keep up with what’s going on outside of the EPL.

My Raspberry Pi helped me survive the EFL Championship days; but someone with no real link to Newcastle, is not going to hang around and wait for the good times to return.

The guys in Cologne were only aware that one of the EPL clubs were taken over by oil money but not specifically that it was Newcastle.

They did make the point that generally, unlike in Germany, owning a football club was a rich person’s hobby… and some of them, shock horror, seemed genuinely uninterested in the glamor and glitz of the EPL. You can understand why when you have a lot of good quality football, with a great atmosphere, within half an hour’s drive, why would you get excited by the fancy dans in the cash rich EPL?

The guys in Gaffel’s only seemed interested in clubs where there was an expectation of an atmosphere and a link to tradition, leaning more to Liverpool than any of the other ‘big six’ clubs. The Liverpool marketing machine has clearly done it’s work here.

If you look at what all of the top football franchises, sorry…leagues, are selling via the broadcasters: it’s an air of expectation, a virtual seat in the stadium where you can soak up the atmosphere and tradition while enjoying your own choice of beer and snacks. And stay warm and dry!

Darren Eales’ job is to market that physical matchday experience to the potential international fanbase. To draw non-aligned or non-secular fans into the delights of the St James’ cauldron without diluting the spectacle. Whether it be through sales of replica tops or actual backsides on seats; this is his remit of him. The latter option will be the hardest to achieve given the constraints of the current stadium, though safe standing may well help with this problem.

Amanda Staveley Darren EalesIf Darren does his job properly, and we can achieve the holy grail of European football, we will attract more and more glory hunters, more and more people with no connection or understanding of the club or our city, and our continued passionate support of Newcastle United will be an essential part of that product.

We all saw how s… football was during the pandemic, empty silent stadia are not part of the dream that big football PLC is selling to the world.

Over the last few years the Man U and Liverpool products have been tainted by poisonous owner / fanbase relationship. It will be interesting to see how that discordant relationship develops should we, with our unfair advantage (our unfairly state sponsored club), steal one of their European places. Before anyone bothers writing about this in the comments, please don’t waste your time and effort – it is partly a joke… (since I started writing this, Liverpool and Man Utd owners may or may not be selling up or diluting there stake… let’s hope that any potential owners or stakeholders are squeaky clean…)

So this question is to all of you who have bothered to read this far, how are you going to feel sitting next to someone with a half and half scarf who might well be crossing the Pennines to watch one of the big six play in the morning ? Or to a Groundhopper whose primary interest is in checking off another stadium visit?

Maybe it’s time to stop criticizing fans of other clubs for not all having the correct level of emotional investment in their team, before we end up finding ourselves in the same situation.

We should welcome newcomers with open arms, regardless of their level of commitment, or understanding of our culture. It’s our job to show them what Newcastle and Newcastle United means to us and how wonderful it is.

Yeah, I know I left. I no longer live there.

If we want the increased purchasing power that this broader, potentially more casual, fan base will bring by increasing matchday and (more importantly) non-matchday revenues; then embracing this reality is a must.

Tip for Darren / Castor. You might want to look at expanding the range of things in the club shop.

Newcastle United StoreThings like shorts to go with the adult tops were not available at the time of my last visit. Smaller gifts and mementoes were non-existent, similarly t-shirts, scarves, hats and mugs were also nowhere to be seen.

We popped into the Cologne club shop to see if we could pick up a scarf or a top as a keepsake from our trip, but I draw the line at red and white stripes, so that was a no sale.

It’s not just football fans who want a memento of their visit to Newcastle, so perhaps a broader approach to merchandise might be financially rewarding.

As you might be able to tell, the first part of this was written and sidelined in November; the reason why I exhumed this piece was after reading Greg McPeake’s article on Saturday.

I have met a few Newcastle fans in my 14 years of living in Belgium and they were all turned on to Newcastle during the Keegan era. Most of them had kept the faith to a greater or lesser extent, which given difficulties of watching non-EPL games in Europe is very laudable, but this is an area that the club need to look to grow.

Building the fan base outside of the UK is an important step as getting things right on the pitch. The revenue generated from shirts sales is immense, for example Man Utd sold £187m of Cristiano Ronaldo shirts in 10 days of him rejoining the club. But that’s not pure profit for Man Utd… after costs it was apparently slashed to £13.1m. Makes you wonder how much of the exorbitant costs of a replica top actually go back into the clubs’ war chests… but that’s a different story.

While it’s difficult to break this down into units sold and profit per unit: Man Utd sold 1.05 million Ronaldo tops in 2021, which was a sizeable chunk of their total sales of 1.95 million tops and netted them a profit somewhere between £76m and £77m .

That’s the cost of a couple of decent quality players, or a top player without having to worry too much about Financial Fair Play implications.

Let’s just put that into perspective though… apparently Man U didn’t increase their shirt sales when Ronaldo arrived… people just bought his tops instead of those of other players, 1.95-2m is the number of tops they normally sell every year…

In terms of sales in 2021, according to Statesman, Mancs United sold 1.95m compared to Liverpool’s 2.45m, Real Madrid’s 3.05m and Bayern’s 3.25m. Obviously tax systems and deals with kit manufacturers will differ but it’s fair to say that Bayern may have achieved a profit of somewhere in the region of £130m and that even poor old Man City with about 50% of Man U’s shirt sales will probably get somewhere between £35m and £40m profit from shirt sales a year.

Selling replica tops helps build your brand, raises your public profile by making you visible, and puts money in the coffers to buy players. This does require success on the pitch and accepting that the next time you see someone in the airport wearing a Toon top, that it may just be a fashion accessory.

Newcastle International AirportIt comes back to the thing of learning to share our club with the outside world, so that we can compete on a bigger stage.

Accepting that not everyone wearing a black and white top will have the same emotional investment in the club as we do.

Welcoming in the football tourists…because as we know, every shirt or scarf sold as a memento of the trip is a down payment on the next player.

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