Harmison leads Toon disapproval

United 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 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 £20-30million 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, Llambias said on

Wednesday night: “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?”