Newcastle United – specialists in failure.

For my first post, I will be looking into the spectacularly mind-blowing underachievement of my beloved Newcastle United as later this year we mark the SIXTIETH anniversary of their 1955 FA Cup Final win – their last domestic trophy. I must promise at this point that this blog will not turn into a series of gloomy rants on the state of NUFC – that would be too depressing for all involved.

Last month saw the publishing of Deloitte’s annual ‘Money League’ – a list of the twenty richest clubs in world football, ordered solely by revenue. Newcastle United this year re-entered that list in 19th place after a five year hiatus from the top twenty brought about by the disastrous relegation of 2008/9. Now anyone who has kept even half an eye on football in the modern era knows that to be successful nowadays you need money. And lots of it. Manchester City and Chelsea have proved that with a bottomless budget you can turn middle-of-the-road clubs into Champions. So money=success and success=money right? Well for the vast majority of clubs, yes. But for Newcastle United, in the Top 20 richest clubs in the WORLD for 7 of the last 10 seasons, the answer is a resounding no.

Let’s begin last season. As we already know, NUFC were the 19th richest club in the world last season in terms of revenue. How did this equate in terms of team performance?

Graph1.1Source(s): Deloitte; http://www.worldfootball.net

As you can see, out of the top twenty teams, NUFC finished in the lowest place – 10th in the Premier League. In fact, only three other teams out of that top twenty finished outside of the top five in their respective leagues – Man Utd, AC Milan, and Spurs. Now it could be argued that, with revenue of 518 million Euros and a finishing position of 7th, that Man Utd were the most spectacular failure on that list. As much as it warms my heart to include the words ‘Man Utd’ and ‘failure’ in the same sentence, unfortunately I can’t see the end of that particular era just yet.

So we’ve already established that NUFC were the worst-performing of the world’s richest clubs last year. Was this just a bad season? Unfortunately not. For a clearer picture of the consistency of Newcastle United’s staggering underachievement over the years, look no further than the number of domestic trophies won by the rest of that list since Newcastle’s last triumph in 1955:

Graph2.1Source(s): Deloitte; http://www.worldfootball.net

That is simply ridiculous. There is no club in the world in the modern era that has earned so much revenue and has seen so little success. But the world is a big place, full of rich and glamorous clubs. How do Newcastle compare against their fellow clubs in the English Premier League?

Graph3.1Source(s): http://www.worldfootball.net

Thank-you Hull City and Crystal Palace for making me feel a little better. But with all due respect to those clubs (ok, ok, – utter disrespect) they are small clubs in terms of revenue, support, and worldwide reach – no-one would really be surprised if they never won the league or either of the cups. However, ‘small’ clubs do win trophies – check out some of the clubs who have seen domestic success since NUFC’s last trophy win:

Graph4.1Source(s): http://www.worldfootball.net

Swindon Town??!! I certainly don’t begrudge any of those teams their place in the sun (except the 1973 FA Cup Winners of course) – it just gets harder and harder to accept that Newcastle aren’t among them. And it’s not just me. As well as being amongst the richest clubs in world football, Newcastle are also consistently one of the best supported. Last year, they were the thirteenth best supported club in Europe. And the crowds come to see successful, winning football teams right? Well, for almost every other team in the top twenty, yes. For Newcastle United (and Hertha Berlin!) supporters, it must be the pies:

Graph5.1Source(s): http://www.worldfootball.net; Wikipedia

Ah, the strange case of Hertha Berlin. Kindred spirits of Newcastle United. Both enjoy consistently large support. Both are specialists in failure. German champions in 1930 and 1931, Hertha then suffered greatly in the post-World War II carve-up of Berlin and the subsequent construction of the Berlin Wall. After a (trophy-less) period of relative success during the 70s, they spent most of the 80s and 90s in the second tier of German football. In fact, when Hertha were promoted in 1997, it ended Berlin’s six-year-long drought without a Bundesliga side which had made the Bundesliga the only top league in Europe without representation from its country’s biggest city and capital. So a one-club city with a population of 3.5 million in a football-mad country would certainly explain Hertha’s large attendances, if not their lack of trophies. To compare, Newcastle is currently England’s 19th largest city with a population of 252,000.

So far, so bad – but is there hope for Newcastle? Recent successes by Chelsea, Man City and PSG across the channel have shown that a wealthy benefactor can dramatically improve a club’s fortunes. And Mike Ashley, the owner of NUFC, is pretty damn wealthy. A billionaire in fact – and one of only a select few Premier League club owners who appear on the Forbes World Billionaires List 2014. So how did the other billionaires do? Let’s look at last season again:

Forbes_RankSource(s): http://www.worldfootball.net; Forbes

Of the billionaire-backed teams, Newcastle are again bottom of the list. There are some obvious omissions from this list due to Forbes’ policy of only including in their list individuals rather than families. That excludes Sheikh Mansour and the Qatari Royal Family who own Manchester City (1st), the much-loved Glazier family (Manchester United – 7th) and the Liebherr family in charge at Southampton (8th). All finished above Newcastle, and have done pretty consistently since Ashley took charge.

So how is it that a cash-rich, well supported club cannot win trophies when all clubs of a similar wealth and support can? Do we blame spectacular mismanagement on and off the field? The ongoing backlash against the Mike Ashley regime is, in my humble opinion, the very least he deserves. But that man and his team have won just as many domestic trophies as all of his predecessors since 1955 – ZERO. Newcastle United are an anomaly, a freak, a statistical outlier across world football. And, it seems, for that particular football club, no amount of money and support can change that.

Footnote: I am in no way writing-off the glorious Fairs Cup (aka UEFA Cup aka Europa League) victory by Joe Harvey and his boys in 1969 – its sometimes the only thing that keeps you going through the dark days of a home loss to Stoke City. This piece only concerns domestic success a) because it is the 60th anniversary and 60 is a nice round number and b) because I’m too lazy to trawl through every team’s European records and include them here.

full_Newcastle_team_Fairs_Cup_19