If it has, at times, felt like everything at Newcastle United has been uncertain this season, then the supporters have remained encouragingly consistent.
Despite two painful cup exits, a team languishing in mid-table in the Premier League, a lack of January transfer activity, financial fair play (FFP) issues and an injury crisis that refuses to abate, fans have remained sober and retained perspective.
Last season’s fourth-place finish under head coach Eddie Howe was always going to be extremely difficult to replicate and, although there have been some gut-wrenching lows this season, there have also been some magnificent highs in the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup.
Almost two and a half years since the takeover and even during a challenging campaign on and off the field, overall the wider Geordie nation seems to appreciate the wider direction of travel and retain faith in the club’s decision-makers.
The Athletic conducted a supporter survey to gauge opinions on all things Newcastle. Here are the results…
How long have you been a Newcastle supporter? How often do you attend matches?
To offer context, we asked for the length of time each respondent has been a Newcastle supporter.
Interestingly, 93.1 per cent have followed the club for 11 years or more, with 79.7 per cent describing themselves as Newcastle fans for more than 21 years. Despite the recent on-field success and attempts to grow the fanbase in the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, including via the Amazon Prime documentary series We Are Newcastle United, only 3.7 per cent of respondents said they had been supporters for between zero and five years.
Of the fans surveyed, 16.7 per cent are season-ticket holders or attend every match, with another 7.9 per cent “often” watching in person and 20.2 per cent “sometimes” going. More than 50 per cent “rarely” or “never” go to matches, which, as P K commented, can partly be explained by The Athletic’s large international audience. “I’ve been a fan for around 30 years but live in the States, so attending a match is not an option,” they said.
What’s more, Nick H, who was a season-ticket holder for 15 years, says he rarely goes to games now “because I never win the ballot (for tickets)” — a problem David M has also encountered. Andrew T expressed his view that it would be “helpful to explore how important it is to increase the capacity of St James’ Park” to give non-season-ticket holders a better chance of attending games.
Access to match tickets remains a key issue for fans, especially those who cannot attend as many fixtures as they would like due to the demand massively exceeding supply.
How has your relationship with the club changed over the 2023-24 season?
There is understandable frustration with Newcastle’s current position and with aspects of this campaign, but supporters still feel connected to the club. Almost three-quarters of respondents described their relationship with Newcastle as having “stayed the same” throughout the season so far, while 23.5 per cent said it had “strengthened”.
However, Richard D was one of the four per cent who said their relationship has “weakened”, saying: “I am unable to attend as many home matches as I did in the past and, for me, supporting NUFC is about going to the match.” Kevin D was among other respondents to highlight season-ticket applications and waiting lists as being of utmost concern.
If every player was fit and available, select your starting XI
A hypothetical question, due to the volume of absentees across the season, and also an admittedly restrictive one, given respondents had to select players in Howe’s preferred 4-3-3 formation and there was a lack of positional flexibility.
For example, some said they would select Joelinton as a left-sided forward so they could deploy Joe Willock behind him, but the survey did not permit that. Others suggested they would take a “horses-for-courses approach” to selection and their XI may differ depending on opposition.
Regardless, the results are largely emphatic, with eight of the XI being selected by more than 90 per cent of respondents.
Fabian Schar was the most-selected of all players, with 99.2 per cent opting for the Switzerland international, only marginally ahead of fellow defenders Kieran Trippier (99.1 per cent) and Sven Botman (99 per cent). Tino Livramento (78.4 per cent) completed the most-selected back four, presumably as a left-back rather than his preferred position as a right-back, while Nick Pope was the overwhelming choice in goal (97.9 per cent). Dan Burn was the next most popular choice as a defender, though he did not make the side.
In midfield, Bruno Guimaraes (98.8 per cent) and Joelinton (91.1 per cent) are almost ever-presents, while Sandro Tonali, who is serving a 10-month suspension for betting offences and so has not played since October 25, was the third-most-selected midfielder (66.9 per cent). Willock was the next most popular, ahead of Sean Longstaff and Lewis Miley, who are playing at the moment, and Elliot Anderson.
Alexander Isak was the clear choice as No 9 (98.2 per cent) ahead of Callum Wilson, while Anthony Gordon’s glittering form saw him selected by 98.4 per cent of supporters. Seemingly, Gordon would need to shift to the right to accommodate Harvey Barnes (69.5 per cent), who was preferred to regular starter Miguel Almiron.
It was difficult for supporters to select what they believe to be the strongest XI, given the lack of football some key players have had this season. As James E says: “I chose Barnes and Tonali and that is admittedly speculative given what we have seen so far.”
Of the XI chosen, as many as five may be unavailable for Newcastle’s next game, away to Nottingham Forest on Saturday.
How satisfied were you with Newcastle’s summer/January transfer business?
The verdict on Newcastle’s transfer dealings is indicative of how supporters appear to have framed their opinions of 2023-24 as a whole in a wider context. Rather than express widespread discontent, the majority were “very satisfied”, “satisfied” or “neither satisfied or unsatisfied” with both windows.
There is a greater degree of unhappiness with the just-ended winter window — when no signings arrived — with 29.9 per cent “unsatisfied” and 12.7 per cent “very unsatisfied”, though some caveated their responses by citing the Premier League’s profitability and sustainability rules (PSR), which hamstrung Newcastle. “Unsatisfied with the transfer business but just in the context of FFP,” Robert M says. Eric B and Nick H cite a lack of value in the January market as justifying why Newcastle were right not to act.
The perception of last summer is intriguing. Tonali (suspension) and Barnes (injury) were the two big signings but have barely played, while Livramento has impressed but is not yet an automatic selection and Lewis Hall has not started since being hooked at half-time at Bournemouth on November 11.
Felix S says: “I believe the summer business was really good, only with injuries and the suspension does it look bad.” Yet Nick H is concerned that Newcastle have targeted buying players “based on their availability and potential, rather than what we need”, suggesting neither Barnes nor Livramento would have been priority signings for Howe (though the head coach has suggested otherwise).
Overall, there seems to be an acceptance of the logic behind Newcastle’s transfer strategy and an appreciation of how restrictive PSR has been.
How many players do Newcastle need to sign this summer? And what should be the priority position to strengthen?
Alan Shearer would wholeheartedly endorse the majority opinion, given 59.3 per cent of his fellow Newcastle fans believe a striker/forward should be the priority in the next window. “A top-class, non-injury-prone striker,” is what Judd K desires.
Meanwhile, a quarter of respondents feel that midfield, which Howe attempted to strengthen in January, should be the primary focus. Andrew T wanted to select both positions because they are of “equal importance”.
Seemingly, most do not feel wholesale change is required, with 68.5 per cent desiring three-to-four additions, which would match last summer (when four players arrived). Another 22.5 per cent are hoping for five-to-six signings — the early indications are that Newcastle will look to bring in around that number, although it will be dependent on outgoings — with only 1.3 per cent selecting seven-plus.
Some fans are more concerned about holding onto key players than bringing in a raft of new ones. “I put three-to-four signings but realistically I’d be happy with two, providing we don’t lose any regulars,” Ben R says. “The hardest one to answer was about the summer window,” says Jake O. “It depends on outgoings and whether we’re in Europe.”
Meanwhile, James E says: “We need to refresh the squad more than the XI, to have genuine options on the bench, as it is difficult to improve the starting line-up at this stage of our development.”
Where do you think Newcastle will finish in the 2023-24 Premier League?
Ninth-placed Newcastle are closer to Bournemouth in 12th than to Tottenham Hotspur in fifth, yet the majority are optimistic that Howe’s side will end the season higher than their present position.
Understandably, only 0.5 per cent foresee a repeat of, or improvement on, last season’s fourth spot — Aston Villa, currently fourth, are 13 points ahead — but 18.2 per cent do envisage European qualification via a fifth- or sixth-placed finish. The majority (72.1 per cent) expect Newcastle to jump to seventh or eighth, though, while only 0.6 per cent fear dropping into the bottom half.
How important is it that Newcastle win a trophy this season? And how soon will they lift silverware?
With only the FA Cup realistically left to win, perhaps it is unsurprising that there is a split when it comes to the importance supporters are attaching to the lifting of silverware this season.
While more than half feel it is “unimportant” or “very unimportant”, a combined 40.8 per cent believe it is “important” or “very important” that Newcastle end a topsy-turvy campaign by claiming the cup at Wembley on May 25.
Yet only 2.9 per cent expect Newcastle to end their 55-year-and-counting trophy drought that day. A further 15.2 per cent foresee next season as being the campaign to finally deliver silverware, while almost two-thirds envisage glory arriving within two to three years. There is a 2.9 per cent cohort who fear the dry spell will extend into the 2030s, however.
How satisfied are you with Howe’s performance this season?
Even given the team’s miserable winter — and a run of seven losses in 12 matches — Newcastle fans remain overwhelmingly pleased with Howe’s work. The head coach maintains immense credit from his first campaign and a half in charge, while there is sympathy expressed for the challenges faced this season.
With 86.8 per cent of respondents “very satisfied” and “satisfied” and a further 8.5 per cent “neither satisfied or unsatisfied”, it is clear that Newcastle supporters, like the club’s hierarchy, retain faith that Howe is the best person for the job.
“This season was always going to be transitional,” says Samwil4472 S. “Patience is ultimately what will help us move forward.” Eric B views this campaign “as a great learning experience for Howe as he sees the necessity of developing multiple styles of play”.
Yet some fans are critiquing Howe’s decisions, even if they feel he is still the right head coach.
David G, for example, cites “mild concerns over Howe’s steadfast loyalty to some players”, which is something Judd K also raises, “because the top coaches have a real ruthless streak”. Ron C feels “Howe has pulled off a near-miracle since arriving but I hope he learns the lessons of this season”.
Regardless, there remains almost universal support for Howe.
How satisfied are you with the performance of the owners?
A similar sentiment is expressed when assessing the collective performance of the owners: Amanda Staveley, the Reubens and the 80 per cent majority shareholders, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF).
With 90.3 per cent of respondents “very satisfied” or “satisfied” and seven per cent “neither satisfied or unsatisfied”, only a small minority do not agree with the current direction of travel.
“I think concerns are a reflection of the short-term view rather than long,” says Jonathan H. “The club is night and day better than it was pre-PIF takeover.” Judd K agrees: “The season has clearly been disappointing from a purely results metric, but it was a skeleton club three years ago.”
Even so, there are some issues that supporters want the ownership to be more conscious of.
Tom L, for example, “wishes the owners would take a walk around the stadium between 2.30pm and 3pm on matchday to see what a nightmare the new digital ticketing system has created.”
How has Saudi Arabia’s increased investment in sports made you feel about PIF’s majority ownership of Newcastle?
Newcastle supporters were surveyed about their views on Saudi’s human-rights record and PIF’s ownership of the club immediately following the takeover, but since then there has been further investment in a range of sports, including golf, snooker and domestic football (via the Saudi Pro League).
The majority of fans (84.2 per cent) say their view of PIF’s majority ownership of Newcastle has not been altered by Saudi’s expanding sports network — whether it was positive, negative, or not strong either way before — with only 7.3 per cent now holding a “more positive” stance and just 6.9 per cent a “more negative” opinion.
However, Benji W wanted a general option “to say that the PIF investment has negatively affected my views of the club”.
How optimistic are you about Newcastle’s future?
The comprehensive consensus is one of profound positivity concerning Newcastle’s prospects.
A staggering 98.5 per cent of supporters are either “very optimistic” (58.2 per cent) or “optimistic” (40.3 per cent) about the future.
Even if the 2023-24 has forced a re-evaluation of the timescale for fulfilling the ownership’s huge ambitions, it has not eroded hopes of Newcastle being able to achieve them.
(Top photo: Richard Sellers/Sportsphoto/Allstar via Getty Images)