What Happened to Newcastle United’s Oldest Supporters Club?

Highland Park Association thinks of Newcastle United as the town’s “club.”

“We don’t support Aston Villa or Birmingham City. We always felt a special loyalty to Newcastle United,” said Kevin Kehoe, former Chairman of the Highland Park Association.

It was how the association was formed in the 1950s. In the early days, its members would cheer on whichever of the local teams, like Newcastle, scored more goals. Its members’ support became the “heartbeat” of Newcastle, it says.

This week, however, the group of mainly Irish football fans saw their team issue a one-million dollar “reward” to one anonymous fan for sharing “his imagination, his passion, his joy” in a series of tweets that he sent to the club.

Using an alias, “Stingy Corky,” he had set up the account in 2013, in the wake of a negative news report about Newcastle’s finances.

Now, in order to reward this fan, the club cut ties with its original club, Celtic, and joined English Premier League club West Ham United, in a move the league described as one of the “most significant” examples of “everyday fans joining their clubs”.

Ian Ritchie, chairman of the League of Ireland’s Celtic, accused Newcastle of selling their soul.

“You might be able to manipulate the finances, but you can’t control people’s character,” he said.

But does this financial move mean the fans’ heartbeats have diminished?

For Kevin Kehoe, the association founder, their loyalty now had to be tested.

“There are lot of people who might have supported us from our early days, who might not necessarily buy season tickets or follow the team to Old Trafford in the future,” he said.

Fearing Newcastle’s new financial burden could become a burden on the town and region, the association had to find a new future model, he said. “Maybe we will not be club owners anymore.”

The new model could be more like an entrepreneurial team, Kehoe suggested.

That’s a change for the Better Together of supporters.

Last year the association launched a partnership with local sports group in the town, which aims to help young people channel their ambitions into sports, thanks to a combination of coaching, computer coding and technology.

The league is also planning to develop a series of “football academies” – planned locations will be in Irish schools in Newcastle, Belfast and Dublin.

The association is keen to prove they can still keep fans on board.

“Our numbers have continued to grow,” said Kehoe.

It is already a 15 percent increase on last year, but Kehoe declined to reveal how many fans are part of the club for real.

They have also kept up their activities outside of a football stadium. During the World Cup earlier this year, the association oversaw a free community football tournament.

And Kehoe hopes Newcastle will give its fans some place to have fun and connect with fans in England, even after they’ve signed a million dollars worth of players.

“We will still be that ‘no man’s land’,” he said. “We could be a hub of Newcastle’s creative community.”

Jonathan Van Heyningen/Getty Images

Jonathan Van Heyningen contributed to this article.

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