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Goal.com speaks to a club legend, local politician and fan on the terrace, with opinion divided on Tyneside over Mike Ashley's latest sponsorship move of the club

By Andrew Kennedy

After two days of rumours and subsequent outrage from Newcastle fans over a new sponsorship deal with Wonga.com, the official announcement that came on Tuesday brought a peace offering: their beloved football ground would revert to its former name of St. James' Park.

While the suggestion that the short-term loan company would rebrand Sports Direct Arena as Wonga Stadium had borne the initial brunt of fury from the club's supporters, the question of ethics remains for many on Tyneside.

The irony of a sponsor - described as a "legal loan shark" by MP Ian Lavery - emblazoned on the shirts of Newcastle's wealthy stars, encouraging people in a region where great numbers encounter financial difficulty to take loans at hyper-inflated interest rates, has not gone unnoticed.

 ST JAMES' PARK RETURNS

Lavery, MP for Wansbeck, told Goal.com: "I'm very, very disappointed, annoyed and ashamed that a club with such rich heritage and traditions as Newcastle United have allowed themselves to be tied to a sponsorship deal with a company like Wonga.

"They are making millions of pounds off the back of peoples' struggles, and I'm sure with a little bit more effort the Newcastle board could have sought someone with principles and morals.

"[Renaming the stadium St. James’ Park] is a poor attempt at a PR stunt, and its aim is to take peoples' eyes off the real issue, which is Wonga as a company and their way of doing business."

The ethical argument has not been overlooked by Wonga themselves. The company will bring key investment to the club's youth academy, which is yet to be awarded Category One status.

Further financial backing will be given to a programme helping 15 to 16-year-olds find work and a new fans forum will be created, all in an attempt to dispel criticism.

A four-year commitment from the internet loan company will also be vital for Ashley, and legendary former Newcastle striker Malcolm Macdonald believes the club's hierarchy are right not to get caught up on the morality of their new sponsors.

"I think people want to make it an ethical question, but at the end of the day football clubs take their money wherever they can get it," the ex-Arsenal and England striker told Goal.com.

"Clubs have been supported by banks, but banks have shown themselves to be pretty unethical in the way they have behaved. Business is business, and football clubs have to do business.

"If a baby food manufacturer came in and offered them the same money, I'm sure they’d choose the baby food manufacturer. But money breeds money, and it's usually the money industries that can afford it."

And some Newcastle fans have taken a similarly pragmatic view. A poll on fanzine The Mag's website showed 90 per cent of supporters were against the Wonga deal prior to the St. James' Park announcement. Now over two-thirds of voters said they were in favour of the sponsorship.

Mark Jensen, editor of The Mag, notes that while Wonga do not have as much of an affinity with the region as previous sponsors, there are already a number of companies associated with the Premier League who gain profit through means open to similar criticism.

"In an ideal world, I think fans would have loved the stadium to have been named after the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation as opposed to Sports Direct in the first place.

"Yet we live in the real world, and the whole idea is to bring in income.

"In the past we've had sponsors such as Newcastle Brown Ale and Northern Rock – who had a real local identity and employed people in the north-east. Then to go to a company that charges over 4000% interest on loans isn't the route most fans would want to go down.

"Maybe they should be looking at the bigger picture as opposed to the bottom line, and try and portray a better image of the club.

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"Yet there is the question of should you encourage people to gamble or drink? That's across the Premier League. It's a balancing act."

However, MP Lavery believes there is a clear differentiation between Wonga and their counterparts.

"There is a huge difference between gambling, alcohol and the likes of Wonga," he added.

"The only people who ever contact Wonga are people who are absolutely desperate, people who need to make ends meet and [Wonga are] taking advantage. That's what differentiates them. My belief is they should be outlawed."

As when renaming the club's stadium in the first place, Ashley is unlikely to register any of the disapproval towards his decision, yet a return to St James' Park will likely ensure the Newcastle faithful will be a bit quicker to begrudgingly accept their owner's will this time round.

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