Football: Sporting club dream still far from reality

Glenn Moore says Newcastle may have matched Barca on the pitch but not off it
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The Independent Online
Returning from Barcelona on Thursday morning you could hardly move for blue-and-red souvenirs. Shirts, balls, even a cuddly toy adorned the returning Toon Army, a mute but colourful testament to the enduring pull of their midweek Champions' League opponents.

It is hard to imagine Newcastle United's club shop did such a rich trade in black-and-white branded goods when Barcelona came to call in September, but that is what Newcastle aspire to. It is writ, in Magpie history, that Sir John Hall went to the Nou Camp and saw a vision of what Newcastle could become. He dreamed that Newcastle would be to "The Geordie nation" what Barcelona is to Catalonia.

Now Newcastle have matched them on the pitch (Wednesday's 1-0 defeat meant a 3-3 aggregate score in their Champions' League meetings), it is timely to see how far they have progressed off it. Freddie Shepherd, the new chairman, said the tie had shown how far Newcastle have come, which is true but it also illustrated how far they have to go.

Barcelona's players were impressed by the atmosphere at St James' Park but did not consider the stadium particularly notable. Newcastle's players will not have thought much of the atmosphere at a quarter-full Nou Camp but most were awestruck by the sheer size of the ground.

At just under 110,000 seats Barcelona, who also have a small standing area, can seat three times as many fans as Newcastle and frequently do. They continue to look for ways to enlarge the ground, recently lowering the pitch to maintain capacity when most of the terracing was converted to seating.

Newcastle, meanwhile, have abandoned plans to build a new 70,000-capacity stadium on Town Moor and are going to seek ways to expand St James' to 55,000 - pending planning permission. This matches Borussia Dortmund, Feyenoord, Porto and Sporting Lisbon but is way behind Barcelona, Real Madrid, Benfica and Dynamo Kiev. Juventus and Bayern Munich are both considering moving from relatively modern 70,000- capacity stadiums to new, bigger grounds as are Manchester United whose manager, Alex Ferguson, feels they have outgrown 55,000-seat Old Trafford and need at least 70,000.

One part of the vision which was fading even before Sir John's retirement is that of the Newcastle United Sporting Club. The idea of diverting football resources to other sports met with opposition from fans and the concept is now simply the Sporting Club. In it the rugby team are doing well but only attracting 4,000, and there has been little progress in bricks and mortar. This compares very unfavourably to Barcelona's massive complex which includes a fine indoor arena, a 25,000-seat mini Nou Camp, assorted other arenas and an accommodation hostel. All in a residential area.

The enterprise as a whole even includes a bank - which makes a pleasant change, Newcastle fans might say, from having your management plans dictated by one. However, Barcelona have only won one Champions' Cup which, given they are the largest, wealthiest club in the game, is a poor return as well as being five titles less than Real Madrid. While Barcelona have no further interest in the Champions' Cup Real look like progressing.

That is bad enough for Barcelona but look at the team who bar Real's way, Rosenborg of Trondheim. They are also into merchandising but they sell players, not teddy bears. They prove that, even in the television- dollars-win-extra-places age, there is, fortunately, more to success than money. Rosenborg bobble-hat anyone?

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