• Supporters planning an 11th minute ‘walk-in’ at St James’ Park
• Manager says he ‘understands’ their issues with Mike Ashley
Rafael Benítez said he ‘understands’ why Newcastle fans are protesting against Mike Ashley but wants them to get behind his players against West Ham. Photograph: Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Getty Images
Rafael Benítez has said he “understands” why some supporters are planning an 11th minute “walk-in protest” at St James’ Park on Saturday but Newcastle United’s manager is privately hoping it will not disrupt his team’s recent revival.
After an awful start to the season Newcastle have won their last three games and entertain West Ham in an optimistic mood. Off the field, though, many fans remain deeply disillusioned with Mike Ashley’s 11-year stewardship of the club and the Magpie Group is urging them to “have an extra pre-match pint” while waiting until the 11th minute before entering the stadium.
A further, full, boycott of next Sunday’s home game against Wolves is also scheduled but Newcastle fans have traditionally been extremely reluctant to vote with their feet. Even so, this mooted action has left Benítez, who remains adored on Tyneside, treading a careful diplomatic path. The Fiver: sign up and get our daily football email.
“The fans have been here longer than me,” he said. “They’re entitled to do what they want. I understand what they think. At the same time, they know my idea, that I’m pleased to see everyone supporting the team during the game. I am not against or in favour of anything. It’s just about being sure the team has the support it needs – 52,000 fans all together is a massive support. I’m sure they’ll support the team – but it’s not my decision.
“I have a lot of respect for our fans, I won’t tell them what to do. But at the same time, if they’re in the stadium, they have to support the team; the players appreciate that. My concern is for the players, making sure they’re ready.”
When asked if a much-improved atmosphere had helped secure recent home wins against Bournemouth and Watford, Benítez’s reply proved instructive. “Yes, 100% – but every player is different so I don’t know how each one would react [to protests]. We can only concentrate on what we can change and we can’t affect that.”
In a statement the Magpie Group outlined their reasons: “We encourage fans to take a stand in this fixture and in the game against Wolves, where we propose a full boycott. We know this is painful for Newcastle supporters, but, for the longer term future of the club, it’s time to tell those at the top that enough is enough.”