Coronavirus crisis separates classy from crassly: Neil Humphreys
Most EPL clubs do the right thing, but Newcastle United still get it all wrong
If there is one thing worse than living through the coronavirus pandemic, it's living through the coronavirus pandemic as a Newcastle United supporter.
Those guys are suffering twice over.
It's bad enough that they haven't won anything since television was the same colour as their jerseys.
But only the most masochistic Magpie would acknowledge their fandom at the moment, thanks to a club owner who continues to put cash before a conscience.
Newcastle's omnipotent capitalist Mike Ashley has managed to generate plenty of negative headlines - quite an achievement during this Covid-19 era - as he vies for the title of "Most Unpopular Brit in a Pandemic".
Indeed, the only tangible benefit of a global health crisis is it soon separates the good guys from the real stinkers, like the clueless Mike Ashleys from the classy Paul Barbers.
You may not be familiar with Barber now, but hopefully that's the name you'll remember by the end of the column.
But let's deal with the clueless first.
Ashley's gluttonous reign at Newcastle has long been a Dickensian parody, with a ruddy-cheeked owner treating blue-collar folks as factory fodder.
The fact that he literally made his fortune through factory fodder, using cheap labour to distribute goods to his Sports Direct empire of retail outlets, almost tips his story into a sitcom.
But it's not funny.
Earlier this week, the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had to remind the Newcastle owner that football boots and shin pads do not constitute "essential goods" and ordered Ashley to close his Sports Direct stores.
Before then, Sports Direct had told its staff to continue working through the lockdown because those poor souls stuck in self-isolation clearly needed a Newcastle polo shirt to get them through their darkest hour.
And then, the Magpies' great leader doubled down on his disastrous public relations.
Newcastle fans checked their online bank accounts yesterday to discover that they had been charged for their next campaign's season ticket - while the current season is on a break in a bid to stop people from dying.
The Newcastle United Supporters Trust - or NUST, though it can feel like the "S" and "T" are the wrong way round - have pleaded with the club to suspend the scheduled payments during this difficult time.
As understatements go, this is up there with Pompeii residents asking for a little respite on next year's home insurance payments as Mount Vesuvius clears its throat.
To really push the boundaries of pantomime villainy, Newcastle charged fans as much as £620 (S$1,065) for the privilege of seeing a club play next season, once we get past the minor hiccup of completing this season - and overcoming the worst pandemic since the Spanish Flu.
Short of burning £50 notes outside a hospital while wearing a Sunderland jersey, it's hard to see how Ashley tops his act at this point.
So let's step around the cartoonish and focus on the quietly uplifting.
On the same day that Newcastle charged for season tickets, Brighton & Hove Albion gave a thousand tickets away.
Paul Barber, the club's deputy chairman and a name worth remembering, announced that the Seagulls plan to donate 1,000 match tickets to frontline health workers, once the season resumes.
Barber challenged other clubs to do the same and Bournemouth soon adopted the initiative, while Watford went even further.
Their Vicarage Road Stadium sits beside the local hospital and they have opened up the ground to health workers.
Childcare rooms, training venues and even warehouse space have been made available to exhausted doctors and nurses that obviously need such resources more than Troy Deeney.
Many English Premier League clubs, including Manchester United, Arsenal and Crystal Palace, have confirmed that they will continue to pay the wages of all staff during the postponement - a considerable sum indeed.
And on April 3, EPL chief executives will hold another video conference to discuss the prospect of players taking wage deferrals.
Pay cuts are coming.
Yes, multi-millionaires can absorb a little salary pruning, but that's hardly the point. Contractually, they are entitled to every penny. But most footballers, and clubs, are stepping up and shifting perspective.
And that's not a universal phenomenon among the uber-rich.
Take a quick scan of the news pages. From airline owners demanding government bailouts to retail empires forcing staff to work in unhealthy conditions, wealth doesn't necessarily buy a bleeding heart.
Ashley has never listened to Newcastle fans, but he's not hearing the current demands of the football community either. He has failed to read the room.
When the crisis is over, he can finally do the right thing and walk away.
A more caring game has left him behind.