Newcastle United St James’ Park expansion: Eales’ ‘flex’ comment, Ghodoussi capacity target, name ‘talks’

What could lie ahead for Newcastle United’s traditional home at St James Park?

The sold-out signs are now expected at Newcastle United as Magpies supporters get behind their side in league and cup fixtures.

The latest examples appeared via the club’s social media outlets on Tuesday as the allocations for the Boxing Day visit to Leicester City and the away trip to Arsenal in early-January were snapped up. It seems inevitable the Carabao Cup home tie against Bournemouth will follow suit over the coming days.

The buzz is well and truly back as the limited ambitions and negativity experienced during life under the former owner has been washed away and enthusiasm and belief has returned. Matchdays at St James Park now feel like a new and exciting experience with every visit. Wor Flags have more than played their part, as have Eddie Howe and his players with a fine start to the season sending belief surging through Magpies supporters.

There is some disappointment, with increased demand meaning supporters miss out on tickets and have to watch on from afar. Meeting this demand is not easy with St James Park’s location putting limitations on expansion, but ensuring the club explores every avenue for an increased capacity is very much on the on the agenda for the United hierarchy.

Some have suggested a move away from the historic St James Park site is a possibility, with Gosforth Park, Northumberland Park and the current Utilita Arena site mentioned as possible locations for a new stadium. But in reality, key figures with the club have suggested remaining at St James Park and considering ways to expand is the main focus of the United owners.

‘It’s an amazing location’

Speaking to local reporters regarding a possible expansion, Magpies chief executive officer Darren Eales said: “It’s one of the areas we’re looking at. It’s a champagne problem because we’re sold out and it’s not a situation like the past when you’re almost giving away season tickets to fill the stadium.

“It’s an amazing location. I love the fact we’re here in the city with 108 pubs within half a mile. It’s the best ground to come to for away supporters in my view because of its location and atmosphere. The reality is, we are in a situation where we are limited in capacity. We’ll obviously be looking at if there are ways we can flex that and that’s one of the things we will be looking at over time.”

Ghodoussi capacity target

United co-owner Mehrdad Ghodoussi has consistently hailed the atmosphere created by United supporters ever since the prolonged PIF-led takeover of the club was completed last October. Without doubt expansion beyond the current 52,405 capacity is required as the club’s owners look to deliver on their ambitious plans on and off the pitch.

That task will not be easy, with listed building sat in behind the East Stand and the extra complications posed by the Metro station that sits beneath the Gallowgate End. Creativity will be required - but Ghodoussi has admitted leaving St James Park would be ‘like tearing your soul out’.

He said: “We’ll definitely look at expanding it. We’re working with the city and council to see what we can do. There are a lot of things that need to happen first, but that’s the way forward.

“If we can get it to 60 or 65,000, amazing, and we’ll look at every possibility. Are we going to build a new stadium? No. It would be like tearing your soul out.”

“We have to obviously do that through the lens of the supporters”

One of the most controversial moves of the former owner was to ‘rename’ St James Park in a bid to ‘showcase’ stadium sponsorship to potential partners. The backlash was understandably both fierce and immediate and the rightful name was returned to United’s traditional home within months.

However, with the Magpies hierarchy now contending with Financial Fair Play regulations, selling the naming rights to St James Park is one way of raising additional revenue. Unlike the previous ill-fated attempt of just over a decade ago, supporters will be consulted over any possible move.

Eales said: “First, what happens on the pitch is what people care about. Second was about fan engagement and third was being in the heart of the community because we were a brand new team starting up. The reality was, every decision we made to build the club was through the lens of those three.

“The fan engagement was particularly eye-opening to me because we couldn’t rely on a family of supporters, or a stadium with a massive waiting list. It’s not that you took the fans for granted, it just wasn’t necessarily a hindrance. When we were in America, we were building and making decisions through fan engagement. We weren’t doing it to think ‘OK, how can we have 52,000 average crowds or ‘how can we bringing in more commercial revenues that a lot of clubs in Serie A clubs in Italy’.

“That wasn’t the process, the process was what made sense from the fans from experience. And what you find is you’re able to bring in the revenue because you’ve done those things. As we think about our opportunities to work with partners, we have to obviously do that through the lens of the supporters by engaging and communicating with them.”