Newcastle boss Alan Pardew was celebrating tonight after learning that he will be sending his team out at St James’ Park once again.
Pardew admitted he and his players had been hurt by owner Mike Ashley’s decision to rename the 52,000-capacity stadium as the Sport Direct Arena last year in a bid to showcase the naming rights, and he was delighted when wonga.com confirmed today that they had bought them and decided to revert to the traditional name.
He told Sky Sports News: “I’m a romantic, so the stadium change last year hurt me and hurt our team.
“It’s one of those business decision that you can’t get your head around at times as a football person.
“I made a point of saying that the same sign should go up, not a new one, the same sign, ’St James’ Park’, and I’m absolutely overjoyed with that.”
The news came after Newcastle’s initial announcement that they had agreed a four-year deal with Wonga to become their lead commercial sponsor, an agreement which will see the Magpies wear the company’s logo on their shirts from next season and which includes an investment of £1.5m in the club’s Academy and the Newcastle United Foundation Enterprise Scheme.
But in a move which came as something of a surprise, they left it to their new sponsor to reveal that they had also bought the naming rights.
A spokesman for Wonga said: “We listened over the last three days and we saw what really matters to the fans.
“Football is an emotional sport and it is obviously really important to them. We listened to what they wanted and that is why we did it.”
Owner Mike Ashley sparked fury in November last year when he revealed that the name of the stadium had been changed to include that of his own company.
Fans who were just starting to come to terms with his unique style of ownership after seeing him preside over the Magpies’ return to the top flight, accused him of riding roughshod over the club’s history and tradition.
Managing director Derek Llambias insisted the decision was born out of financial necessity and could net Newcastle up to £10million a year although until today, they had been unable to find a buyer.
Llambias said: “We are delighted to have our new sponsor as of next year, and the fans have got St James’ Park back.
“We have always said that was always a commercial stream that we would like to take and we have achieved that, so we are absolutely delighted.”
However, while most fans were pleased to see the end of another controversial period in the club’s recent history, some were less than impressed with the identity of the new sponsor.
Wonga have recently been criticised for the interest rates they charge, although the company insists it is misleading to calculate annual percentage rates for what are short-term loans.
Mark Jensen, editor of fanzine The Mag, predicted that many supporters would be feeling mixed emotions.
He said: “It’s a clever move and clearly has been done in part to deflect some of the criticism of the business they have agreed the sponsorship with.
“The fans will be over the moon that the name will be back to what it’s always been.
“But there will be mixed emotions on the subject as it’s a sad indictment of today’s society that a company like that is doing so well.”
Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council, was less than impressed with Wonga’s involvement and signalled his intention to write to Ashley to ask him to fund extra debt advice.
He said: “I’m appalled and sickened that they would sign a deal with a legal loan shark.
“We see the devastating consequences of people getting into financial difficulty and we spend a lot of money each year helping people who are in debt through companies like this.
“It’s a sad indictment of the profit-at-any-price culture at Newcastle United.
“We are fighting hard to tackle legal and illegal loan sharking and having a company like this right across the city on every football shirt that’s sold undermines all our work.”
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery, a season ticket holder at St James’, vowed not to return.
He said: “A city like Newcastle and the region should not have any ties with an organisation like Wonga.
“This business makes profits off the back of deprived people who are desperate and who are the most vulnerable in society.
“It’s an absolute outrage and I now won’t set foot into the stadium.”