Newcastle would do well to remember their version of Man and Superman
Colin Veitch was captain and emblem of Newcastle United. He should not be forgotten
Newcastle United’s “owner”, Mike Ashley, has his principal concern, Sports Direct, plastered all over St James’ Park. The company jumped in to the FTSE 100 in part because of United’s profile. photograph: getty images
George Bernard Shaw’s final public speech was made in Newcastle upon Tyne. It was in 1936, Shaw was 80 and he stood on the stage of the People’s Theatre in the city and concluded: “This being my last speech in the theatre, I like it to be this one.”
There were obvious reasons why Shaw liked the People’s Theatre. Its ethos chimed with his, and they staged his plays there regularly and enthusiastically. The People’s Theatre also possessed a man called Colin Veitch.
You could understand why Shaw might find this man an attraction.
Veitch was a radical, a socialist, a campaigner who co-founded the People’s Theatre in 1911. He was also, from 1895 to 1914, a Newcastle United footballer. During that time – 1905, 1907 and 1909 – Newcastle won the league title – in 1905 for the first time.
In 1910 Newcastle won the FA Cup, also for the first time. It was the era that changed a club previously regional and peripheral into a national force. Newcastle United arrived on the country’s imagination and Colin Veitch was the club’s captain and emblem.
But that was only the half of it.
While Veitch was participating in the transformation of Newcastle United, which included the enlarging of St James’ Park, a minute’s walk from the ground, Veitch was also setting up the People’s Theatre with his brother Norman and others.
The first rooms they took are still there in a building off Percy Street, though the theatre has moved.
And it was there in 1921 that Shaw turned up to watch a production of his play Man and Superman. Veitch played the role of Malone.
As author and actor Chris Goulding put it: “It was said people would see Veitch running around on a Saturday afternoon at a match, then see him that same evening on stage. You can’t imagine that happening now.”
Indeed not, but then there are a lot of things you can’t imagine happening now, at Newcastle United or elsewhere in the bubble-world of British football.
It’s probably best to resist romanticising early 20th century society, when inequality was institutionalised and emerging professional footballers felt compelled to bend rules to take their due from directors wallowing in cash spurting from this new boom sport.
But when thinking of Veitch it is hard to ignore the issue of modern financial inequality, it is hard to ignore that when Newcastle play at St James’ today, it will be with Wonga splashed across stripes first made famous by him.
Facing Newcastle today are Hull City. They will be promoting “Cash Converters” on their jerseys.
This is Britain, where poverty and debt are normalised into everyday acceptance via the most important sport in the land.
Newcastle United’s “owner”, Mike Ashley, has his principal concern, Sports Direct, plastered all over St James’. What would Colin Veitch make of him?
Sports Direct is ever-expanding and the pitch-side advertisements in French at the recent Fulham game reflect the six Sports Direct shops now in France. It is probably handy, too, that the company team has its complement of French players.
Thus Newcastle and other clubs feel to their fans like they are becoming a branch of corporate strategy. Just think of how the concept of “sponsorship” has been normalised over the past couple of decades.