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Oct 9, 2012

Newcastle ground gets old name back

Newcastle United's ground will once again be named St James' Park as part of the club's new sponsorship deal with loan company Wonga.

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• Blog: Wonga comes to Toon

The Magpies have confirmed a four-year sponsorship deal with the online lender beginning at the start of the 2013-2014 season which could be worth as much as £15 million a year, according to some estimates.

The deal includes shirt sponsorship and the naming rights of the stadium formerly known as St James' Park, which club owner Mike Ashley had renamed the Sports Direct Arena in a bid to showcase its marketing potential.

Wonga have now confirmed that they will use their newly-acquired position to give the 120-year-old ground its original name back in a bit to appease fans.

"We listened over the last three days and we saw what really matters to the fans," said a spokesman for Wonga.

"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."

There had been much speculation as to who would replace Virgin Money after it was announced that their deal with Newcastle would be ceasing at the end of the season.

In a statement released Tuesday, managing director Derek Llambias said: "We are building a club that can regularly compete for top honours at the highest level."

"As everyone knows, a strong commercial programme is vital to this goal and I am delighted to welcome Wonga into the fold as our lead commercial partner, alongside Puma and Sports Direct.

"Throughout our discussions Wonga's desire to help us invest in our young playing talent, the local community and new fan initiatives really impressed us and stood them apart from other candidates."

Meanwhile Errol Damelin, CEO and founder of Wonga, said: "We're really proud to be involved with Newcastle United.

"It is one of the biggest and most important clubs in the UK by any measure and has a fantastic following around the world. We're also really excited about investing in future stars both on and off the field.

As part of the deal, Wonga will invest £1.5 million into the club's youth academy as well as the Newcastle United foundation - with Damelin describing the funding as: "The opportunity to make a big difference."

Michael Martin, editor of Newcastle fanzine True Faith, described himself as "close to breaking point" upon hearing the news.

He told the Daily Mirror: "The people who run Newcastle, for the fans, have a social responsibility."

"I would love them to honestly answer one question: Would you, Mike Ashley, seriously recommend borrowing money from Wonga at those interest rates? If you can't answer yes then they shouldn't be our shirt sponsors.

"Newcastle is being used to normalise their product. It cheapens and tarnishes the Newcastle United brand. I wouldn't want my logo next to them, so what do other sponsors think?

"This is close to breaking point for me, the one that breaks the camel's back."

The decision has also been met by criticism from MP Ian Lavery, who described the company as "financial predators who make their money from people suffering from unemployment, low wages and in the greatest financial need".

Lavery, the MP for the Northumberland constituency of Wansbeck, also confirmed that he will not set foot in the club as long as they hold a deal with the payday lenders.

"If Wonga get this sponsorship through I will not set foot in St James' Park until it is off the shirts. To have those players running around on that turf endorsing Wonga is an absolute outrage.

"I have more and more people coming to see me and saying that as a result of job losses or benefit cuts they are being forced into these terrible but legal money lenders whose interest rates only then trap them into further debt."

"I am appalled NUFC are in talks with a legal loan shark company. This is another example of the club's profit at any price culture, which is destroying the image of the club and the city."

South African entrepreneur Damelin has denied claims that Wonga is a 'legal loan shark' despite the online lender charging interest rates of as much as 4,250% to customers.

Wonga already sponsor the shirts of Championship club Blackpool and SPL side Hearts.

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