Anger at Newcastle Wonga deal

Newcastle United's decision to agree a sponsorship deal with payday loan company Wonga has prompted an angry reaction in the North East.

MP asks Commons for debate on 'fit and proper' test for sports sponsorship

Companies planning to advertise with football teams should undergo a "fit and proper" test, MPs heard today, as the row over Wonga's link-up with Newcastle United continued.

United season ticket holder and Labour MP Ian Lavery condemned the deal in the Commons, demanding a Westminster debate to scrutinise such arrangements.

He said:

Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on sports sponsorship, with the ultimate objective to put in place a fit and proper companies test for future sponsorship at major sporting events?

I name the likes of Atos and Wonga which, in my belief, are companies which are pretty dubious to be able to sponsor major events in this country.

– Ian Lavery, Labour MP for Wansbeck

Commons Leader Andrew Lansley urged Mr Lavery to seek an adjournment debate, adding that the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee could examine sports sponsorship.

Newcastle gets its St James' Park sign back

The ground had been called St James Park for over a century before briefly being known a the Sports Direct Arena. Credit: Twitter / @NUFCOfficial

Newcastle United have marked the reinstating of the St James' Park stadium name with a champagne celebration.

The moniker was in place for more than a century before club owner Mike Ashley named the stadium after his sportswear company Sports Direct.

But following a new - and controversial - sponsorship deal with payday lender Wonga.com, a replica of the old St James' Park sign was erected today.

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Newcastle's Muslim stars warned against wearing Wonga logo

Papiss Cisse, pictured, Demba Ba, Hatem Ben Arfa and Cheick Tiote are among Newcastle stars who are practising Muslims. Credit: PA

The Muslim Council of Britain has warned Newcastle's Muslim players that wearing shirts carrying Wonga's sponsorship could infringe Sharia law.

Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, assistant secretary general of the MCB, told the Independent:

"The idea is to protect the vulnerable and needy from exploitation by the rich and powerful.

"When they are lending and are charging large amounts of interest, it means the poor will have short-term benefit from the loan but long-term difficulty in paying it back."

"The Islamic system is based on a non-interest-based system of transaction," he added.

Mogra points out that former Tottenham striker Frederic Kanoute, a practising Muslim, was allowed to wear an un-branded shirt when playing for Sevilla, who were at the time sponsored by gambling firm 888.com.

Pardew: Wonga money 'helps me with the first team'

"I'm not a business man, and I can't always see sense in some of the decisions," said Newcastle manager Alan Pardew, "but that decision [to bring back the St James' Park name] I really like."

The club's sponsorship deal with Wonga is thought to be worth £24m over four seasons.

"The finance that it gives me directly helps me with the first team and indirectly is going to help me with the academy and foundation," he said.

Newcastle 'risks brand value' with Wonga deal

St James' Park was called the Sports Direct Arena for a brief period. Credit: PA

Newcastle United had risked its brand value by associating itself with Wonga, a marketing expert said.

Toon fan Dr Joanna Berry of Newcastle University Business School, who is based across the road from the stadium, said future sponsors might feel the club has been tarnished.

"If you were the Emirates, Virgin, British Airways or any of the global, creditable brands, would you want to follow Wonga?" she said.

"From a marketing perspective, the reputational risk is significant."

She said while it was a "clever" move to rename the stadium, it had never changed in the eyes of the fans.

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Section of club's fans pleased with renaming of stadium

While Newcastle's sponsorship deal with Wonga was criticised by north east politicians, many of the club's fans appeared happy that their stadium would have its name reinstated:

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St James Park is back. I am so happy right now........#nufc

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We could be sponsored by Al Qaeda for all I care, all that matters is our stadium can be called by its proper name again #NUFC

Ryan McKinnon is a 16-year-old defender for Newcastle United's academy:

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If what I've heard is true that wonga are changing the stadium back to st james' park then that's quality news!

Unite union: Wonga 'preying on the poor and desperate'

Unite, which has mounted a campaign against payday loan firms, attacked the deal, claiming it was being used to "normalise legal loan sharking".

Regional secretary Karen Reay said:

This is the day when Newcastle's owners sold this city's great footballing name for 30 pieces of tainted silver.

Payday lenders are preying on the poor and desperate in the North East, which has some of the highest levels of debt and borrowing in the country. Newcastle United is now being used by Wonga to normalise legal loan sharking.

Newcastle fans, who could be borrowing up to £325 per month just to get by, let alone get along to a game, will feel sickened that the club they love will now be associated with the extortionate rates of credit that make their lives a misery.

Unite urged the club's owners to reconsider the deal, warning it will "tarnish" the city's footballing and community culture.

Wonga on reinstating St James' Park name: 'We listened'

Newcastle's St James' Park was renamed Sports Direct Arena last year. Credit: PA

Wonga confirmed that it has secured the naming rights for Newcastle United's stadium and will rename it St James' Park.

Last year, the club changed the name of the stadium to the Sports Direct Arena after owner Mike Ashley's company.

But the old name will now return as part of the new sponsorship deal with the loan company.

A Wonga spokesman said:

"We listened over the last three days and we saw what really matters to the fans.

"Football is an emotional sport and it's obviously really important to them. We listened to what they wanted and that is why we have done it."

Newcastle MD: Wonga has desire to invest in community

Derek Llambias, right, seen with Newcastle owner Mike Ashley. Credit: PA

Derek Llambias, Managing Director of Newcastle United, 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."

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