Newcastle United for sale ... on ebay

THE Newcastle United owner, Mike Ashley, is selling off the famous "Newcastle United" sign that once adorned the East Stand at St James' Park on eBay, although mindful of the club's bad publicity in the past he is donating the proceeds to charity.

The club have replaced the letters, around 6ft each in height, with a new "Newcastle United" livery which is flanked by hoardings for Ashley's chain of sportswear shops, Sports Direct. All 15 letters are being sold to raise funds for the Newcastle United foundation, the club's charity, and have been individually photographed for the eBay page held up by members of the club's staff.

The original lettering was put up around 1996 but was removed after the home game against Fulham on 28 August during the first international break of the season and replaced by the new Newcastle and Sports Direct sig- nage. Made from stainless steel, the original letters are being sold on the basis that anyone who buys them has to collect them in person from the stadium.

There was outrage among supporters when Ashley attempted to rename St James' Park ' @ St James' Park' two years ago. The concept was intended to last just until the end of the 2009-2010 season and the new name never caught on. There is also a Sports Direct sign on the roof of the Gallowgate End which is only visible from above the stadium.

The club's foundation's page on eBay offers supporters the opportunity to "purchase a piece of Newcastle United heritage". It reads: "Following the recent revamp of the famous East Stand sign at St James' Park, the old lettering which used to adorn the front section of the roof can be yours, through an exclusive online auction. And in buying the letters, you will also be raising funds for the Club's official charity, Newcastle United Foundation."

A spokesman for Newcastle said the sign had "been revamped with additional sponsorship". So far the highest bid was for the 'N' in Newcastle which had reached GBP510 ($AU800). The auction ends on Sunday.

Mark Jensen, Newcastle supporter and editor of The Mag fanzine, said fans were "not happy" about the "rebranding" of the stadium. "I suppose from a cynical point of view, that [the East Stand] is the part of the stadium that gets the most exposure to television cameras," he said.

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