You would not recognise Russell Jones if he walked past you outside St James' Park. Yet you suspect that is just the way the unassuming 78-year-old likes it.
Jones may prefer to keep a 'very low profile', in his own words, but the former executive director's stamp is all over the cathedral on the hill. It was Jones who helped design and deliver the stadium that we know today for Newcastle United. In fact, few figures have a more intimate knowledge of the site - and whether increasing the capacity at St James' really is feasible in the long run.
"There are means of doing it," he told ChronicleLive. "There's a saying in life: where there's a will, there's a way. Basically, that's what you have got to adopt. I wish them well in doing so."
Jones' comments are timely. The club agreed a deal last month to buy back the long-term lease of the land at Strawberry Place behind the Gallowgate End. This was land that Sir John Hall and Freddy Shepherd's ownership purchased from Nexus during Jones' time at the club before Mike Ashley later sold it to developers.
As complicated as any redevelopment would be, the Gallowgate still appears the stand most ripe for expansion in the long-term and reclaiming this land may yet prove significant. After all, increasing the capacity was the main reason why the club bought it in the first place a quarter of a century ago rather revisiting plans to build a new stadium elsewhere.
"I always referred to the stadium as the cathedral on the hill," Jones said. "People used to laugh at me when I said it, but it is the only place I know that people come on a Saturday and worship a team.
"The key to St James' is it's right in the middle of the city. It's really the only one that's like that so it's easy to get to so that was the key to leaving it where it was rather than ultimately trying to move it elsewhere.
"It would be a mistake to move away. I think there are things they can do to expand it if they want to. I'm sure the local authority and Newcastle City Council would be very supportive in terms of what they want to do. These days English Heritage are a lot more compliant in terms of wanting to help people as well."
Jones' words echo previous comments made by Sir John, who told ChronicleLive that 'if you've got the time and the money, you can probably solve the problems - but it's going to cost you'. Christopher Lee, who was the architect behind the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, added that there were 'always solutions' when it came to the potential expansion of St James'.
While supporters will naturally want specifics on what those solutions could look like, stadium redevelopment has at least come a long way. As has St James' for that matter.
Jones was part of the team who turned a crumbling St James' into a 36,610-seater stadium in 1995 before the hierarchy quickly realised the arena would not be big enough for their Entertainers given the demand for tickets. It fell to Jones to head up plans to build a new stadium at Castle Leazes, with the potential for 70,000 seats, only for the application to face stern opposition from conservationists, so redevelopment on the current site was revisited once more. Another tier was duly added to both the Sir John Hall and Milburn stands at a cost of £42m in 2000 to enable more than 52,000 supporters to attend games.
St James' capacity has not been touched since then, but there had been plans to increase the size of the stadium to accommodate at least 60,000 fans before Mike Ashley bought the club in 2007.
"We always had the idea of purchasing Strawberry Place, extending the stand and bridging the hotel over the road," Jones said. "That's what we were going to do there.
"The idea was that we could extend the stand back and build a hotel that would be like a hotel for younger players and some of the senior players where they would get looked after, and to also provide some entertainment facilities there at the same time. That was always the idea, to extend that way."
That idea did not come to fruition, but Jones' legacy lives on at St James' beyond the structure of the stadium today. Ever wonder who was responsible for away supporters being housed up in the gods at Level 7? That was Jones' doing. That insatiable demand for boxes? Jones and his colleagues had the foresight to predict it when others doubted them.
"We had people like Man United and all the other teams being insulting about things like that," he added. "They used to criticise us and say, 'There's no way you will sell those boxes.' We said, 'Yes we will' - and we did."
View the original article here