03 December 2011

Saint James – what’s in a name?

Spelling it out … but is it St James or St James’?

Patrick Comerford

Arriving in Newcastle earlier this morning, I recalled how the Parish Church of Saint Nicholas became a cathedral when the Diocese of Newcastle came into being four years later, on Saint James’ Day, 25 July 1882. And I wondered whether this was how Saint James’ Park got its name?

St James’ Park has been the home ground of Newcastle United since 1892, when it opened. But the site has been used for football since 1880, and from 1886 to 1892 this was the home of Newcastle West End FC, until the unification of Newcastle East End and Newcastle West End as Newcastle United.

However, the club says these days that the ground is named after a neighbouring street, St James Street. In any case, I may only be indulging in idle speculation, for earlier last month [10 November 2011]. Newcastle United announced that the club is looking for a sponsor for possible future stadium re-branding.

In other words, they want to re-name the stadium. Until the naming rights are sold, they plan to call this the Sports Direct Arena, but this is merely a temporary measure to “showcase the sponsorship opportunity to interested parties.”

According to the club, the St James’ Park title has been dropped because, they say, it is not “commercially attractive.”

Toon fans are a little more than unhappy

But Newcastle fans are a little more than unhappy with the management’s plan to re-name St James’ Park, and have voiced their anger at owner Mike Ashley’s decision to re-brand the stadium. At recent matches, many have carried placards bearing messages such as: “Stand up for St James’.”

Their chants include: “Get out of our club,” “Newcastle United will never be defeated,” and “If you love St James’, clap your hands,” followed by: “If you hate Mike Ashley clap your hands.” At one match, a banner was unfurled, proclaiming: “St Robson, St Shearer, St James’ Park.” But it was quickly removed.

The club first announced plans to sell the naming rights back in 2009. But there were vocal protests about the possible loss of the name, and an early day motion was tabled in Parliament.

A week later, the club was forced to make it clear that the move would not involve the loss of the name St James’ Park altogether. They gave an example of “SportsDirect.com @ StJamesPark” as a potential stadium rights package. A day later, the club announced the stadium would be known as the “sportsdirect.com @ St James’ Park Stadium.” But this was only a temporary move until the end of the season, to showcase the idea behind the package, until a new sponsor was announced.

Although the official name of the stadium is currently the Sports Direct Arena, it is still known to Newcastle United fans as St. James’ Park, with “James’” featuring one “S” and an apostrophe mark, as seen on the signs on the St James’ Park steps outside the entrance to the stadium, and on the signs inside the nearby Metro Station.

The use of an apostrophe is in contrast with the name of the Metro station, which is signed as St James Metro station, and with the street signs nearby on both St James Street and St James Terrace.

The use of one “S” and an apostrophe mark differs from the common convention of adding a second “S” to monosyllabic possessives ending in “S.” A well-known example of this in England is St James’s Park in London.

The full stop after the “St” – giving us “St. James’ Park” – is both included and omitted in many places, including the club’s official website.

Match-day programmes printed until the late 1940s gave the name as “St. James’s Park.” The oldest memorabilia in the club museum refer to the ground as being pronounced without a second “S.” However, a match-day programme dating from 1896 and reprinted in a recent match-day programme gave the name of the stadium name as St. James’s Park.

There have been heated debates in recent years about whether the written name should include an apostrophe after the “St James”, and – if it so – whether the official written form should include an extra “S” after the apostrophe.

Even local people and local journalists cannot agree whether the name should be pronounced with a second “S”. Two local newspapers, the Evening Chronicle and the Journal, write the name with a second “S”, reinstating it partially in response to reader complaints after a period of publishing stories without it.

Although Newcastle United says the ground is named after neighbouring St James Street, which predates the ground, the street signs there and on adjacent St James Terrace do not have apostrophes.

The club insists the name is pronounced without a second “S,” but even older fans, in particular, pronounce it with two.

If the name denotes “the park of St James,” then the written form should feature an apostrophe, but the use of an additional “S” after it is optional – and both are correct.

Whatever the official name is – for the present anyway – the stadium is known by its initials SJP (St James’ Park), or the contraction, St James’. And, reflecting the early use of the site, it is also often known as Gallowgate, not to be confused with similarly unofficially named Gallowgate End, the name of the south stand.

As a light-hearted aspect of the rivalry between Newcastle and Sunderland, Sunderland supporters sometimes refer to the place as “Sid James’ Park,” in reference to Sid James, the Carry On comic actor.

But then, Sunderland fans have little to laugh about at the moment.

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