A MAN charged with criminal damage after daubing graffiti at Newcastle United’s ground hours after the St James’ Park signs were removed says he was “speaking on behalf of fans”.

Michael Atkinson, 29, said he was so irate at Mike Ashley’s decision that he walked 45 minutes from his home to the ground after midnight and proceeded to paint his own DIY sign.

Fans were outraged after workers were ordered use a crowbar to remove the letters of the iconic name from the stadium on Thursday.

Hoardings bearing the Sports Direct Arena name were put up in their place, but at one point the workers temporarily downed tools after being subjected to a barrage of abuse by passing drivers and fans.

Yesterday, the club’s official online shop was advertising for £8 replica street signs with the words “St James’ Park NE1”, above Newcastle United Football Club and alongside the club’s crest.

Mr Atkinson managed to daub St James’ on the walls in white paint at the ground’s entrance before he was spotted by police. Early yesterday a club official was cleaning the graffiti off the walls with a powerful hose.

Unemployed Mr Atkinson, of Newbiggin Hall, Newcastle, said: “I got so angry at Mike Ashley. I couldn’t believe they had waited so long to do this after selling the naming rights last year.

“I couldn’t believe that they were doing it in broad daylight. It’s such an iconic name, and Ashley is just out to promote his own business.

“People on Facebook were saying someone should go and put a new sign on the stadium once it had been taken down and I thought why not.

“I’d had eight cans of Fosters, so I decided I was going to make a stand and speak for all N e w c a s t l e fans.”

He added: “I started to paint the letters on but after only two minutes, I was spotted by a police riot van and they asked me what I was doing.

“A security guard from Newcastle United then came out and I just held my hands up straight away.”

A force spokesman said: “At 1.57am a man was arrested on suspicion of causing criminal damage after a wall was spray painted at the Newcastle United ground. Michael Atkinson, 29, was charged with criminal damage and will appear before Newcastle magistrates on March 7.”