There are many things Mike Ashley has done to incur the wrath of Newcastle fans. Every one of the 52,000 supporters that continue to turn up and back the team will give you a different confluence of events that confirmed to them that the man is a doylem of the lowest order. I was dismayed by John Anderson’s thoughts on why we don't like him though, on the BBC radio Newcastle football phone in he said he understood the frustration of fans and why Ashley is not popular...because he doesn't go to games.
I sat listening, waiting for more, but nothing came. That was it.
Anderson and the BBC radio Newcastle team claim impartiality when it comes to Mike Ashley and Alan Pardew, but the disconnect between the presenters and the feelings of fans is remarkable given how much time they spend talking to us. There is either an agenda or rank ignorance at play when that is the best you can come up with.
I am certain that there are some fans that would get a rosy glow from a local chairman who is also a fan and who goes to every game. But it's 2014. You'll struggle to find a Premier League owner that goes to most games. The billionaires that have bought their way into the game more often than not have no connection whatsoever to the club they buy, and as long as they run the business side of things effectively, most fans couldn't care less whether they bless the stadium with their presence or not. It might be sad that the game has come to this, but it’s the case across the league, not just at NE1.
Many more significant reasons spring to mind, some of which would only slightly bother many fans in isolation, decisions that do not have any impact whatsoever on the field. He failed to do any due diligence, but that never stopped him spending significant sums in his first year or two. The Wonga sponsorship is tacky and affected Cisse, but he never missed a game off the back of it. Having his shop’s logo plastered on the roof of the Gallowgate end makes it look cheap and nasty like one of his stores, but it doesn't cause us to lose three derbies in a row conceding 8 and scoring only one in return. Stripping the club of the historical St James’ Park name was a grotesque, fan-baiting, disgrace of a move that generated no funds for the club whatsoever, but it would always be SJP to us, was always going to be reinstated sooner or later and it didn’t lose us six games in a row.
There are more significant footballing reasons to despise what Mike Ashley has done to Newcastle United. Here are my top ten.
1. Ashley Sacked Keegan
The first and biggest of all Ashley's footballing mistakes in my opinion. In Keegan We Trust. A man who loves the club. A man who rejuvenated it completely and without whom we would not have the glorious stadium we have, the huge crowds we still attract or any of the title and cup challenges or the European adventures we have enjoyed over the past 20 years. Today's Newcastle United was built on the work, the enthusiasm and the vision of Kevin Keegan. John Hall and co did the financial legwork (at massive personal profit leaving a legacy of significant debt for the club), but it was Keegan who forced them into pushing for the very best of everything in order to challenge at the top, not just doing enough to be there or thereabouts and plod along on the Premier League gravy train.
Until Keegan walked away from Ashley’s Newcastle we had hope that he had joined up with the billionaire owner that could fund the next level of his vision. A man less blinkered than the PLC which saw an end to Keegan’s previous plans. Someone with the wealth and enthusiasm to match Keegan for making us a contender at the top again.
The mood switched the moment Keegan gave us an idea of Ashley’s true nature. Newcastle fans did not need to wait for the outcome of the tribunal that followed to know it was Ashley that was selling the club short and Keegan who had been sold a pup. The protests at the Hull game after Keegan’s departure showed there were a great number of fans who were already finished with Ashley for forcing out Keegan alone. Everything that followed has only supported Keegan’s decision to walk, a decision vindicated by the result of his constructive dismissal case.
2. Ashley Hired Kinnear
Joe Kinnear was finished as far as the football world was concerned. He was on the same scrap heap as Ron Atkinson, Brian Little and Malcolm Crosby. Even at the peak of his management career he had championed a brand of ugly but effective football that was widely derided. A footballing dinosaur. A step backwards in style from Sam Allardyce who few had been sorry to see the back of only a year previous. His appointment was about as welcome as a Mackem son in law. The paltry 4 wins from 18 games that followed were mercifully cut short by ill-health.
3. Ashley Relegated Us
Newcastle united did not have one of the three worst squads in the Premier league at the start of 08/09. Nor at the end, despite the slash and burn policy of selling as many players as possible to recoup cash. Add to that policy, the upheaval of implementing unpopular director of football Dennis Wise, bizarre and expensive signings of incapable unknown quantity players as favours to agents, a revolving door of managers popular or not, a petty and pathetic publicity show of the club being for sale, accusations of threats of physical violence by fans with no supporting evidence, a refusal to sell to Man City’s eventual owners who made an offer, basically a complete lack of leadership at any level of the club. We were only going one way this season when Ashley was completely lost from start to finish.
4. Ashley Hired Pardew
Having restored Premier League status things were quiet. There was a tentative truce whereby Ashley had retreated from the spotlight, left Hughton alone to do his work, even Derek Llambias was saying and doing very little other than providing the odd cheap journeyman signing to bolster our numbers. It couldn’t last. If replacing Hughton was purely a football decision it would have been very strange. Both men had an almost identical Premier League track record in terms of win percentage. Pardew though, had a history of embarrassing departures from previous clubs, and fans who hated what he had done to their teams.
Clearly it wasn’t about results. It was solely an appointment for long term stability from a chairman who planned many more unpopular decisions and needed a man in the dugout that would not question anything that went on above his head. Someone who wouldn’t disrupt the club as had happened in the relegation season.
It was the plan of a man with the lowest of expectations, and the fans knew that from the moment Pardew was announced.
5. Ashley Made Us A Selling Club Again
Despite Sky’s attempts to convince the public that football began in 1992, there are fans who remember the 80’s. England have had some great players come through the ranks at Newcastle in Gascoigne, Beardsley and Waddle. All were sold and the funds generated spread too thin to generate further success. Those supporters know there is little benefit to a paying fan in selling your best players. We thought those days were over. Signing Shearer was supposed to be a watershed moment. Newcastle were a club that would break world records to attract the best players.
It’s particularly demoralising to see your team win nothing for 20 years, then watch them build and build up to the verge of glory. To then be 30 years trophyless, but to think you might yet see a Newcastle captain lift a trophy worth the name, because everything has been put in place for that to happen. To then fall short and rather than capitalise on the growth and keep pushing for success, to give up all the ground you’ve made up and still be sitting, over 40 years later, trophyless, and back where you were 20 years earlier is a level of regression that fans of other clubs and 606 pundits cannot comprehend. “But you’re 9th” is the retort of an ill-informed observer unaware of the club's history, the woes and the strides of a Newcastle fan over many decades.
Milner, Given, Carroll, Enrique, Ba, Cabaye. You can justify the sales of any of them. It’s the same justification we had for selling those England greats already mentioned. It remains today just as antithetic to success as it was then and every one is another nail in the coffin of the dreams of Newcastle supporters.
6. Ashley’s Financial Mismanagement
Above I reference the legacy of debt the previous owners left. No doubt that was a huge problem and they deserved the ample criticism they received for building the debt. What’s amazing is how much credit Ashley gets for his alleged tight ship, when the situation has been made so much worse.
Debt has grown from £70m to £129m. Commercial and Match day revenues have fallen £20m, nullifying the benefit we should have seen from increased TV revenues every other club has enjoyed. Wages as a percentage of turnover also remain higher than they were prior to Ashley and relegation would hit us MUCH harder than it ever would have previously given these worsening figures and our increased reliance on TV money.
7. Ashley Takes Money From The Club
Whether from free advertising or in repaying himself the money he lost by getting us relegated Ashley is currently a drain on Newcastle resources rather than a contributor. He has not put a penny into the club for 4 years now. Neither has his shop. He has withdrawn £11m from the coffers in that time.
The reason he says he should to do this is that he doesn’t charge himself interest on the debt he has accrued since arriving. I’m yet to come across this set up at any other club though. Man City’s owners pay over the odds for their company to advertise at the club in a bid to get around Financial Fair play rules and to push for success.
8. Ashley Hired Kinnear
No, this isn’t a copy and paste error. I realise this was number 2. But he only went and did it again. A complete joke of a decision and a joke of a man. Kinnear announced his own appointment as Director of Football, calling Talksport after a few vino’s to embarrass himself and the club with a famously error strewn bout of braggadocio that would have been hilarious if only it had happened at any other club.
His responsibility was to sign players. After eight months and no signings he waddled off into the sunset. No doubt he’ll return in some capacity in future, bragging about the excellent job he done securing “Lemmy” and “The Gong”.
9. He Won't Sack Pardew
Pardew was never popular. But he has been given a chance. Newcastle fans have shown full support for 4 years. But they are right to demand his replacement now.
Don’t be fooled by the 5th place finish he managed in 11/12 on the back of being handed two of the league’s most prolific strikers, one of which he still has. His record year on year has been woeful.
Every single season has included a slump comparable to the current one…
10/11 - 14 games 2 wins (14%)
11/12 - 17 games 5 wins (29%)
12/13 - 14 games 2 wins (14%)
13/14 - 17 games 4 wins (23%)
He has lost 40% of games at Newcastle. No other manager in the entire English league has survived as long as Pardew losing that many.
Chris Hughton managed Newcastle for one derby and we scored as many goals in that game as Pardew’s team has scored in seven games against Sunderland.
Pardew’s Newcastle are yet to outscore Tottenham, Man U, Everton or Sunderland at St James’ Park in 2014. Failure to score against Cardiff will mean we would go at least 8 months into the year with that ignominy.
Newcastle have failed to score in over 70% of games after Boxing Day 2013. The next worst record is Wycombe Wanderers on 55%.
The stats go on and on, we’ve all seen them.
The football is even worse to watch though.
10. Ashley Turned Us Off Our Club
Given the catalogue of bad management outlined it is remarkable that Newcastle United attendances remain over 50,000 a game. In part, Ashley has encouraged this by dropping prices every time he messes up. The family enclosure gets bigger year on year so what were £500 season tickets are sold for £100 just to get smiley faces sat behind his shop’s hoardings.
Traditional fans are abandoning the club in droves which is evidenced by the roar of St James’ having been quietened to polite applause when the teams run out. Match goers are more and more day trippers without a bond to the club, customers who buy their tickets from a Groupon deal, or a corporate offer of half price tickets through work.
Those that have watched the club they love grow into something approaching a powerhouse and then fall back to where they started don’t have the heart to keep watching as we slip further into a coma.
A walkout is planned for the Cardiff game, halfway through the second half some fans will leave. Exactly how many remains to be seen. The aim of the walkout beyond expressing dissatisfaction cannot be enunciated. The will of disaffected fans to do something grew organically on social media with no formal organisation, no board of elected leaders to express overall opinion of what’s wrong and what they plan to do about it.
It’s just a load of pissed off fans telling the world they’re pissed off, having shown their support to the team will never die first.
If you’re pissed off too, join in.