It was an unlikely set of events that led to the moment when Mike Ashley knew for sure that Newcastle United were the right club to suit his plans.
Sir John Hall had already made public why Mike Ashley had bought the club, having personally banked £90m from his involvement with the club, Hall said that Ashley had made clear to him that his central reason for buying Newcastle United was to use the club to promote Sports Direct and the rest of his brands, especially overseas development and expansion.
With the Premier League having become the ‘World’ league, the TV deals agreed all around the globe, meant pretty much every country in the world had English football beamed into their TV sets, giving them all the opportunity to watch Premier League football and the advertising around the pitch/stadium.
When Newcastle fans heard what Hall had to say about Ashley’s intentions, we all pretty much thought the same thing – surely it is a win/win situation for new club owner and the supporters because surely the more successful the team is on the pitch, then the more successful the advertising will be around the ground.
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The fact no money was going into the club from the advertising for Sports Direct and all Ashley’s other brands was surely irrelevant, as it was a no-brainer that the new owner would make sure there was proper investment in the squad to make sure it was as high in the league as possible and try and compete in other competitions such as the FA and League Cup.
If only we’d known then what we know now…
If you remember, Mike Ashley did back his manager with money initially, unfortunately it was the already incumbent Sam Allardyce who he backed. A fair amount was spent on buying Smith, Enrique, Barton and others as well as over the top wages, while the massive contracts handed to the free agents Viduka and Geremi were eye-wateringly obscene.
Big money was also spent the next summer despite fat Sam badly burning Ashley’s fingers, Kevin Keegan may have had no say in who came in but over £20m alone was spent on Coloccini, Jonas and Xisco, though to help ensure Keegan would leave after he’d made his feelings known, Ashley then vindictively sold James Milner for £12m after KK had said how important the player was to Newcastle.
The rest as they say is history and the Mike Ashley inspired chaos ended up with everything falling apart and relegation followed.
At that point I do think Mike Ashley thought he’d made a massive mistake in buying Newcastle and was actively looking to sell the club, though in reality the mistakes were all about who he was placing his trust in; people such as Vetere, Wise, Jiminez and others, rather than those who knew what they were doing such as Kevin Keegan.
Then a marvellous thing happened, especially for Mike Ashley.
Chris Hughton was given the job just because he was cheap and available, with he and his players strolling back to the Premier League despite wholesale selling of the players who could be shifted.
This (promotion) was great news for the fans and Mike Ashley, but it wasn’t the real moment of enlightenment that proved to Ashley what an inspired move he’d made when he bought Newcastle.
Instead it was what happened off the pitch, or more to the point, on the terraces.
After doing everything he could to upset and drive away the fans; relegation, undermining legends Alan Shearer and Kevin Keegan, appointing Dennis Wise and Joe Kinnear, constant conflict with the fans….
To Mike Ashley’s amazement, the fans didn’t revolt and stay away, instead they continued to queue up and give him money and give the perfect backdrop to his overwhelming advertising around the stadium.
That Championship season saw Newcastle post an average home attendance of 43,384. Only Manchester United and Arsenal had more people turn up to watch them. Manchester City just beat Newcastle’s average with 45,513 but with four extra home matches in the second tier, United’s total number of fans over the season was higher.
Big Mike couldn’t believe it, he couldn’t have done more to turn the fans away if he’d tried, yet still they refused to stop going to the match.
The reach of Championship TV was limited but now the Newcastle United owner knew he had his golden goose, so long as the club stayed in the Premier League he couldn’t fail.
Nearly five years later we all are a lot more clued up. If Mike Ashley had bought Aston Villa he wouldn’t still own that club, they would be getting crowds of twenty thousand in a half filled ground and the pictures beamed out to the worldwide audience would make his advertising look as shabby as the inside of his Sports Direct stores. Banks of empty seats relaying the message that SD and his other brands were rubbish by association.
No fan should be saying to somebody else that they are stupid for going to watch their team, it isn’t any of our faults that we were landed with this cynical manipulator as an owner.
You can decide to stay away from matches yourself and not give Ashley your money and more importantly your body (as a supporting figure to his advertising) as a protest but how can you demand others do it, when for all we know we might never get rid of Mike Ashley, though I do think he could well be preparing to leave once he gets the price offered which could see his investment potentially double in value on what he has spent in total. Not even counting everything he has gained in the meantime, such as the free advertising for his empire.
Personally, I’m not going to give him my money or my body at St. James’ Park, I won’t return until he leaves.
We now know exactly why survival in the Premier League is his only aim, spending money to compete just looks like stupidity to him. If he spent money helping Newcastle into the top six or seven every season which would be almost guaranteed (in my opinion) with sensible investment, Ashley would only see it as a trap whereby he would have to keep spending money to maintain that position. Rather than what he has done and will continue to do until he leaves, just provide enough money to stay up, sell off any signings that really prove successful, then bank that surplus and the extra TV riches. While the worldwide advertising continue to support his ever growing empire.
If you accept what I have outlined above then it becomes very obvious as well, why Mike Ashley sees the Cups as something to get out of as quickly as possible.
It isn’t the fact that the actual matches don’t generate that much cash by getting to the later stages, it is the oh so obvious fact that the FA Cup gives you only a fraction of the worldwide exposure/advertising that he gets week in week out in the Premier League.
I dream of the day that we are released from these Mike Ashley shackles. Newcastle United can be great again and with a certain level of ambition it would be almost guaranteed.
We are indeed our own worst enemies, we love the club far too much and meeting up with our friends and families to have a laugh and worship at St. James’ Park.
Sadly, we had a very very sly predator who saw way beyond what others could and he had a business plan where Newcastle United were truly the only club that fitted his evil designs.
We were swallowed whole and like Jonas inside the whale, it has taken many of us far longer than it should have to realise exactly what has happened.
Hopefully when our multi-billionaire burps us out, we will still be in a fit state to enjoy what happens after he leaves the club and fans to our own devices.