The two words that have come to define Newcastle United, are…Mike Ashley.
In years gone by when you went away on your summer holidays, fans of other clubs would be keen to talk about Kevin Keegan, Alan Shearer, Sir Bobby Robson.
In recent years that has all but disappeared.
Instead when chatting over a few drinks, Mike Ashley is all they want to talk about.
Many of them have sympathy for Newcastle fans being landed with an owner like him, though many more seem to see it as somehow our fault that Ashley is still at St James Park. Many of those even seeming to want to blame us for the way he abuses the desperation of thousands of workers. the people who are forced to take employment in his retail empire.
Supporting Newcastle United was becoming all but impossible to enjoy.
Enjoyment isn’t always about winning games, though it does help. Enjoyment is also gained from how a club is run and the way people behave when representing Newcastle United – in the likes of Pardew, Carver and McClaren that was also totally absent.
As well as giving us hope on the pitch, Rafa Benitez has also released us from these concrete boots marked ‘Mike Ashley’.
I’ll never forgive him nor forget that he is here – but Mike Ashley can be confined to just one compartment of my brain that is allocated to Newcastle United.
The rest of (vast majority) of the time I can walk around with a smile on my face and think about the potential of better times ahead.
We took an early holiday this year and when meeting supporters of other clubs, the talk was pretty much all about what Rafa Benitez might or might not do with the team/club. Many were surprised that he had agreed to stay on into the Championship but maybe more surprisingly, the vast majority thought that Rafa staying on was understandable, as they recognise the potential of Newcastle United.
Rather than Mike Ashley, it was great to talk about our Spanish Manager, though other fans were still bemused when I told them it was a very good idea if we could sell Wijnaldum and Sissoko, the players they knew most about and who they perceive as the superstars still remaining at St James Park.
Despite relegation, being able to have normal conversations about football was class.
This just reminded me that your football club doesn’t have to be defined simply by who owns and runs it.
If you have a credible Manager who can get the supporters onside and then start to rehabilitate the team both in terms of performance on the pitch – but just as importantly, in being able to actually like some of them again, then you have a chance.
If allowed to get on with it, the triangular relationship between Manager, Players and Fans can operate very successfully, no matter who the owner is – all they need is for him or her to stay well away.
I do fear that Mike Ashley won’t be able to resist, that even if Rafa Benitez is successful, the owner will still end up bringing everything falling down again because that is his nature. He wants to control and long-term having somebody as powerful as Rafa inside the club will conflict with his ego and aims.
However, that is for another day. For now I can focus on liking the manager, getting used to liking some of our players again, and maybe even being able to rub along with pretty much all other Newcastle supporters again – rather than the self-destructive arguments that have ruled recent times – the owner being the root cause of course…but we’re not mentioning him now.