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A History Lesson For The Mike Ashley Apologists

8 years ago

Back in 2007 when Mr Michael Ashley swooped into Toon and made a staged takeover of Newcastle United by buying up the shares of the Halls and the Shepherds in quick succession, I think it is fair to say we were all overjoyed.

Here was a billionaire, a man with serious financial clout, taking ownership of a club that had lost its way in the previous 5 seasons since the departure of the late and great Sir Bobby. We had drifted from Souness to Roeder and onto Fat Sam without much real excitement, save the club record breaking transfer of Michael Owen (and we all know how well that went).

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Now we felt we could challenge, now we had an owner with the cash to really wake the sleeping giant and push us into the upper reaches of the league….or so we thought.

After the early promise when Ashley brought Kevin Keegan back to the club, it quickly emerged that all was perhaps not as we had hoped.

To ‘assist’ the manager, our first director of football arrived in the shape of detestable Chelsea legend Dennis Wise, not only was the cockney dwarf brought to the club to oversee transfers without the managers knowledge, but we also welcomed a whole host of the owner’s mates in an attempt to redress the alleged lack of due diligence not performed upon purchase. We were introduced to amiable lawyer Chris Mort, property developer Tony Jimenez and others who I cannot even remember, their presence added so little to proceedings.

Predictably this scenario did not end well, and after seeing a raft of potential signings not completed (one being Germany midfield maestro Bastian Schweinsteiger) and replaced with players of the calibre of Xisco and a dodgy South American who havd as much playing time for the Toon as I have had, Keegan walked,  feeling his professional pride had been seriously undermined.

What followed was much anger from fans, some sly words from our new chairman (former casino boss and Ashley pal) Derek Llambias, and a tribunal court case which clearly records the fact that the board “intentionally deceived supporters” as a matter of legal record.

It was incredibly embarrassing to be shown that the owner and administrators of our club had admitted to pulling the wool over our eyes, Keegan won his case and the PR spin was put on it that it was then his fault for taking £2m out of the club, rather than the owner’s fault for putting him in the position to have to take them to court. The logic was flawed at best, but some people bought it, the Ashley apologists were born at this very moment.

If we thought what had happened before was bad, then worse was to follow in the rotund shape of Wimbledon club legend JFK. Here was a man who had been away from management since an all too unsuccessful stint with Championship side Nottingham Forest, a mere 4 years previously, and had been signed off on ill health due to his dodgy ticker. Nevertheless in stepped JFK with an expletive ladened rant at journalists in a misguided attempt to instil a siege mentality amongst a squad, many of whom had long since given up caring about the fortunes of their employers.

Again disaster followed as Joe won a phenomenal 4 games in 18 which set the club firmly on the path to relegation, Joe was again signed off through ill health and questions were raised over why he was appointed in the first place, this was to become a trend with Joe.

In stepped one of our own club legends finally, Alan Shearer was charged with saving the club from relegation with 7 games to play, no previous experience and with a squad who had by now long since given up the ghost. Relegation was a formality and Shearer’s brief stint in charge served only to provide our odious chairman with another soundbite opportunity to peck at the reputation of a man who had done more for Newcastle United than he could ever dream of achieving. On the last day, the cup final winning reaction of the Villa supporters to our relegation served to show how low we had sunk in the collective estimation of the nation, a long fall from being hailed as “the entertainers” and “everyone’s second club”.

So 2009 saw our relegation to the Championship, the dead wood left as everyone knew they would, and real characters emerged in the dressing room for the first time in a long haul. Coloccini emerged as the player we always hoped he was, Jonas covered every blade of grass on every Championship pitch, Kevin Nolan finally looked like the goal scoring midfielder which had seen a clamour for him to represent his country only 12 months previously, and most importantly the Toon army finally had  what they had craved most on the pitch since the retirement of Alan Shearer, a big swashbuckling Geordie centre forward in the colossal form of (Big) Andy Carroll.  With these characters and the steady stewardship of Chris Hughton we smashed our way out of the Championship at the first attempt and against all the odds, Hughton deserved a medal at that moment for getting telling contributions out of even the rebel Joey Barton upon his return from injury.

And so we arrived back in the Premier League; unheralded, unfancied and seemingly unprepared for the top flight again. Much was made of Hughton’s brief from the owner and chairman being to keep Newcastle in the league at all costs, by almost mid-season it seemed that the manager was attending to his task diligently, we sat 14th in the league and on a comfortable amount of points and with some decent, solid performances (5-1 v the mackems, 6-0 v Villa, 1-0 away at Arsenal) under our belts, Big Andy was proving a handful for top flight defences, Hughton was even in the media talking about meeting the owner to discuss his own contract and new signings, so the obvious thing to do was sack him and replace him with another buddy.

Alan Pardew arrived less than a year after being unceremoniously sacked by Southampton, some (mainly Pardew) would say unfairly. His first game was a win over Liverpool, so far so good, his first public action as manager was to assure the fans that our Geordie hero Andy Carroll was not for sale at any price and would not be leaving the club in January. Andy Carroll joined Liverpool for £35m on the last day of January without any time to replace him.

This would set the tone for Pardew’s relationship with the media and the fans, basically if Alan says it’s going to happen we can be sure it won’t, if he says it’s out of the question then you know a contract signing is around the corner. To be fair to Pardew he does seem to have learnt his lesson somewhat as he now does not commit to anything other than what a fantastic job he’s doing, when asked.

After a lower mid-table finish the team was somewhat remodelled the following summer, out went Nolan and Barton, in came Cabaye and Ba. No doubting the quality improved and this was shown by a shock 5th place finish, in no small part down to the January signing of Demba Papiss Cisse and his blistering early goal record, “finally we have our number 9” Pardew crowed, and the fans rejoiced. It seemed as if all the suffering had been worth it, as if the owner did really have a plan and it was coming to fruition, as if we had been wrong all along and unable to see the bigger picture. Sadly this was not the case.

A season of Europe after a 5th place finish felt like a dream, with a little strengthening in defence, and a little more depth in attack we could have a real go at both the league and Europe whilst still using the young players with potential to supplement the fringe players in the early rounds of the cups. We brought in Vurnon Anita and no one else.

With the added demands of Europe, appalling luck with injuries, bizarre tactical decisions from the manager to change the previous season’s winning formula and the second January sale of our best player (Demba Ba) we escaped relegation on the penultimate weekend of the season. This despite a mid-season recruitment drive as the owner sought to protect his investment, and the £60m worth of Sky TV contract money, which brought us more Frenchmen than you could find in a Paris boulangerie.

And so we came to the summer and the return of the newly healthy but no less mental Joe Kinnear, who heralded his own arrival prior to official announcement (I honestly believed he was simply drunk when I heard the Talksport interview, alas it appears so was Ashley). The battle cry of “judge me on my signings” was made, and then Loic Remy arrived on loan as had been previously agreed before Joe drove north again.

There never was going to be any signings, Joe had been brought in as a pantomime villain to give the fans somewhere to focus their anger at the lack of signings and once again the owner gambled on a zero investment policy despite seeing £60m arrive in the coffers from TV contracts. For a while it seemed his gamble might pay off despite an awful opening which saw Cabaye stage a bit of a pitiful one man strike.

Good victories were earned against the much more fancied Chelsea, Tottenham and champions Manchester United, but then the familiar rot arrived again. The owner’s knack of pi**ing on supporters’ chips is legendary and when a poor run of form culminated in the sale of our best player in January without replacement (for the third time, you would think we had sussed this trick by now) and a humiliating defeat by them down the road, there was another swell of unrest from the Toon Army, but still the apologists came out.

In this piece I have not even given much mention to changing the name of St James’ Park, the Wonga debacle, splitting up the singing section out of pure spite, or the blatant profiteering of away ticketing for non-season ticket holders. I have not mentioned the stadium advertising revenues and I haven’t spoken about how we have a lower net spend  than every other premier league side and all but 2 championship sides. I have heard that we are on a sound financial footing time and time again, when in reality we owe Mike Ashley over £100m, which the club has seen enough profit to pay but has not, does anyone wonder why if it really is an interest free loan?

I have heard that we should be pleased that the club is in profit, but that profit does not benefit the club in any way and we have never seen an open topped bus parade for a balance sheet have we? It grates on me more than most things that football fans use supposed financial security of their club as justification to lend their support to a regime who clearly do not like the supporters and are blatantly using them as a cash cow.

What will it take for the apologists to wake up? How bad does it need to get? What level of humiliation is too far for these people? When will people see that by attending matches you are nothing but stadium decoration to publicly justify the owner’s contempt for you, your club, your city and the history of a once great institution? I make no bones when I say that the Ashley apologists must have ulterior motives, when I read them I assume that they are either Mackem trolls or employees of Sport Direct.

If you are one of these then this was not written for you, this was written for the fans who seem to be suffering from Stockholm syndrome by turning up and passing through Mike Ashley’s turnstiles every week. Stay away lads, stop justifying his asset stripping of the club with your presence. Just “turning up to support the lads” is not an excuse, supporting the team and supporting the regime are not mutually exclusive unfortunately. By attending, you justify the actions of a man who clearly hates you and believes you to be stupid, he is relying on your addiction to line his pocket.
It really is that simple.



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