I am taking a sabbatical from Newcastle United.
If I could take a sabbatical from Mike Ashley, Lee Charnley, Wonga, and the perpetual debt, and aspiring to finish tenth, and the best club we can be, pound for pound, and all the rest of the hokum, but still remain entangled with a whole beloved idea that is the only part of my life that I can trace back fifty years and more, then of course I would. But I can’t.
The reason is that I am no longer prepared to take Newcastle United on the terms insisted upon by Mike Ashley. In other words, the only deal he has ever offered any of us is our unconditional support in return for our club wiping its own nose, and ticking over.
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I will not detain you with a familiar litany of dreadfulnesses we are continuing to live through. You are highly versed in them all.
I would simply draw your attention to what I am realising the single most objectionable feature of Mike Ashley’s tenure.
It is the way he leeches off everyone else. It is his modus operandi. And he leeches off us, the fans, his customers, more than anyone else.
When he invests in a business, he lends it money which gives him a tax break. And the business is lumbered with the loan for as long as he remains interested, so that everyone else’s interests are subordinate to his.
He’s not just done it at Newcastle, of course. He’s done it at Rangers, where it is a proxy shareholding – the SFA has not allowed him to take a larger shareholding, so he is achieving the same ends by means of a loan.
He advances the loan to keep the club going, and extracts merchandising, retailing, branding, and director-nominating rights in return. The deal never gives more than it takes. It is the behaviour of a leech. Incidentally, it was a long time before Victorian doctors realised the leech was the only living thing getting anything out of leeching.
Gradually the Rangers fans will realise that the money he’s lent is the thin end of a not terribly impressive wedge. In due course they will see the focus of the club shift from winning trophies to improved balance sheets. Rangers will become more remote, and Sports Direct will become more immediate. It will become more difficult to engage with the team other than through merchandising opportunities. Players will become transient, and will move up and down the M6 as the executives think fit. Like mannequins, now I think of it.
But the biggest leeching, the biggest exploitation of fans whose only interest, a winning side, is routinely ignored, is of our affection.
Like a conman who has wormed his way into the affections of a vulnerable and well provided-for widow, he exploits our human weakness with the remorselessness of a psychopath.
He eyes the bottom line with a gimlet eye, but only to see if the tipping point of his awfulness has been reached. He thinks he has a good way to go yet.
But disappointing transfer window after disastrous transfer window, get-used-to-it-no-managerial- appointment-at-all after unambitious and poorly supported (yet eight-year-contracted) managerial appointment, we’re not one of the big clubs but we shall try to be the best we can be on the cheap, tenth position being something we should be pleased with because we’re not going to win a cup … all this has been for a long time, for seven years actually, something I was swallowing.
I’m amazed, but I was swallowing it all, up to the other day.
And then I just realised. He’s pushing me out, just to see if I will push back. Just to see if I would go on swallowing it, just to see if, alternatively, I would push back.
But no, actually, Mike, I’m not pushing back any more. And I’m not swallowing it any more either. Pushing back and swallowing it all are just two sides of the same coin.
I’m stepping back, and stepping out. I can hardly believe it, but I’m going. I’m taking a sabbatical.
I don’t know if my heartfelt affection for Newcastle United will in the medium term be rekindled. The thing is, at the moment, I don’t really care. I don’t watch Newcastle at home, so the bottom line will not be affected. In the future I won’t even be watching them on the telly.
I’ve been restructured out of Newcastle United. They have downsized me out. Their efficiency savings have nudged me away. I’ve been subject to a review, and reapplied for my own zero hours contract on a minimum f***ing wage for the very last f***ing time.
They can f*** off. Forever.