The day I had lunch with Mike Ashley
My season ticket has been in the family for over 20 years, I was 11 when I first went to a match, back in 1992. I was hooked from that moment and have since been through the emotional mangle more times than I can remember, but nothing has been quite as troubling as this.
I met Mike Ashley shortly after he bought the club, when Chris Mort was Chairman in 2007. He seemed nice, very jovial, generous and humble, I had lunch with him and his family in the executive box (long story) before the Derby (as in Rams) match when Fat Sam was in charge, it was a 2-2 draw. We loved him back then, there was the promise of huge amounts to be spent and the future looked rosy, so what went wrong?
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Chris Mort leaving was a watershed, he was a good chairman, his heart was in the right place and although he lacked experience running a football club, he understood the importance of the fans.
Unfortunately, a darkness stirred in Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias replaced him, the first of many haphazard appointments and decisions. The relationship with us fans deteriorated and it was as if a flick had been switched; the KK debacle, Joe Kinnear, relegation, and Mike Ashley gave up.
I believe that he had bought the club on a bit of a whim, it was a bargain, he could have some fun, but then the debts emerged and he had to get a handle on the finances. Rightly, we the fan base didn’t fully appreciate this, and the previously santa-like character became, possibly in as much of a shock to him as us, a ruthless businessman. His ‘toy’ had become an unwieldy burden, and the happy Geordie fans turned on him as a result.
Mike Ashley is not, and never will be, a Geordie, he lives daahnsaahf and supports Tottenham, he flies in by helicopter with his security guy, then flies home again straight after the match, in other words, he has absolutely no connection with the city or the people.
He may have done, had circumstances been different, the blame for that lies both with him and with Freddy Shepherd (Just as a side point, I’m confident that FFS would have bankrupted the club within a couple of years, but that’s just a hunch, I have no evidence).
So MA had a decision to make, sell the club and take a hit, or try to recoup the money he had already spent. As a ruthless businessman, he opts for the latter. In order to do this he turns NUFC into a billboard for his cheap tat sports company, cultivates a method of earning money through player sales and continues to sell questionable sponsorship and merchandise, plus the tickets of course, while simultaneously reducing the wage bill. He also uses other methods to raise funds like hosting rock concerts, the Olympics, the Rugby World Cup etc.
Without having any access to (or understanding of) balance sheets I’d guess that he must be close to earning back his expenditure, but that he has also realised the speed with which he has managed to generate a huge sum of money.
Again, he is faced with a dilemma, when he has earned back what he laid out, does he sell the club to make another quick £100m or so, or does he hang onto it and turn it into ‘a nice little earner’?
To a ruthless businessman like him, the latter seems a no brainer. At no point in any of this does he consider the fans. We are customers, but we are unlike his clothing shop customers because he knows we will continually buy his product come rain or shine, the season in the Championship proved that.
At this point, we are faced with a dilemma.
Personally, I am in a quandary. I have 2 season tickets, they are in the best position possible in the stadium, but are bog standard, not Platinum Club or any fancy padded seats or owt, our family just got lucky back in the day. If I give them up, some other mug will buy them and I’ll never get them back. So, do I abandon my club (Ashley’s club I should say) and wave goodbye to a family heirloom with the best view possible, or, do I continue to hand over money I can’t afford to a bloated pound sponge?
It’s an obvious choice to many, and it should be to me, but I can’t help feel that one day, one day, this man will leave, and brighter days will return, and I’ll be able to fully enjoy football again, and the anticipation of an exciting match. When I sit down in my seat and watch the match I do enjoy it, even if we are sh**e, even if I am incandescently angry, because to be up you have to be down sometimes, but it’s about more than the 90 minutes.
In terms of the Spurs boycott, I am all for it.
I hope no tickets are sold and that the majority of season ticket holders stay away, but I don’t think it will have any effect. I know people who deal directly with Mike Ashley, and the word is that he makes the decisions, he won’t listen to reason and while there are many good people inside SJP doing all they can to keep the club great, they are swimming against a tide they cannot influence.
He will be aware of it (the boycott), so he will expect it, but he knows it won’t happen every week, so his profit margins aren’t going to be affected. If every season ticket holder gave up their ticket now, then yes, he would have to think, but that simply isn’t going to happen, it can’t, this is Newcastle.
It’s a desperately sad state of affairs, but the only time Mike Ashley will leave is when it is financially prudent to do so. If a big offer came in from anybody, anybody at all, that was enough to negate the earnings he would receive from the next 5-10 years then I am sure he would sell, the new TV deal won’t have helped with that.
Similarly, if the club were relegated and failed to win promotion, then the sale value would be affected and he would be tempted to jump ship before he lost everything. That might be news to some people’s ears, a destitute Mike Ashley with a £2/300m dent in his £6bn empire, but it’s not worth NUFC to me.
So, our ‘hope’ has to be that a magical billionaire who isn’t greedy (and is preferably Geordie) steps in to save the day, or we are relegated and spend 2 seasons in the Championship, or possibly the most fanciful, Mike Ashley starts to make money, enjoys his toy again, becomes ambitious enough to see the £££ of the Champions League and goes all out to earn the regular income of Europe’s prima competition.
On that last one, it’s unlikely he would ever do that for our sake, we’ve made it clear we hate him and I’m sure the feeling is mutual. Whatever happens, we have little or no chance of influencing Mike Ashley, and his policies are unlikely to change unless he chooses to change them (in order to earn more money), so I expect to see a new manager, not Carver, a number of signings in the summer, just enough to keep us in the Prem (assuming we don’t go down this season) and the same old brief optimism followed by anger and disappointment that has become something of a routine.
I will keep my season ticket, I will continue to support the 11 players on the pitch regardless of what’s going on at board level and I will continue to grit my teeth and bare it until the greedy cockney twonk has gone.
What I’ve written above is purely my opinion of the state of affairs, it doesn’t adequately communicate my absolute disgust at the treatment of loyal fans, the desperate humiliation we suffer on a daily basis or the anger I feel towards football in general, FIFA being the main culprits.
You may disagree, which you are entitled to do, and if you have jacked in your season ticket then good on you, you shouldn’t have to pay for something you don’t want.
We are in a mire over which we realistically have no control, but we are Newcastle United, not him, and we’ll be here long after he’s gone.
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