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I think Mike Ashley is now going to spend serious money

6 years ago

Well, I could barely believe my eyes.

The sports announcer on the telly said we were going to hear from someone called Mike Ashley, and I watched the screen expecting to see an obscure toiler in a sport I had never heard of.

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But no. With a disbelieving stare, as if I had ventured into a sylvan glade and come across a mummy unicorn bathing her young in a purple stream, I found myself face to face with this unattractive fat man talking in a rude and lapel-gripping accent that would be hard to avoid in the Essex fringes of London.

It was indeed the exotic image of no more and no less than our glorious owner saying all the kinds of desperate things that a Borough Market stallholder would shout out to drum up trade.

Of course, that was exactly what he was doing. Drumming up trade.

If he had said ‘Two for the price of one, come and get your lovely season tickets,’ it would have been no surprise.

He will have noted in recent weeks the quiet yet unmistakable drift away from St James’ Park on matchdays, the slowing in season ticket renewals, and the commencement of the Ashley Out campaign (why the organisers ever bothered with the Pardew Out campaign I have no idea – the problem was always Ashley) and Ashley is clearly uncomfortable.

Ashley has now publicly declared – quite truthfully, no doubt – that he had no idea the club would be in this position, and it had all been a dreadful surprise. He made no admissions of errors, and claimed investment ‘would continue’.

He also said he was not going to sell the club ‘at any price’, and would not sell until we had won something, and finishing in the top four of the Premier League constitued winning something.

Of course it is obvious that there is nobody out there willing to pay the hundreds of millions that he will be looking for. And of course a failing Newcastle United is no good for a man who regards our club as a sandwich board for his core business. There are business reasons behind everything he says and does.

But you know what? Whatever his motivation, I think these were all big things for Mike Ashley to say. And I think we might be about to see an astonishing change of track by the retailing genius and footballing nincompoop.

He has admitted, on the occasion of our relegation, to grave mistakes in the past. But by keeping our relegated team together we came straight back up, and I think it is now clear he was confident this would happen. Lesson Number One about Mike Ashley – he admits freely to error when he doesn’t have to change his stripes.

Of course he didn’t change his stripes, and indeed we were promoted, and over a period of the following few years he very nearly killed our club.

This time, you will have observed, he made no admissions to mistakes. And when he said investment will continue, because the club is in a stronger financial position (although financial strength is not what he regards, after all, as the important thing, because now we have to build a team that can win trophies – those are things he really did say) this to my mind does represent a major change of direction.

‘Investment will continue.’ By that, I think, he means he is now going to spend some serious money, and not just spend the bare minimum, which has brought us to our knees. He has come out and on the record declared that what is important about football club ownership is not so much having a marvellous balance sheet but having a marvellous team. Which he is going to give us.

There was this time none of the weaselling we have had from Charnley in the past along the lines of being ‘as good as we could be pound for pound’, and an ambition to produce an affordable football spectacle.

Imagine Charnley, before Ashley’s appearance on Sky, coming out with a little speech like the one that Ashley himself made. He would have expected to be sacked.

If Charnley (pictured with Ashley) stays, and I suspect he will, he will in future not be able to talk offensive drivel that suggests we are hoping to finish in tenth position. That is all history. It is the junk of the past.

The new mission statement is that we are aiming for the top.

There’s no rowing back from that.

Of course there is always the tacit suggestion from Ashley that the cups don’t really count. That’s what I detected, at any rate. He made no reference to the FA Cup – a specific example he did give of winning something was qualifying for the Champions’ League. That is not winning something, however much he defines it as winning something for his own purposes.

Qualifying for the Champions’ League means not flirting with relegation, and it also means getting loads of moolah.

But finishing in the top four would mean we had to be better than teams like Arsenal and Liverpool and Spurs. That will require huge investment and a top manager.

To my mind that is enough to be going on with.

Ashley will ultimately get his way, and we will eventually finish in the top four, and he will then sell our club for a huge pot of money. Which would be fine.

Seriously, does anyone think another owner would give us more? I think Ashley is fed up with obvious and unarguable failure. His core brand is not being helped. We are now going to see the arrival of a Five Year Plan Mark II. At least, that’s what I think.

Mind you, if Ashley lets me down, because these are major changes of attitude on my part too, I will be very very cross. Very cross indeed. This will not be a worry to him, but he might find a lot of other people are furious too, and his present problems will return.

We shall know soon enough. Let’s have a look at the new manager, and then let’s have a look at our new players. Kevin Keegan thinks Ashley sounded like a man who has lined up a new manager, and to be talking about winning things suggests he thinks we are going to be impressed with new personnel.

So let’s see how impressed we all actually are with the new hired hands. Because I suspect we won’t be seeing any more of our glorious owner for a long, long while.


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