A mate of mine invited me to a barbecue. He lives in Windsor (I used to work down there), so senora Hat Trick and I went down for the weekend.
I knew a few people at the party but got chatting to some I didn’t.
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Now when a bloke from anywhere in the UK hears another bloke with a Geordie accent, there is a 90% chance he’ll say something (usually sympathetic these days) about the state of the football team.
I think the assumption is that anyone that sounds vaguely like I do is a supporter, and will be happy to fulminate on the subject.
One bloke – another Dave – had been at school with Mike Ashley up to the age of about 11 from what I recall. He told me three stories about our owner, two are 100% believable and actually connect directly to the way he is now, and the third you won’t believe. I’m not sure I do.
If you are a journalist who has been banished from SJP by our owner and wondered if it was you that brought out his petulance, relax. He was that way decades ago.
When he was a boy, MA had one of those cricket sets with the stump contraption that went over when hit, then sprung back up. If you wanted him to bring bat, ball, and stumps to a game in the park, the rules of the game were this: once you were out, via whatever means, you were out, and it was someone else’s turn to bat.
If though you were Mike Ashley, you were allowed to return to face the bowling again, and had to be out a second time before someone else could have a go.
It wasn’t in your interests to do this, however, because if his wicket was taken a second time, he’d gather up his cricket sets and storm off home. His game, his rules, and if he didn’t like the rules, he changed them.
Those of us that wonder if his success at Sports Direct was down to luck, I’m afraid he had a business head on his shoulders from the word go.
Dave’s mother worked. The weekday routine in the household required her son to be in his uniform and out of the door by a time that meant she could finish he coffee, make the beds, get in the car and go to her job without having to break any speed limits.
One day, she was heading off to work when she saw the presumably ungainly sight of Mike Ashley lumbering past in an apparent panic – shirt hanging out of pants, school bag trailing behind him, tie clasped in sweaty paw.
She pulled to a halt, wound down the window and told our future owner to jump in so he wasn’t late for school.
This happened a few times more, and then became more and more frequent, to the point that it was a rare day that saw MA make his own way to school. Dave would often see his mother driving past with his schoolmate strapped into the back seat while he trudged through all sorts of weathers to get to class.
Apparently, MA was always polite, charming and grateful, and Dave’s mum didn’t mind the inconvenience at all. It was only at the point when one of their mutual friends blurted Mike Ashley’s side of the story that the penny dropped.
The future owner of NUFC was watching and waiting for Dave to go to school. He knew that Dave’s mother would be leaving a few minutes later, and when she started up the car he’d begin his panic-stricken dash to beat the bell.
He learned to time his run better and better, so that she’d pass him at a time when he had covered just enough ground to make his panic look real, but not so much that he’d knackered himself.
It took ages before his de facto chauffeuse told him to bloody well walk. She’d spent several months and a few gallons of 4 star providing free transport to a 9 year old. If anyone thinks Mike Ashley is out for himself, then don’t think it’s our fault. He’s been at it for 40 years.
Now for the story you won’t believe. This Dave and I were agreeing that MA appeared to have no regard for the fan base at NUFC, and no ambition beyond mediocrity for the club.
I remarked that it didn’t help to know he was a Tottenham fan. To which Dave responded “Oh no – he supports Newcastle”. I can’t remember if I dropped my beer or my burger first, but the look on my face…
He was interested to find out why I thought he was a Spurs fan.
I said that most of Tyneside were under the impression he was best pals with Daniel Levy and that he followed his team. Dave said MA wore a Toon shirt when he was a kid and was known as a Newcastle fan by his then schoolmates. He certainly didn’t show any allegiance towards Tottenham when he was young.
Dave hadn’t seen MA in ages, so accepted that he might have drifted away in the intervening years. But there is a real possibility that Mike Ashley is messing up a club that he used to care about. That makes it worse. If he didn’t like us, at least his behaviour would make some weird kind of sense.
The thing is, I believed this guy. He was educated, quietly spoken, and didn’t exhibit the usual marks of a liar – low self esteem, a need to make himself look impressive and so on.
He didn’t push hard to convince me that Ashley is a fan of the black & whites rather than the lilywhites. He just told me that as far as he was concerned that was the case.
The other stories were too well constructed and random to make me think they were made up, so I have no reason to believe he’d make up the last one. I pass it on out of interest only…