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What Bulgaria tells me about Mike Ashley, Sports Direct and Newcastle United

6 years ago

However much Newcastle fans think they can affect the fortunes of Mike Ashley and Sports Direct, I fear ships have sailed, horses have bolted and trains have departed stations.

Hat Trick enterprises has an office in Sofia (where, incidentally, I saw one of the most entertaining games of football of my life when Ludogorets beat Steaua Bucharest in a Champions League qualifier).

The average Bulgarian earns around one third of the amount his British counterpart does from what I can tell. Prices for rent, restaurants, public transport etc reflect that, but clothing tends to be expensive by our standards, and there are no discount stores of any note.

Some of my colleagues get together every so often and spend a few hundred quid online with SD, kitting themselves out with enough clothing to last a year at a fraction of the price they would pay at home. It may not be high fashion, but they can get decent quality jeans, shirts, tees, underwear, shoes – the lot – delivered to their door within a week direct from the UK website, and save a fortune.

A couple of calls to friends overseas tells me it’s the same in places like Estonia and Lithuania. It seems to me that Sports Direct are becoming a major clothing retailer in many places where they don’t even have a shop.

Now Bulgarians love the Premier League as much as much as anyone; most lads – and a lot of females – follow an English team and every bar shows the games. While I remember, you will be pleased to know Sofia Mags beat their mackem counterparts (no, I have no idea either) 3-0 in a recent friendly. I can use the F word, as I was told by one participant that “no one got their gun out this time”…

Anyway, I don’t think many people in that part of the world would care much if SJP was half empty, and if it was, they would see it as a comment on team performance rather than our owner’s stewardship. It certainly would not make any difference to their relationship with Sports Direct.

Whether Newcastle fans want to hear this or not, Sports Direct are like RyanAir. Everyone knows who they are, what they do and what they stand for. They barely need to advertise any more, and bad publicity doesn’t seem to affect their sales.

Even people who don’t like how they operate – and i’d guess that is a majority in the UK – spend money with them. Their reach extends far beyond the British Isles, never mind Newcastle, into parts of the world where no one cares how Toon fans feel, and where employment practices are exponentially worse than at Sports Direct.

Any impact a boycott caused would, I feel, be limited in reach, and would be outstripped by growth in parts of the world where they don’t know or care who Mike Ashley is.

It’s a sad fact, and I take no pleasure in saying this, but for every Black and White who despises Mike Ashley, Sports Direct and everything they embody, and for every concerned individual who decries the way they treat their workers, there are thousands of people all over the globe who see them only as a provider of stuff they want at a price they like.

If Mike Ashley is a fire that Geordies want to put out, then all a boycott would do is spit on it.

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