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‘Safe’ Mike Ashley and the Culture of Fear at Newcastle United

5 years ago

Mike Ashley might finally leave Newcastle United. That’s what everybody wanted to happen, right?

Well, based on public reaction to a potential Chinese takeover, it would appear that some fans have lost their minds and don’t actually want Mike Ashley to exit NUFC.

One of the reasons given for this is that we can’t trust the Chinese. Or we can’t trust foreigners. Look at Blackburn, Leeds, Charlton, Leyton Orient etc.

I mean, have you ever heard such garbage before? In football there are good owners and bad owners, it doesn’t matter what nationality they are.

Newcastle United have a bad owner. A very bad owner. In case some fans have forgotten about Mike ‘Safe’ Ashley, let us go on a magical history tour.

A well-respected professor of mine once described Mike Ashley as running a ‘culture of fear’ within the British labour market, he also told me that “corruption and fear are terms that obscure much and explain little” so let’s try and explain a little, shall we?

First stop, Kevin Keegan.

The first of two club legends that Mike Ashley would disrespect and treat like trash throughout his reign. KK did so much for NUFC, he dragged us out of the gutter not once, but twice, and turned us into something we could only dream of today.

Everything good that you see at NUFC today: stadium, the 50,000 fans, the PL football, the reputation, it is all because of Kevin Keegan. And do you know what Mike Ashley did? He lied to Keegan and chose Dennis Wise over him.

Ah yes, Dennis Wise and Tony Jimenez. It seems so long ago doesn’t it? Did we forget that Mike Ashley let Dennis Wise run this magnificent football club, and let a former crowd steward at Chelsea be in control of transfers? (scroll down, this only the beginning)

Then later came Joe Kinnear, John Carver, and Steve McClaren. Incompetent men, one after another, appointed by Mike Ashley to manage us into the ground. Now we all make mistakes, John Carver was a good coach under Gullit & Robson, McClaren used to be England manager… but Joe Kinnear, so toxic Mike Ashley appointed him twice!

Some might say that he didn’t appoint these guys. However, if he appointed the person who appointed them (Llambias, Charnley), then that makes him even more responsible.

Next we arrive at Alan Shearer. With one relegation already confirmed, Shearer was the second club legend that Mike Ashley managed to disrespect and lie to. After verbally agreeing with Shearer that he would be manager after relegation, Ashley then went on holiday and never spoke to Shearer again. He would also go on to even remove Shearer’s name from the bar at St James Park.

It is important to note that throughout his entire reign at the club, there has never been any communication between club and fans…unless you refer to the fans forum in which the club hand picks certain fans who can only ask certain questions.

Oh and how many of these forums has the owner been to? I don’t need to tell you. The media team under Mike Ashley has been a joke (although I know some people like it) and the day to day running of the box office is still a joke.

When we finally did get some communication out of him on the final day of the season 2014/15 season, it turned out to be a pack of lies, Newcastle were relegated for the second time exactly one year later.

For me, this should be enough, but why stop there? Mike Ashley would go on to rename our football stadium the The Sports Direct Arena. Renaming the famous St James Park, as the Sports Direct Arena (I still struggle to believe this happened). He ripped down the St James Park sign from the stadium. Just let that sink in. Not for the first time, Mike Ashley had made Newcastle United into a public laughing stock, an embarrassment, a pitiful excuse for a football club.

Maybe he just doesn’t know much about football? So aside from Newcastle United, lets not forget just who Mike Ashley really is. I do find it a little ironic sometimes that fellow Toon fans can be so horrible to conservative voters on social media, calling them every name under the sun. However, because Mike Ashley has spent some money on their football club, he’s alright, he’s safe and we should let it his malpractices outside of football slide away.

I am not going to do that; Mike Ashley owns a company that has paid warehouse workers less than the minimum wage; relied on zero-hours contracts to pay the majority of factory staff; disciplined workers for taking sick days to the extent that one of them was forced to give birth in a toilet; fine workers 15 minutes’ pay for every minute they were late on shift. I mean, Christ, if you think the Chinese could be bad, take a look at your own British owner!

The transfer policy at Newcastle United has been disastrous and that has come right from the top. Don’t forget that these stories of a takeover are not new and it would not surprise me if they were fabricated by Ashley and his gang for whatever purpose.

I haven’t mentioned the sacking of Chris Hughton and appointment of Alan Pardew, his 8-year contract (and Graham Carr’s). Ashley was then such a safe owner that he couldn’t even sack Alan Pardew, even after repeated dismal sequences of result, head-butting an opposition player and calling a fellow manager the C word.

I am starting to run out of things now aren’t I? Nope, do you remember when the club discriminated against Jonas Gutierrez because he had cancer? That happened. I wouldn’t quite call Jonas a legend but Ashley’s managing of this situation somehow manages to trump that of what he did with Keegan and Shearer. What sort of ‘safe’ owner is taken to court/tribunal by two of the club’s icons?

So that’s two relegations, one top nine finish, no trophies, a terribly run football club, legends dismissed, a player with cancer dismissed, and one win over Sunderland in 7 years… so it’s not even as if the football is any good! The most positive thing on the pitch is that we won the Championship last season, I mean what is ‘safe’ about that?

So I could be wrong, this past 10 years could be a one off (or a ten off) its just such a shame we don’t have another club that Mike Ashley has been a part of to compare this to?

Luckily for us, we have Glasgow Rangers. Now I’m a Celtic man, I hate Rangers… but I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy what has happened to that club. Ask their fans what they think of Mike Ashley, do they think he’s a safe option, do they think his investment has made the club better?

Finally, apparently things are better with Mike Ashley since Rafa Benitez arrived –  so let’s look and see what he has been up to.

His development on land behind the Gallowgate will make sure that SJP never goes beyond its 52,000 capacity, and thus NUFC will never fully reach its potential, no matter how great Rafa Benitez is.

Oh and lets also not forget that only a month ago, Newcastle United Football Club was raided by HMRC and the MD taken away for questioning. How is this the safe/acceptable option?

Is this what it has come to? Not wanting rid of Mike Ashley in case we get someone worse? How could we possibly get something worse than Mike Ashley?

Luke Edwards wrote in a Telegraph column in 2015: “but the most depressing has been to turn a football club that almost every fan in the country had a soft spot for, into one that most neutrals would like to be relegated.”

One of the things I specialise in, is labour relations in India, and during a conversation with a renowned professor in the subject, he noticed my ‘Rafa’ badge pinned to my jacket… to which he said “ahhh Mike Ashley – now there is a factory owner who knows what he is doing.”

He explained (and I am paraphrasing) “Mike Ashley has the magnificent ability of creating a culture of fear at Sports Direct without ever doing anything that can be deemed illegal. Through manipulation techniques of threatening workers with extreme poverty if they stay at home to look after their children, or call in sick for work, instead of contributing to making cheap products for the most vulnerable in society. That’s how Mike Ashley works. And if doing that means Sports Direct makes more money, then why wouldn’t he??”

That’s what he has done at Newcastle United, Mike Ashley has created a “culture of fear” in which fans are scared of what is to come after Mike Ashley because they might lose Rafa Benitez.

As long as I walk through the turnstiles of St James Park and walk out onto the concourse to my seat, then see those Sports Direct signs either side of ‘Newcastle United’, Mike Ashley will never, ever, be the safe option.

If you say that you want to Mike Ashley to stay because he is ‘safe’. Then what you are really saying is that you don’t care about Kevin Keegan, you don’t care about Alan Shearer, you don’t care about Jonas Gutierrez, about getting relegated, about zero-hour contracts, about staff and working conditions, about being lied to, and worst of all, you don’t care about the other NUFC fans in the past 10 years who have lost their love of their club because of Mike Ashley.

I’m afraid that if you think Mike Ashley is the safe option, then you are about as fickle as they come.

(I almost forgot about Wonga! Wonga!)

You can follow the author on Twitter @JonathanComyn

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