As Newcastle fans, supporting the club takes its toll season after season. I always remember my dad saying that Newcastle United would one day be the death of him.
Following our abysmal run of form in November/December (nine games without a win) I found myself asking the question ‘why is being a Newcastle fan so hard?’
Put simply, being a Newcastle fan has been made infinitely harder under the incoherent, stomach-churning leadership of Mike Ashley. Ashley acquired 100% ownership of the club in July 2007, and it quickly became apparent that he had simply bought the club to increase the profitability of his own retail empire, especially Sports Direct.
Ashley’s drive for personal profit is clear in his use of advertising at St James Park. Not only has he plastered the stadium with S***** D***** branding and dominated over 50% of the advertising space there, in 2011 Ashley also renamed SJP the ‘S***** D***** Arena’.
Ashley’s attitude to club-ownership is also shown by his continued faith in a broken transfer policy which has left fans, players and managers disappointed countless times. Many would be quick to blame Lee Charnley for Newcastle’s transfer woes, however the fact that Rafa Benitez has (on multiple occasions) spoken out to the media about transfer promises made by Mike Ashley directly, and has not once mentioned Charnley, suggests to me that Ashley is the one pulling the strings.
Throughout his time at Newcastle, Ashley has essentially tried to turn us into a ‘selling club’ – buying relatively unknown players on the cheap, mainly from abroad, in the hope of selling them on for a vast profit. Then, more often than not, fans left waiting for any kind of decent replacement (Andy Carroll, Yohan Cabaye and Demba Ba to name a few).
Under Ashley, Newcastle fans have experienced a repeating pattern of having their hopes raised, only to later be crushed by empty promises and a total unwillingness to follow through with actions to improve the stature of the club.
This pattern of hopes being lifted by empty promises, only to be crushed by a lack of action, has continued into Rafa Benitez’ time as manager. The appointment of Rafa was, to many, a sign of a turning point in Mike Ashley’s ownership; a huge name in management brought in.
Little did any of us know that it would take just a year for Ashley to backtrack on his promise of investment to make us a real Premier League force once again. The summer preceding our return to the top-flight saw us massively outspent by closest rivals, and our “big-money” signing for the season ahead was Jacob Murphy – a championship-level winger.
So, our hopes were raised with the signing of Rafa Benitez and the promise of investment, only for Ashley to backtrack once we had finally returned to the Premier League where Newcastle United belong.
Ultimately, I believe the constant ups and downs of hopes and expectations at Newcastle under Ashley has manifested itself on the pitch. You can feel an air of anxiety around St James Park as soon as we concede to any team. Newcastle fans can hardly be blamed, as they are very much aware of the lack of investment in the squad under Mike Ashley.
The statistics support this theory; the disparity between home and away form under Rafa Benitez seems to suggest that even he has not been able to remedy the anxiety around St James Park when another team is able to score or outperform us.
This season we are 19th in the Premier League for home form and 12th in the league for away, even in our championship-winning season last year we placed 4th for home form and 1st for away.
That being said, there is the potential for hope in the near future. A good string of results will hopefully be enough to keep us in the Premier League and there then could be a buyer willing to pay Ashley’s asking price.
The club finally having the potential to progress as a real Premier League force – ideally with Rafa at the helm.
As Newcastle fans, it really isn’t all that hard to stick with it, no matter what Mike Ashley throws our way.
Even with arguably the worst owner in football, there is absolutely no better feeling in the world than walking out onto the Gallowgate.