Past experience tells us that Mike Ashley doesn’t like it when Sports Direct attract negative publicity and/or when he/Sports Direct is put under scrutiny by the House of Commons.
So when MP Chi Onwurah presented a petition to the House of Commons 14 days ago on behalf of some of her constituents (St James Park is within her constituency), attacking Ashley’s running of Newcastle United, you can imagine it hasn’t gone down too well.
With Newcastle fans intensifying a campaign of protest against the owner for his neglect of the club and refusal to back/support Rafa Benitez, the NUFC owner is clearly not liking it.
It is now 15 days since the official Sports Direct Twitter account sent out promotional messages, thanks to NUFC fans bombarding any of their messages with replies attacking Mike Ashley and Sports Direct.
Whilst Ashley’s PR company have been forced to make their account private, due once again to Newcastle fans running interference on it.
Meanwhile, it has been reported that Newcastle fans have also been ordering thousands and thousands of pounds of goods from Sports Direct online in single transactions, only to not checkout and pay at the end, meaning many items then show as out of stock for those who are looking to buy stuff.
Newcastle fans have also been urging other supporters not to buy the three new 2018/19 replica shirts, or at the very least not to buy them from Mike Ashley – either SD or the NUFC club shop.
If anybody had any doubts as to the effectiveness of the protests, a letter from Mike Ashley tells you otherwise.
It is addressed to Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright at the House of Commons but Ashley’s people have made it available to a journalist who has regularly shown support for the Newcastle United owner, Martin Samuel at The Mail:
Even the fact that Mike Ashley has had it signed by Lee Charnley on his behalf, shows how desperate he is to try and present Newcastle United as a normal club.
The fact is that rather than having a proper board (or two boards of directors as some clubs have and indeed NUFC had, back in the day) and a professional management team running Newcastle United, instead Lee Charnley is the only board member AND the only named person at the club in a (supposedly) senior role.
However, both fans and media have come to take for granted that Charnley is simply put up there to take as much of the stick as possible, whilst Ashley’s shadowy people in the background, Justin Barnes and Keith Bishop, run things on his (Ashley’s) behalf.
No doubt the letter was put together by one of these Mike Ashley minions and so much of it is laughable and easily picked apart.
Chi Onwurah made a number of attempts to get Mike Ashley to engage with her in the past and invited formally to meet him at the House of Commons, a reply was sent to her some four months later telling her not to contact him in future, and send anything to Lee Charnley at the club instead.
For Mike Ashley to want the credit for promotion after it is he who relegated the club twice in eight seasons (plus a couple of near misses) is pathetic.
He talks of the debt owed to him by the club. Failing to mention that most of this ‘debt’ was in reality part of the buying price of Newcastle United, such as settling the mortgage balance that was still due on the rebuilding of St James Park.
Ashley claims that the training ground is fit for purpose and finishing 10th last season proves it, though if it helped NUFC finish 10th then surely it also ‘helped’ them get relegated, twice. In 2013 Mike Ashley declared that a new state of the art training complex was essential if Newcastle United were going to compete, yet five years later they haven’t even made a start on it. In terms of improvements, the only big one on the existing facilities, was when Rafa Benitez insisted on a new surface on the indoor pitch, the previous one had been deemed too dangerous for top players to use in case of injury and that had been the case for years.
A little belatedly, he is also now very concerned for his Sports Direct staff. Nobody would say it is acceptable if any staff are being abused but with Mike Ashley’s record of lying in the past, you would have to be sceptical as to what he claims.
Mike Ashley wants credit for keeping season ticket prices down for 20,000 Newcastle fans, yet fails to mention how the other 25,000+ have seen massive price increases this summer, some rises over 20% on last year, making Newcastle one of the most expensive to watch outside the top six. Plus of course no mention at all of the fact that the long-term season ticket deals were introduced so that fans now start paying direct debits for the following season, months before the previous one has ended, before you even know what division the team will be in.
The biggest joke though of all, must be claiming credit for ‘retaining a World Class Manager’ like Rafa Benitez.
This is the manager he is determined to drive out of the club, a manager who has refused to extend his contract, a manager who these past three transfer windows has said Mike Ashley has not kept ‘promises’ given on signings and transfer budget. With two days of the transfer window remaining, Newcastle are sitting on a profit of close to £30m on transfers this summer, whilst Newcastle’s competitors spend relative fortunes.
Undoubtedly, Mike Ashley and his PR minions aren’t trying to convince the vast majority of Newcastle fans, by making this letter public they hope though to convince others who aren’t as clued up. Watch out for plenty of the media being sympathetic to Ashley’s letter, or indeed at the very least just repeating it without pointing out how ridiculous it is.
Ashley ruthlessly uses Newcastle United only as something to prop up his retail empire and amongst the lies and broken promises, in the NUFC 2014/15 annual accounts, he promised that Sports Direct would start and pay a market price for all the previously free advertising and promotion, needless to say this has never happened. If you wonder how much NUFC help SD, just look at the official photos of loan signing Salomon Rondon yesterday, an SD sign the overwhelming thing that you see.
The campaign of protest is working, Mike Ashley isn’t happy, let’s keep it going.