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Statement released by Magpie Group revealing contents of letter sent to Mike Ashley

3 years ago

Newcastle fans operating under the banner of The Magpie Group have released a new statement, revealing that a letter (read it below) has been sent to Mike Ashley.

This is a response to an open letter sent by Mike Ashley to Jeremy Wright, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture Media and Sport.

The Newcastle United having reacted to fans protests being aired in the House of Commons by Chi Onwurah, the Newcastle Upon Tyne MP who has St James Park within her constituency.

The Magpie Group statement and letter:

The Magpie Group responds to Mike Ashley’s open letter to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture Media and Sport.

The Magpie Group have written to Mike Ashley alleging that many of the statements contained in his recent letter to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport are misleading and misrepresent the current situation at Newcastle United as recently outlined by Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwruah in her petition to Parliament.

The letter from The Magpie Group highlights several instances where Ashley either does not portray the true picture of the situation at St. James’ Park or offers only a slanted view of the situation to its aim of obscuring Mr Ashley’s role in degrading the club. The Group’s letter has been copied to the Secretary of State and Ms Onwruah.

The Magpie Group notes that Mr Ashley’s letter was leaked to the press and recalls that under his ownership the club previously admitted in a tribunal that it repeatedly and intentionally misled the press, public and the fans of Newcastle United.

The Magpie Group is a network of Newcastle United supporters’ groups and individuals who have united to campaign for the club to support Rafa Benitez in his effort to improve the club.

It also believes that for the club to achieve its potential, Mike Ashley must leave the club following his continuous failing during his tenure to invest meaningfully in the club and its infrastructure.

Dear Mr Ashley,

Re: Letter to The Rt Hon Jeremy Wright MP in response to Chi Onwurah’s parliamentary petition.

As a network of Newcastle United supporters and Supporter Groups we are writing to you in response to your recent letter to the Secretary of State. Once again, you have misled the press, the public and the fans of our great club.

Your letter presents a wholly inaccurate assessment of your ownership and running of Newcastle United and, from start to finish, is full of inexact and misleading claims.

You state that Chi Onwurah made no attempt to “contact or engage with” you prior to the publication of her Parliamentary petition. Yet in her previous correspondence with you, when she invited you to Parliament to discuss the club – an offer you declined – you rebuffed all future contact, insisting that any correspondence be directed to Newcastle United Managing Director Lee Charnley.

You say that since acquiring Newcastle United Limited through the use of St James Holding Limited, you have provided the club with an interest free loan of £144m and also cleared the club’s debt of £76m. It is documented in the official club accounts that the £76m debt is included in the £144m interest free loan and not in excess of it as you have suggested. £58m of the debt inherited was to cover a mortgage to pay for the redevelopment of St James’ Park by the previous owners. This was the last time any significant redevelopment was undertaken at the ground. If the mortgage had remained in place that debt would have been cleared by now.

During your tenure as owner, the club’s debt has almost doubled, due largely to your mismanagement. It is worth pointing out that the original debt was accrued while challenging for titles, regularly playing European football and breaking the world transfer record. In 11 of the 13 years before you became owner, Newcastle United qualified for Europe.

In your 11 years as sole owner of Newcastle United, the club has suffered two relegations. The significant investments required to gain immediate promotion in the 2009-2010 and 2016-2017 seasons are a direct result of that incompetence. Through it all, you have continued to receive free product placement for your company around St James’ Park and in front of a worldwide television audience.

After deducting the £76m debt you inherited at the club, we are left with a total investment of approximately £68m which, over a 10 year period, equates to an average of £6.8m per year. Under the current Financial Fair Play rules clubs can make a loss of no more than £105m in a three year period, if underwritten by an owner with sufficient finances to be able to cover the loss.

As fans, we do not expect you to bankroll the club. In any case, you have made it quite clear that you have no intention or interest in doing so. That is your prerogative. But where we do hold you accountable is the promise, made on numerous occasions, that Rafa Benitez can have “Every last penny generated by the club” [5] . This summer, Newcastle United made a substantial profit in the transfer window. We ask you a simple question, Mr Ashley: where has the money gone?

We acknowledge the club’s role in regard to affordable ticket pricing over the past decade. However, we have also seen recent price rises of up to 20%, with some supporters asked to pay around £100 more this season. Geographically, we now have the most expensive season tickets north of Southampton, outside the top six clubs in England[6]. This may be insignificant to you but for a lot of us and our families, it is not.

You claim that Newcastle United’s training facilities have “improved significantly” during your stewardship, are “fit-for-purpose” and “very clearly do not have a negative impact on performance” given the team’s 10th place finish in the Premier League.

This is disputed by the current manager, as well as some of his predecessors. When the club announced plans for a “stunning new state-of-the-art training complex,” in October 2014, Joe Kinnear said the best players need the best facilities and that Newcastle United’s training ground would “rival any in Europe.” What happened to those plans?

Our concern is that you are treating our training facilities and players in the same manner that you have historically treated your Sports Direct warehouse and staff, which has been described as “spending a day at the Gulag” in an article in The Guardian Newspaper. [7]

You also make reference to the treatment of Sports Direct and associated companies’ staff. We do not condone harassment of any kind. We are a fully inclusive group with a set of goals for the betterment of Newcastle United. We do, however, note with interest reports from the BBC [8] and the Independent [9], which make reference to “accounts of worker mistreatment,” under your leadership of Sports Direct, “including staff being penalised for a short break to drink water and for taking time off work when ill.”

Finally, you have once again referred to yourself as “the pantomime villain” at Newcastle United. Perhaps, in your own mind, you are the hero of your own story, riding into town to save one of the biggest clubs in the world from financial ruin. But in sporting terms, a villain is exactly what you have been, beating supporters into submission, betraying legends, undermining managers, taking crass decisions that chip away at the reputation of the club and causing real harm to an institution which is deeply entrenched in the heart of the city and which means so much to our community. We are in total support of Chi Onwurah and her petition.

We would therefore politely request once again that you meet with us to discuss your running of the football club and to explain the erroneous points you have made in your letter.

Yours sincerely

The Magpie Group

cc Jeremy Wright MP, Secretary of State for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport,

Chi Onwurah MP, Newcastle Central


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