How to get rid of Mike Ashley? Look to Ancient Greece!
It’s encouraging that over the last few weeks and months, the campaign to try to dislodge Mike Ashley from the club has gathered some steam. It’s to be encouraged that everyone who has something to contribute should chip in.
But how do we mere mortals manage to defeat such an enormously powerful individual? How do we shift him? Or how do we encourage him to clear off? It seems an impossible task
Maybe there’s a clue for us in the legends of Ancient Greece.
Homer’s Iliad tells the story of the Trojan War. One of the main characters is the mighty Achilles.
Achilles was a warrior so fierce and powerful as to seem invincible. When he went into battle he swept all before him. Ordinary mortals couldn’t hope to stand against him. Even the strongest couldn’t compete with him.
But the legend of Achilles tells us how he was eventually defeated. And the key to his downfall lay in understanding the source of his great power. When Achilles was a baby, he was dipped in the River Styx – and contact with the water made him invulnerable. Except for the heel – when he was dipped in the water his heel remained dry. That was his Achilles’ Heel.
And eventually, having defeated all who came against him, Achilles fell when he was shot in the heel by an arrow.
What does all this mean, and what does it have to do with Mike Ashley?
Well, the legend of Achilles tells us that even the mightiest has a weakness. It tells us that the way to defeat Achilles was to understand what made him so strong. By understanding the source of his strength his opponents were eventually able to figure out what his weakness was.
As with the mighty and glorious Achilles – so with the gross and bloated Mike Ashley.
There is no point in underestimating the huge power that the man wields. He is phenomenally rich. He is completely unscrupulous. He has no finer feelings. He has no sense of shame. He knows that we don’t like him – but he just doesn’t care. In the world of sport he may be a pygmy – but in the world of business he is a colossus. How can mere mortals such as we hope to defeat him?
Remember the lesson of Achilles – the way to find his weakness is to understand what it is that makes him strong.
What makes Mike Ashley strong?
If the man has a weakness, where will we find it?
What is his Achilles Heel?
I (like Miike Ashley) have set up and run my own business. Unlike Mike Ashley I have not become a multi-billionaire-football-club-owning-titan. But I do know what it is like to set up your own business, and to watch it grow. Most people who set up their own business will tell you the same thing – their business (no matter how small) is really precious to them. Just imagine for a second what it must be like for Mike Ashley, having started Sports Direct from nothing, to see what it has become – how chest-burstingly proud he must be of it. I can only think that (besides family) it will be far and away the most important thing in his life.
NUFC might mean a lot to us – but to Mike Ashley it is just something he bought. Like House of Fraser, or any number of other brand-names that he has bought. He didn’t build it up, or develop it – he just bought it. And the money he used to buy it and everything else came – from Sports Direct. But Sports Direct is his baby – he built that up from scratch.
That’s the source of his power, and if he has a weakness that’s where his weakness lies too.
As far as Mike Ashley is concerned, NUFC has a perfect symbiosis with Sports Direct. As others on The Mag and elsewhere have pointed out, the club is run (increasingly brazenly) as an advertising and marketing subsidiary Sports Direct.
Businesses advertise for various reasons – but one of the main ones is simple name recognition. That’s why big businesses will pay big bucks just to have their name on a board at the side of the pitch. It isn’t so they can persuade you how good their products are. It is just so they can get their name into your head.
And then, when the day comes that you need to buy a few pairs of sports socks, or your kid needs a new pair of trainers, or whatever, the first name that comes into your head is – Sports Direct. So, bearing in mind that 99% of the buying public out there couldn’t give a monkey’s about Newcastle United, it is more than worthwhile for Mike Ashley to pi.. off Newcastle fans by the tens-of-thousands if punters in Bristol or Basingstoke or Burnley by the tens-of-millions think: “I need some sports gear – I’ll go to Sports Direct”.
If there is a way to attack Mike Ashley – if he has an Achilles Heel – it seems to me that it is by trying to upset that relationship.
The only way to encourage Mike Ashley to leave (by which I mean encourage him to sell at a reasonable price) is to make it appear to him that his continued ownership of the club is no longer good for Sports Direct.
That has been a problem to my eyes with some of the campaigns which NUFC fans have organised in recent times. I don’t think any anti-Ashley campaign is bad – whatever you do, all power to your elbow. But it seems to me that a lot of the attacks are on points where Ashley is simply invulnerable.
So, does anyone really think Mike Ashley cares if we call him a fat Cockney bast…? I don’t – I really don’t think he cares about that sort of thing at all.
Some people hope and wish for a fans’ boycott – but I fear that’s just pie-in-the-sky. Correct me if I’m wrong by all means, but I’m not aware of any successful long-term boycott by fans at any club, anywhere, ever.
Is it going to bother him if people turn up at the match wearing “Ashley Out” t-shirts? I don’t think it is. I think it would bother him a lot more if people turned up wearing t-shirts saying “Shop at JD Sports.”.=
Will he be worried about the fans who say “IfRafaGoesIGo”? No, I don’t think he will. For one thing, he won’t believe you (and I have to say, neither do I!). And even if the radical wing of our support leaves with Rafa, then Ashley will be largely untouched.
What will be more likely to bother him are protests outside Sports Direct shops. What will certainly bother him is anything which seriously looks as if it might damage the name-recognition, market position, or reputation of Sports Direct.
In that vein the SportRedirect campaign seems to me to be a good one.
What else can be done? Well it seems to me that anything that can be done (within the law) to impact the business and commercial reputation of Sports Direct will be useful.
For example, there must be umpteen creative types of all sorts amongst our support. And there are outlets (such as The Mag, and many many others) which are potentially able to give a stage to those people. If it were made known that any comedian or musician who comes up with a routine or a song targeted against Sports Direct would be able to given a stage where their act would be seen by thousands, that might produce something.
Or draw a cartoon. Or paint a picture. Or write a poem. Or wear a t-shirt to the match saying “Sports Direct sells tat.” Or hand out some leaflets saying “Don’t shop at Sports Direct.” Or re-tweet anything you come across which pours scorn on Sports Direct.
It needs to be about Sports Direct, not about Newcastle United – the vast majority of the people who shop at Sports Direct couldn’t give two hoots about Newcastle United.
It needs to be aimed at Sports Direct, not at Mike Ashley – Mike Ashley doesn’t care about the reputation of Mike Ashley. He cares about Sports Direct.
That (if anything) is his Achilles Heel.