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Opinion

How to solve a problem like Mike Ashley

10 months ago
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When I set up my season ticket for this year, the guy in the box office asked me my postcode. The box office was pretty packed with black and white so I felt very sheepish when I had to reply ‘SR4’, being a student at Sunderland Uni it was a bit of an awkward moment for me and definitely a faux pas in the north east.

I’m also a Tory, another big faux pas in the north east, like my postcode in the box office, it’s something I feel a little awkward talking about. Now I don’t want to start talking politics or having some political battle because that’s ridiculous….but I do view the world differently to most of my peers in the North East, so I want you to keep that in mind while you read my thoughts on how to solve a problem like Mike Ashley.

Step 1:

Hold yourself and your friends and family to account.

Let’s be real for a minute. We are nothing to Mike Ashley.

Nothing but a cash cow that is. He doesn’t regard the passion of the fans, or the desire to watch better football, or even just how satisfied we’d be if we finished mid-table again but had a decent cup run. His only concern is the money we put in his pocket.

This is the first point where me being a Tory is something that influences how I view everything – your money is your vote. I personally have no issues with people buying tickets to the matches because we shouldn’t be budged from OUR seats supporting OUR club to accommodate him but at every single match the queue for the concessions is brimming with fans paying inflated prices for food and drinks.

My friend was thirsty so he bought a bottle of pop at the Leicester game for £2.80. Does anyone seriously think Mike Ashley is bothered by the ‘you fat cockney wa..er’ or ‘sports direct is f…ing sh..’ chants when he’s shifting thousands of bottles of coke for a 100% mark up every home game, knowing if you were smart you’d just take the extra 5-10 minutes before the match and pick one up in town.

That’s just bottles of pop, think about all the other food and drinks loyal fans are buying for almost double the price you can get them in town. Our money is our vote and our vote is saying we’re ok with the situation.

Getting scalped on tickets is one thing but getting scalped on extras too? We must all be mad. Your money is your vote so hold yourself and the people you go to the match with to account. If you see someone you know going to the concession at half time at the Brighton match, let them know you’re disappointed and remind them to eat and buy a drink in town instead.

Step 2:

Whatever we do – we do it with purpose.

So we’re going to stop buying food and drink at the stadium. There’s a hundred or so smaller businesses in the town we’d rather give a boost to than Mike Ashley so we spread our money out around the city rather than into Mike Ashley’s pocket.

As well as denying Ashley money, we’re also boosting smaller businesses around town. I can’t think of any situation where this isn’t good for the region in general and that’s a good purpose.

On top of that, we can use the savings from buying our food and drink elsewhere. Say every fan out of 52,000 saved a quid by going elsewhere. That’s £52,000 we can spend on removing this scourge from our club. Over 19 home matches in a season that’s £988,000. That’s plenty of funding for banners and organisation of a movement against Ashley as well as £988,000 we keep off his balance sheet, we just lack the discipline and purpose to make it happen.

I admire Chi Onwurah’s passion for the club and for the city, but I can’t really think of a purpose of trying to get the government to stand up for us, when we’re capable of standing up for ourselves with a bit of discipline. No disrespect to Chi Onwurah, but the realisation that no government would ever stand up for me was the reason why I changed my views in the first place and I’m not even against her lending her ear and her support and doing what she can, it’s just the reality that outside of this city, it will fall on deaf ears.

That’s why I think we should change our attitude towards the situation. I’ve heard so many people question how we could ever take on a billionaire and to the doubters my only question is whether you have faith in yourself and the people around you, because if we take him on and we do it with purpose, we will win. All we must do is hit him where it hurts and don’t give him extra money.

Step 3:

Think outside the box.

I moved to the North East when I was 10 and became a Newcastle fan. I know a lot of you reading this were born Geordies and you might want to make a distinction or say I’m not a real Geordie but I was raised a Newcastle fan and I love the club, the city and fans with all my heart.

Coming from Scotland I was a Celtic fan and what happened to Rangers was the worst thing ever to happen to Scottish football. So many of my childhood friends and family looked on in glee as Rangers died but it’s made Celtic worse for the experience with less money coming into Scottish football from European competition.

I remember at the time Rangers staff seeking help from other clubs like Hearts to hold a charity match to help them raise funds and they refused. We shouldn’t let the same thing happen in the North East.

At Sunderland uni, SAFC were at the freshers events offering tickets to students for a tenner to try to get people in the door. We shouldn’t kick them while they’re down but reach out to them because Tyne Wear Derbies are good for the region.

Sunderland are asking fans to help them fit new seats and I’ve actually volunteered to go along on one of my days off because the rivalry is the rivalry but some things go beyond that.

A load of Geordies protesting outside sports direct on Northumberland street is par for the course. Imagine how Ashley would be thinking if we managed to convince a load of mackems to protest outside sports direct in Sunderland. That’s a mental win for us and I’d help them fit their seats for that, I’d even buy a ticket to one of their matches for that. I’m not sure how likely I’d be to actually sit through one of their matches though!

Step 4:

Get off the internet!

The internet is fantastic for getting a message out quickly but at the end of the day, people are still convinced by a smile, a handshake and a friendly chat than by endless social media posts about any subject.

That’s not to say the internet doesn’t have it’s uses but really every single one of us needs to speak to the guy who sits next to us and ask him what he’s doing. Get to know the people in your section and network in real life.

At that point when it comes to organising an event or a protest, you’re not just some faceless social media person at the other end of a computer. You’re a real person that someone actually knows and might feel comfortable going along with and the internet supplements our efforts to get the message out.

Step 5:

Don’t do anything stupid.

I’ve seen talk of fans wanting to arrange a walkout when there’s a televised match. You’ve already paid for your season ticket so he already has your cash. Do you honestly think he cares?

The PR stunt of taking the team and the staff out for dinner while everyone was in town at the protest meet up was a prime example. He’ll just find a way to spin it, it’ll be inconvenient but he’ll manage as he’s laughing all the way to the bank.

Step 6:

Do something stupid

I know it’s a little bit confusing given step 5 but do something stupid. I read an idea on The Mag of throwing toilet rolls on the pitch. Yeah it’s dubious but it gets it off our chest and more importantly, it gets it off our chest in a funny way. Even when the games aren’t televised it’ll still be shown on match of the day. The quid we saved by buying a drink elsewhere is enough to get a toilet roll and bring it to the match and throw it around. If it’s happening at every home game, it’s a lot harder to spin.

Lets use some of the money we saved to get some banners we can put up all over the stadium over the sports direct boards. He likes his free advertising so if we cover it with our own messages it gets his attention because again, he’s losing money. If someone stops us, just hang your coat over the boards instead. If anyone asks just say you’re hot so you took it off.

In terms of banners, let’s do the same thing. Be more upbeat and funny instead of the angry ‘ashley out’ that everyone already knows about. Imagine if we somehow managed to cover every sports direct board with a JD sports banner? It pokes him directly in the eye and football fans up and down the country would be laughing at him as well as applauding our sense of humour.

Point is, no one likes angry protestors, it’s intimidating to people outside of the protest and harms the cause. Let’s not be angry shouty mad people let’s be daft geordies and full of fun. It speaks to the character of Newcastle and shows who we are as a city and it shows we have the moral high ground.

Mike Ashley is used to the fans being angry at him. I’d personally rather someone be angry at me than laugh at me. Let’s mock him at every opportunity we get.

Did you see the Trump Balloon in London? Let’s get one of those made of Mike Ashley wearing lingerie and heels (I know how disgusting that image is) and fly it around town (looking to Chi Onwurah to help sort permissions and stuff out.) Let’s change the dynamic so when he comes where he’s not welcome he’s not faced with abuse, but mockery, because the man is below contempt.
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