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Has Mike Ashley now accepted defeat and really will sell Newcastle United to a serious buyer?

5 years ago

Many Newcastle fans take the view that Mike Ashley is paying lip service to the notion of selling Newcastle United. It’s easy to see why.

His trained monkeys on Sky and BT Sports are the only people who seem to believe a word he says these days. Even fans of other teams shudder when his name is mentioned. He is a serial liar.

The popular view on Tyneside is that if there are continued protests, and fans stop going to the match, this will provoke him into selling the club at a fair price. We also like to believe that there is someone in the world whose wealth and ambition are sufficient enough to complete a successful buyout.

But what if that is not the case? What if Mike Ashley is actively seeking a buyer, and is struggling to find one? What if, for once, he’s telling the truth?

Bear with me here, but I just had a quick look on a property site, searching homes in our region priced at £1m plus. There are some real beauties, but many have been on the market for well over a year – some were put on there in 2015! I’m sure they are all reasonably priced, but I’m guessing there just aren’t that many people who have the cash and the need for a multi-million-pound house (Maybe if we signed some top-end players on top-end wages they would all sell in a single transfer window, but that’s an argument for another day).

What if it’s the same with NUFC?

What if there just aren’t any buyers out there right now with enough cash at their disposal?

A lot of fans have drawn the conclusion that the price Ashley is asking must be far too high, and that if he was more reasonable, the buyers would line up.

I’m not sure it works like that. When you are buying or selling a business, both sides get advice on what the market value is, and negotiations commence based on that. It’s also worth noting that the Inland Revenue keeps an eye on business sales. If they think a company has sold for a price that seems too high or too low, they may get suspicious that the deal is dodgy, and a couple of briefcases of cash have been taken to the laundry.

Newcastle United Football Club is worth around £300 million. I heard that figure a couple of years back and it hasn’t really shifted. So, whether we like it or not, it looks like someone needs to cough up an amount in that neighbourhood in order to buy it from the current owner. It could be £260m, it could be £320m, but it isn’t £150m or a number that I’d prefer to read. And – much as I want to see the back of Mike Ashley – he is under no obligation to sell at a silly price.

As far as I’m aware, he doesn’t have to conduct a fire sale. Like the owners of the properties I browsed before, I’m sure there is a price that he just won’t sell at.

If you are looking to buy Newcastle United and make a go of it, then – in my view – you need to have a lot of money over and above the £300m to undo the effect of a decade of neglect. I’d reckon on spending another £100m plus in the first couple of seasons to improve the academy, upgrade the training facilities (which are well below those at sunderland and Middlesbrough), apply a lick of paint to the stadium and to buy the quality of player(s) who might persuade Rafa to stay.

So – to take us back to where we were when we enjoyed being Newcastle fans – someone somewhere needs to have £400m or so spare, and think that buying and restoring a football club is the best use to put it to.

I know some people who have done well for themselves…but the richest of them would still be around £398m short. We therefore need a billionaire with a big pot of cash, or a collection of people who have enough between them.

Making the second option work seems to have defeated Amanda Staveley and Peter Kenyon, and there just aren’t that many individuals with a spare £300m+ who think a football club – or our football club – is the best place to put it.

I’m sure Mike Ashley knows that the fans want him out. He can’t go within 100 yards of a Newcastle supporter without being told. TV pundits discuss him more than any other owner, the local MP brings his ownership up in the House of Commons, and not in a good way. Dennis Wise came here 11 years ago; we protested then, and we’ve protested ever since.

After more than a decade of this, he must have got the message. He alluded to his unpopularity when he was interviewed on the Ian King show on Sky. I’m not sure more protests will make any difference. I don’t disagree with them but there is a point beyond which their effectiveness diminishes. A bit like one of those UFC fights where the winner keeps punching his unconscious opponent until the ref pulls him off.

Maybe we’ve already won. Maybe Mike Ashley has accepted defeat and really will sell the club to a serious buyer. Maybe there just isn’t a serious buyer. To me, that is a far more depressing notion than thinking one more round of protests will see him list the club for sale.

What if a buyer is not forthcoming for a decade, and we’re stuck with Mike Ashley? A frightening prospect, but not an impossible one.

What do fans do for the next decade?

Continue to protest?

Walk away?

Keep going to the match hoping for the occasional Man City result?

Give up season tickets but drop in to the occasional game when family visit or the kids insist?

Watch while another generation of fans who have never seen a top-class Newcastle become accustomed to mediocrity?

Does it matter?

That’s a genuine question. I know people in each camp, others that just can’t decide. I don’t know one single person who supports Mike Ashley but that doesn’t mean they don’t support the club or the team.

It really is tough to walk away from something that has been a large part of your life for – in my case – 54 years. I do know it’s not my place to tell other fans what to do.

If you want to go to the match, go. No one can stop you.

If you want to boycott, protest or decide you’ll never part with a single penny that might end up in Ashley’s pocket, that’s fine too.

Just don’t expect things to change in a hurry. This might be as good as it gets.


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