What it feels like to be a Newcastle United fan who knows only life under Mike Ashley
In what I hope will be my maiden piece for The Mag, I attempt to explain what it means to be a Mike Ashley era supporter.
Despite the discerning stagnation off the field in that time, it isn’t my generation that I sympathise with: it’s the generation that came before me.
I have followed Newcastle United since I was seven and a little over a decade later, that love is impermeable, despite only knowing this club as one owned by Mike Ashley.
I treasure stadium visits and the club means everything to me – yet there is nothing but match day memories to show for it. I was too young to go on away days to the furthest corners of Europe and the only silverware of note has been two Championships.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s no doubt that a queue of lower league teams would be envious of our position, we’re a Premier League club safe for another season.
But there’s something in me that longs for more. Very rarely has the club opened up to supporters – I can count the number of times on one hand that Lee Charnley, who is supposed to be acting on behalf of owner Mike Ashley, has spoken to us. The club is notoriously quiet, “no comment” the phrase of the day. A few have even suggested that Charnley is well-liked within the club, from club secretary to now managing director.
I don’t understand though, why a man whose self-description is one of introversion, would take that on, when the responsibilities should involve constant communication with the organising bodies and interactions with the fanbase.
The official NUFC fans forum was changed to a fan focus scheme, supposedly to be able to question the hierarchy and improve match day experience, yet the last fan focus meeting was in December 2019. Plus, by separating the fans forum into four dedicated areas, it narrows the topics which can be discussed, which limits the level of accountability the hierarchy receive.
Our fanbase is clinging on to the hope that the takeover consortium can revitalise the club.
Since Ashley took control of the club in 2007, United have a net spend of £102m according to Transfermarkt. That is, less than £8m on average per season has been invested into player fees in the last 13 years, over and above the sale of players.
If we’re to compare that with some of the teams who were around us in the 2006/07 season before Ashley took over NUFC, then we can see how little has been invested on players:
Aston Villa £269m
Newcastle United – £102m
Manchester City – £1.243b
West Ham – £214m
That isn’t to say money automatically solves all problem: it doesn’t.
However, after promotion in 2017, Mike Ashley repeatedly said that ‘Every penny generated by the club’ would be available to Rafa Benitez, yet this proved to be anything but the case.
It has been a stereotype within certain sections of the media that Newcastle fans are too demanding, never happy, deluded. I believe that comes from the fact that as a fanbase, we settle for nothing but aiming for constant improvement, a real desire to get better and that is why we supported Rafa Benitez in his civil war with the owners.
Rafa sought improvements in the facilities, the staffing, the Academy, the playing squad, wanting Newcastle United to strive for progress.
A poignant quote, shared the day after his departure, summed up the hierarchy above him:
“When I came to Newcastle, they gave me the plans for the new training ground, I was talking to the architect about changing a few things… And after three years they painted the walls.”
Mike Ashley trusted the wrong people – Dennis Wise, Joe Kinnear, Tony Jimenez. Names that now grate on the ears (and eyes if it were possible) when presented to them. The appointment of Kevin Keegan resonated well with the fans, only for it to go public that he had been misled by Mike Ashley, successfully winning a case of constructive dismissal and £2m compensation.
It’s best to accept that things will never be ‘normal’ at Newcastle United unless there is a new determined leadership from the very top of the club, when a takeover does happen. Trust me, it will eventually!
My main point is that it isn’t my generation who you should feel sorry for.
The ones who have known nothing but Mike Ashley have largely accepted this as their normal.
For those who remembered the Keegan title challenges and the Sir Bobby European nights, it’s you who I empathise with.
It’s bad to not know a club with ambition but it’s far worse to have a club whose ambition has been ripped apart.
(Nathan also has his very own personal blog which you can visit here)
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