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Should the Premier League investigate Mike Ashley for this?

10 months ago

Like most Newcastle United supporters, I’m beginning to wonder if our takeover saga will ever reach a conclusion with Mike Ashley finally selling up.

It has made me question one particular aspect of the Premier League’s intervention.

Instead of spending months and months examining potential owners before they take over a club, why don’t they spend a little more time looking at what they do after they’ve taken over a club?

I recently read a book about the collapse of Barings Bank and I was struck by the similarities between the way Barings Bank Singapore operations were run and by the way Newcastle United is being run under Mike Ashley. If you substituted Singapore for Newcastle and Barings Bank for the Mike Ashley regime it could almost be a book about Newcastle United.

In the book, Nick Leeson, just like Lee Charnley, is promoted from a relatively junior position to run the whole of Barings Bank Singapore operation which he does almost single-handedly. Nick Leeson was in the unusual position of running both Baring Bank’s trading floor operation in Singapore and the back office that was supposed to oversee it, a bit like Lee Charnley who is both our Chief Executive and a member of the Board (It’s only member!)

Barings Bank in London showed little interest or understanding of their Singapore operation. They were however, obsessed about keeping the running costs down and their Singapore office didn’t have enough staff of sufficient quality to run such an operation.

Barings Bank relied on its Singapore operation for a large proportion of its profits just like Mike Ashley, who is no doubt hoping that he can use the profits from selling Newcastle United at an inflated price to help prop up the rest of his business empire.

Unfortunately, for Barings Bank, instead of propping up the business, their Singapore operation ended up costing them hundred of millions of pounds and eventually bankrupted the entire organisation.

I wonder if there’s a lesson in there for Mike Ashley? We all know that he likes a gamble and so far he has almost come unstuck on two occasions when his mismanagement of the club led to two relegations, only to be saved on both occasions by two highly competent managers, who he subsequently replaced!

Relegation can have devastating consequences for a Premiership club as has been shown by the likes of Sunderland, Portsmouth, Leeds and Blackpool and with Mike Ashley, you always think that we are dancing on a precipice and a small thing such as an upturn in form by the teams below us, an injury to Callum Wilson, or even Coronavirus, could tip us over the edge.

After the collapse of Barings bank there was a major investigation. The bank was criticised for putting out false or misleading information and for the lack of transparency in its financial dealings (Does this all sound familiar?).

There was also heavy criticism about the way their Singapore Office was overseen. The investigators criticised Barings Bank for their lack of oversight (Again doesn’t this remind you of Newcastle United with its non-existent board).

The investigators were also highly critical of the external regulators who in this case were the Bank of England. The Bank of England believed in a light touch regulation of the banks which seems to mirror The Premier League’s approach to the owners of Premiership clubs (Unless they happen to be a Saudi public investment fund!).

Under our present owner the club has put out false and misleading statements, its finances have been called both opaque and lacking in transparency, it’s treated some of its staff appallingly (such as the furloughing of its full time staff and the treatment of Jonas Gutierrez after he was diagnosed with cancer).

It’s sold off some of its assets which may have a significant impact on its future growth, it ignores the directives about holding regular consultations with the fans…and yet the closest the Premier League comes to criticising Mike Ashley’s regime, is when Richard Masters said that the empty seats at SJP was not a good look on TV!

This sums up the attitude of the Premier League. For them it’s all about ‘the product’ and never about the fans.

What we need is an organisation that recognises the fans are the lifeblood of a football club. whilst the owners are mere custodians, and is prepared to stick up for the fans and call to account owners when they don’t act as proper custodians of these local institutions.


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