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Opinion

Mike Ashley now taking cynical campaign against Newcastle United fans to all-time low

1 week ago
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Newcastle United fans wondered what Mike Ashley would do when the season hit a new low just before this latest international break.

The 3-0 scoreline was arguably the least embarrassing thing about the game, Brighton having complete control and could and should have won by more.

Steve Bruce approaching the game with the most negative tactics and formation possible, gifting Brighton total control with the home side having 75% of the possession in the first half.

No surprise to see Brighton scoring and be ahead at the break, to set up the win, whilst for Newcastle it was the 22nd time out of 29 Premier League matches this season where they hadn’t scored a goal in the first half. Little surprise really when the Brighton keeper had no serious save to make before the break, or indeed after the break in this game.

Such a terrible result and performance, having extended his run to two wins in twenty matches, surely with an international fortnight to make the change, now would be the time for Mike Ashley to sack Steve Bruce.

Instead we heard nothing, apart from messages pushed from Ashley’s people into the media that the owner had no intention of sacking Steve Bruce.

Friday’s press conference was of course the first chance to hear somebody from the club directly speak about the issue, 13 days after the Brighton humiliation. That club spokesman being of course. Steve Bruce himself.

On the question of that Brighton match, the shocking run of form, his (Bruce’s) future and Mike Ashley, Steve Bruce said that the only communication from the owner had been a message of support to the Head Coach and the Newcastle players. That indeed his (Bruce’s) future hadn’t even been a topic of discussion for the Newcastle United owner.

Steve Bruce was actually quite keen instead to talk about how he is looking forward to next season at Newcastle United, yet again stating that he will never resign. Bruce claiming that he never walks away from a challenge (despite having walked away from at least half of his previous management jobs…including Sheffield Wednesday to join NUFC), whilst Newcastle fans cynically see somebody refusing to go unless he gets his reported £4m pay-off that would be do, if sacked before his contract runs out in June 2022.

Only at Newcastle United.

Amazingly, things got even more bizarre, when Luke Edwards of The Telegraph then had an exclusive, chief cheerleader and close friend of Steve Bruce, Edwards saying that if relegation is avoided, his information is that Mike Ashley will offer the Newcastle United Head Coach a new extended contract with a pay rise.

I have heard it all now.

The worst thing of all is that not one Newcastle fan will be surprised if this happens. Appalled yes, surprised no.

Rewarding Steve Bruce for failure and having made a complete mess of his role at Newcastle United, only surviving (potentially) due to there being three other really woeful teams in the division, Sheffield United and West Brom going to be lucky to reach 20 points, whilst Fulham will surely have to implode as well and not get much past 30 points (if at all) if they are to finish below Steve Bruce.

I see this as just a natural progression for Mike Ashley.

A sizeable part of this decision, if not all of it made, due to his (Ashley’s) relationship with the Newcastle fans.

Mike Ashley now taking cynical campaign against Newcastle United fans to an all-time low.

Go back to 2008, Mike Ashley’s disgraceful underhand treatment of Kevin Keegan led to massive protests, Mike Ashley came out and said that Newcastle fans could stop the protests and threats of boycott etc, he said that he had listened to what they had said, he got the message, that the protesting should stop now and he promised he would now sell Newcastle United as soon as possible.

Thirteen years later and Mike Ashley still owns this football club.

It wasn’t the first time he had misled Newcastle fans and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.

If you honestly believe the reason Mike Ashley still owns Newcastle United is because there have been no credible buyers willing to pay a fair market price for the club, then there really is no hope for you.

Forget about the Saudis, countless other people would have bought the club if given the opportunity to buy, the vast majority of other major clubs have changed ownership / control in that same period of time, some of them two or three times.

Ashley is willing to sell to the Saudis because they offered him far more than the club is worth, plus potentially other ongoing benefits we aren’t aware of (stadium advertising, involvement in the club shops / merchandising, other benefits for Ashley and his retail empire, who knows?).

If the Saudi deal isn’t possible though, that does not then excuse Mike Ashley not selling to somebody else at a fair market price. He can’t have it all ways, Ashley can’t say he is fully committed to selling the club and somehow portray himself as somebody who is trapped in the ownership of NUFC, when at the same time refusing to sell at a market price.

The thing is, I think in reality Mike Ashley has taken great pleasure in not selling the club year after year, due to the reaction of Newcastle fans to his continuing control.

Beyond doubt he took it very personally when Newcastle fans protested against him in 2008 and every time since.

Just think of all the different protests, the banners ridiculing him, the massive scale of Newcastle fans doing their best to impact on Ashley’s businesses, especially online. Questions asked of him in Parliament by Newcastle fans who happen to be also MPs, as well as on behalf of their constituents.

I honestly think that trying to ‘break’ the Newcastle United fanbase has been a huge motivation for Mike Ashley.

His attitude being, ‘you love your club do you, well lets see if you will still go and watch your beloved Newcastle United when I do this (and this…and this…and this)?’

I believe Mike Ashley absolutely loves the friction between those Newcastle fans who have stopped going because of him and those supporters who refuse to let Mike Ashley stop them watching their team.

No normal Newcastle fan wants Steve Bruce to be at the club one more day, let alone adding years onto his existing contract that isn’t set to end until June 2022.

Mike Ashley fully knows that of course and will be a driving force in his decision making. With also claims that Steve Bruce will continue even if United are relegated under him.

I think Ashley has taken great pleasure in presenting the dilemma to Newcastle fans of whether or not to go to St James Park, handing money over to him if they want to watch / support NUFC.

Just look at summer 2019, despite knowing thousands of Newcastle season ticket holders would not renew due to him driving Rafa Benitez out of the club, Ashley once again put season ticket prices up, sticking it to Newcastle fans even more. Only to then decide halfway through that season to hand out 10,000 free season tickets to those who had stayed ‘loyal to him’, where remaining ST holders had to recommend who got the freebies.

That age old expression about cutting your nose off to spite your face is absolutely Mike Ashley, he of course loves having the full crowds to push his St James Park advertising around the World, but at the same time he wants to make it as tough as possible for Newcastle fans to not turn their backs on the club they love.

A week and a half ago I had a previous article on The Mag, estimating what the attendances would be at St James Park next season under various scenarios, assuming a mass return of fans to games is allowed by then.

The kind of comments I had seen from Newcastle fans online had been along the lines of believing there would be automatically full houses next season if NUFC are in the Premier League, or ‘at least 40,000 idiots still turning up every week’ even if it is Championship football for Newcastle United in 2020/21.

These kind of comments of course to do with Mike Ashley’s ongoing ownership and a belief from many that no matter what he does, Ashley will still have Newcastle fans flocking to St James Park…

However, I don’t believe that is the case at all.

Here are a few of the Newcastle United attendances under Mike Ashley:

15 August 2009 – Newcastle 3 Reading 0 – Attendance 36,944

28 August 2011 – Newcastle 2 Fulham 1 – Attendance 42,684

8 December 2019 – Newcastle 2 Southampton 1 – Attendance 42,303

As you can see, there have been some key moments when Newcastle United attendances were at serious risk of going on the slide.

Each time though Mike Ashley had fortune on his side, with Chris Hughton doing a brilliant job of instant promotion, a fifth place season coming out of nowhere, then of course the desperation of 10,000 free season tickets given away and a virus pandemic that meant nobody had fans in stadiums!

These were my estimates of the average Newcastle United attendances for 2020/21 based on various scenarios:

New owners and new manager, NUFC in the Premier League – 52,000 average and season ticket waiting list

New owners and new manager, NUFC in the Championship – 52,000 average and season ticket waiting list

Mike Ashley and new manager, NUFC in the Premier League – 36,000 average

Mike Ashley and new manager, NUFC in the Championship – 30,000 average

Mike Ashley and Steve Bruce, NUFC in the Premier League – 32,000 average

Mike Ashley and Steve Bruce, NUFC in the Championship – 28,000 average

The estimates above are also largely based as well on the fact that so many Newcastle fans are already tied in to attending next season due to having already paid for some or all of their 2021/22 season ticket already.

There are two very clear directions of where Newcastle United attendances can head, continuing the steep slide if Mike Ashley remains, or with new owners a whole different ball game.

I think that now though I would revise those last two estimates, as I now think those crowds would be even lower with / if Steve Bruce staying. I have honestly never experienced a time when a Newcastle United manager (head coach) is so despised by so much of the fanbase. I literally never meet anybody who has a good word for him and who doesn’t think he is an absolute joke. There again, I am a Newcastle fan AND don’t work at Talksport!

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