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Opinion

Mike Ashley proves not so friendly…with Newcastle United friendlies

3 weeks ago
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The reign of Mike Ashley at Newcastle United hasn’t been…great.

Over 14 years (so far) he has owned the football club and not a lot to say really (about what has happened on the pitch), as not an awful lot has happened.

That one freak season of 2011/12 saw Newcastle United finish fifth but Mike Ashley moved swiftly to trample any kind of optimism for what lay ahead, not allowing a single penny of net spending in summer 2012 to try and build on that potential breakthrough season. Indeed, survival was only eventually guaranteed in the 2012/13 season that followed, when Newcastle won their final away game (at QPR).

All the things that football fans (and club owners usually) want are missing at Newcastle United, in terms of what the club strive for.

Every other Premier League club strives to do as well as they possibly can and to generate positivity, hope and excitement for the fans.

Not at Newcastle United though.

Indeed, at Newcastle United under Mike Ashley, this even extends to pre-season friendlies.

Just look at this line-up of pre-season home friendlies at St James Park under Mike Ashley and spot the recurring theme…

Summer 2021 – ???

Summer 2020 – Stoke, Barnsley

Summer 2019 – St Etienne

Summer 2018 – Augsburg

Summer 2017 – Hellas Verona

Summer 2016 – Vitesse Arnhem

Summer 2015 – Borussia Monchengladbach

Summer 2014 – Real Sociedad

Summer 2013 – Braga

Summer 2012 – No one

Summer 2011 – Fiorentina

Summer 2010 – PSV Eindhoven

Summer 2009 – Leeds

Summer 2008 – PSV Eindhoven, Valencia

Summer 2007 – Newcastle 4 Celtic 1, Newcastle 2 Juventus 0, Newcastle 1 Sampdoria 0

The big exception of course is Summer 2007.

A hammering of one of the big two clubs over the border from Glasgow and a win by a couple of goals over Juventus.

Healthy crowds seeing Newcastle hammer Celtic and beat Juventus, the Italians having the likes of Buffon, Trezeguet, Nedved and Zanetti playing at St James Park.

I’m guessing the more wide awake of you will have worked out why this summer was different for Mike Ashley, than all the ones that followed. Obviously the Newcastle United friendlies in summer 2007 will have already have been arranged by the previous Hall and Shepherd administration.

I’m not saying that home friendlies are the most important thing on the NUFC agenda, not at all. However, this total disinterest in wanting to put on anything positive or exciting for Newcastle fans, permeates through everything at NUFC under Mike Ashley.

The thing is as well, why not try and create some pre-season buzz amongst supporters, why not get some excitement and enthusiasm generated?

John Hall and Freddie Shepherd weren’t perfect by any means BUT you always thought they were desperate to put the best product on the pitch as possible. Their end goal was always to make as much money as possible from owning (and then selling) Newcastle United BUT I do think they also got a buzz out of anything positive happening on the pitch as well.

Other stand out St James Park friendlies organised by the previous owners – a 3-0 defeat to Barcelona in 2002, another match against Juventus in 1998 when NUFC won 2-1, the pre-season tournament at SJP in 2004 that included United playing Rangers, plus possibly the best friendly I have seen at SJP, drawing 2-2 with Bayern Munich in 2003.

Obviously, if you want to get the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich to come to St James Park pre-season, you will be paying them appearance money, as opposed to just the bus fare for the procession of mediocre zero interest clubs that have played friendlies at St James Park under Mike Ashley’s direction.

However, as well as generating excitement and interest by getting bigger names, you also get bigger crowds and bigger interest in the club all round, generating more cash through ticket sales (over 51,000 at the Barcelona friendly) and official merchandise.

So far, some ‘exciting’ friendlies have been announced away against Burton, Harrogate, York and Rotherham.

If we do get the usual token Newcastle United home friendly, prepare to be underwhelmed.

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