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Opinion

Mike Ashley – The lost Newcastle United generation

4 weeks ago
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Mike Ashley, so much to answer for.

It is over 14 years since he bought Newcastle United and we are now ‘looking forward’ to a fifteenth season of his NUFC reign.

What we have witnessed is nothing like any of us could have imagined back in 2007, from a self-made English billionaire who’d made his fortune in a sports based industry.

Sir John Hall said that Mike Ashley’s people had told him that the Sports Direct boss had bought Newcastle United to promote his retail empire around the world. Once again, none of us could have guessed back in 2007, what exactly that would mean for our football club.

The typical case of a billionaire buying a Premier League club, then usually sees the billionaire doing everything he can to boost his football club’s chances by using the rest of his business empire and personal wealth to try and bring success on the pitch.

How could any Newcastle fan have known that we would be the one club, where the plan was the exact opposite!

The entire club set up to provide maximum exposure for Sports Direct and Ashley’s other brands with zero income coming into Newcastle United in return, for over a decade. With recent years seeing claims from Mike Ashley that a pittance is now paid yearly by Sports Direct to NUFC for the previously totally free promotion / advertising.

St James Park  overwhelmed by the sheer scale of SD advertising, Mike Ashley’s only ‘football’ aim being for NUFC to survive year to year in the top tier with minimal possible spend, in order for his advertising to be seen by as big an audience as possible via the Premier League’s all-encompassing broadcast contracts in the UK and overseas.

For Newcastle United fans with a few years on the clock, it has been depressing beyond belief this Mike Ashley era.

The most obvious comparison being Newcastle’s first 14 seasons in the Premier League compared to these (first!) 14 years of Mike Ashley.

Kevin Keegan and finishing third, sixth, second and second, Sir Bobby Robson and finishes of fourth, third and fifth. Champions League adventures and beating Barcelona at St James Park, that night in Rotterdam, so many others in all of the various European competitions. Ten out of fourteen seasons with 50+ points, a worst of 43 points, two cup finals and five semi-finals, always a sense of just maybe next season could be the one when Newcastle actually win something…

Under Mike Ashley, only one of 14 seasons has seen a top nine finish in the Premier League, only once in 14 seasons managed 50 points in the top tier, two cup quarter-finals the best in the cups, two relegations, always a sense that this could be a third…

Older Newcastle fans don’t kid themselves that things have always been great following NUFC, after all, why should we when very few of us have seen the club win anything, now 52 years since the Fairs Cup win and 66 years since the last domestic trophy.

However, never has there been this relentless misery of never even trying to be the best the club can possibly be. This at a time when there has never been more money coming into the club and it being owned by somebody so rich, somebody getting ever richer thanks to the help of the club (and by association, fans) he owns.

Stop for a moment though and think of the lost generation, those who are too young to know nothing else but this Mike Ashley misery.

Just think if you had been a teenager when Mike Ashley came in, to now be late twenties / early thirties and have known nothing else of NUFC as an adult.

For those who were not even yet teenagers back in 2007, early twenties or younger now and having such a depressing view of what our football club is all about.

Every year of Mike Ashley that goes by, the worse it gets, much of it invisible in terms of the harm it is doing.

Back before Mike Ashley took charge, if you had seen a photo of a group of kids at a football camp or whatever, your eyes would be drawn to the odd kid who didn’t have a Newcastle United top on. These days, I can guarantee it will be your eyes drawn to the odd kid who does have an NUFC top on. Even then you will be taking a close look to see if it is a retro design, or a cheap copy bought from China to avoid giving Mike Ashley any more cash.

Of course the entire St James Park used to look splendid if we got August sunshine and it looked like almost the entire stadium was wearing the new home top. Those days long long gone.

It makes you sound like your grandad if you start talking about the old midnight launches of the latest Adidas home or away design, entertainment and free food on with queues around St James Park.

Now we don’t even have a single physical official Newcastle United club shop and the PUMA launches of a new kit are almost done in secret, such are the low expectations of sales.

With very rare exceptions, in the last 14 years what has there been to get you properly excited as a Newcastle United fan. Avoiding relegation?

Which NUFC kid these days gets excited when there is an FA Cup draw?

Mike Ashley has simply turned out football club into an eternal civil war.

Kids who support Newcastle United are just as likely, if not more so, to be talking about Mike Ashley instead of the players. Which other clubs are like this? Very very few, thankfully.

We will never know the unfulfilled potential, all those kids and young adults who would have become addicted like the rest of us, only for Mike Ashley to have successfully turned them away from becoming Newcastle fans.

Just think of all those Newcastle United exiles around the UK and overseas, trying to bring their kids up in the black and white faith? Tough enough at times when you have the clubs to compete with who are winning trophies, never mind NUFC turning into a club that purposefully doesn’t try to succeed on the pitch under Mike Ashley.

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