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Mike Ashley takes moral high ground demanding transparency – Here are 10 for starters

2 weeks ago
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Mike Ashley is at it again.

The Newcastle United owner releasing a new statement (see below) regarding NUFC takeover arbitration on the evening of Thursday 1 July 2021.

The Newcastle United Takeover arbitration hearing is scheduled to take place this month and when Mike Ashley made the original announcement (also see below) of it taking place via another statement released through the club in early March, he revealed then that he had failed in an attempt to have the hearing held in public.

However, you can’t keep a good man, or Mike Ashley, down and here he is riding his Premier League high horse for all it is worth, demanding that those at the PL do the right and proper decent thing, show transparency in all their dealings and agree to have this arbitration hearing made totally public.

When it comes to having a brass neck, there isn’t a tape measure big enough in the world to fit around Mike Ashley’s.

There is an ancient proverb saying ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’, suggesting that two parties could / should work together against a common enemy. Well I’m sorry, whilst I have sheer contempt for the Premier League, I am not going to be jumping on any Mike Ashley driven bandwagon calling for others to behave in a fit and proper manner.

Ashley has pretended for over a decade he was willing to sell Newcastle United  but it is only when, for whatever reasons, the Saudis have offered far more than the market price (plus potentially other benefits of selling to them…?), that he has been willing to do so. That is NOT proof he has been willing to sell that previous decade or more, indeed the exact opposite.

Yet again the house analogy, if you put your house up for sale and after a decade it still wasn’t sold, nobody would think the problem was due to unreasonable / unwilling buyers!

Anyway, Mike Ashley is desperate for transparency. Really?

Well here are 10 things for Mike Ashley to deliver on when it comes to transparency before anybody should take him remotely seriously with his Premier League demands:

Communication Lies

In August 2019 in programme notes (v Arsenal, Steve Bruce’s first game), Lee Charnley apologised on behalf of both himself and Mike Ashley and accepted that they had totally failed when it came to communication with Newcastle fans.

They promised to put it right and in particular, no longer would fans be totally reliant on whoever was manager / head coach, when it came to getting direct access to what was happening at Newcastle United.

Since August 2019, the only person we have heard from is Steve Bruce. Things have unbelievably managed to get even worse when it comes to communication these past 23 months.

Furlough

Throughout the entire pandemic Mike Ashley has used the furlough scheme.

We know this through Newcastle United staff making it known to the media, as well as the now monthly government figures showing which businesses are still claiming.

The most recent figures show Newcastle United claiming between £100,001 and £250,000 every month.

Mike Ashley and his minions haven’t even acknowledged over these past 16 months that the club is using furlough, using taxpayers’ money to pay many of his staff.

The Accounts

Mike Ashley has now gone to the biggest extreme ever, in terms of delaying access for fans and media to the official club accounts.

In recent days the NUFC owner has put the publication of the club accounts back until the 31 July 2021.

The Newcastle United accounts in question are for 2019/20, TWO seasons ago!

Basically, the NUFC owner hasn’t allowed any financials to be released in the entire time since Steve Bruce has been at the club.

Why the lack of transparency? Almost as if there is something Mike Ashley isn’t keen on us seeing for as long as possible…

Newcastle United are the only 2019/20 Premier League club who haven’t published their accounts for that season.

Player Contracts

The final deadline was 23 June 2021 for Newcastle United to inform the Premier League which players had / hadn’t been retained for next season.

Nine days later and for some reason Mike Ashley is refusing even to tell us whether the likes of Fernandez, Schar, Gayle, Dummett and Carroll are still contracted to Newcastle United.

2021/22 Season Tickets

Every other Premier League club has been in touch with fans about season tickets for the upcoming season that is only six weeks away.

Yes we still wait for clarity in terms of lifting of virus restrictions but clubs have provided season ticket prices as a minimum and explaining as best they can, what the plan is in terms of selling the season tickets.

Not one word from Newcastle United.

Season Ticket / Ticket refunds

Why are Newcastle United fans always the last Premier League fanbase to be provided with any information on what was happening with refunds?

More importantly, why have NUFC fans always been the last club fanbase to actually get refunds?

Newcastle supporters still haven’t received full refunds for the 2020/21 season, why don’t Lee Charnley and / or Mike Ashley show transparency and be interviewed by a credible person on TV and explain why this is?

Why is it going to be mid-July before those who want refunds on last year’s season ticket, get their final batch of cash back? Why did Mike Ashley continue to take monthly direct debits for the 2020/21 season tickets when he knew there was no chance of them getting into St James Park?

The Club Shop

Mike Ashley closed all the club shops in favour of his Sports Direct stores in the north east.

Why was he not transparent about that?

At the moment, what was the last physical club shop at St James Park is currently closed.

It appears to be getting ready to be reopened but who is going to be operating it and who will derive the benefit from it – Newcastle United, Sports Direct, a third party?

St James Park – Limiting capacity forever

Hall and Shepherd arranged the buying of land opposite the Gallowgate end, with plan drawn up that would allow an increase in capacity to at least 60,000.

That land was part of NUFC when Mike Ashley bought the club.

He sold the land from the club to himself and then he sold it on to developers for a personal profit.

Once built on, this ends any chance in the future, even under new ambitious owners, of St James Park being substantially increased in capacity. Newcastle United averaged over 51,000 in 2016/17 in the second tier, more fans attended NUFC home league matches that season than every other club in England, excluding Man Utd.

Why no transparency from Mike Ashley, or god forbid, any justification from him for this crass act?

The 2021/22 kit deal and 2021/22 strip designs

Six weeks until the season starts and no announcement on who will be manufacturing the strips and no sight of any of the three new strips.

Let alone those who want to buy one being able to do so.

Fans Forum

It is now 34 months (September 2018) since the last Newcastle United fans forum, when supporters (selected by the club) could raise any questions they wanted to. We might not have liked the answers or the laughable ‘minutes’ the club published but it was better than what we have now.

Which is nothing. Zero transparency.

Mike Ashley Official Statement released via NUFC regarding Newcastle United Takeover arbitration – 1 July 2021:

‘The Club continues to receive requests for updates on its current arbitration claim against the Premier League (‘EPL’) considering the lawfulness of the EPL’s decisions regarding the proposed takeover of the Club involving the PIF.

Unfortunately, the Club is unable to make any comment about the arbitration. The EPL Rules provide the entire arbitration process is confidential.

However, both parties can agree for it to be in public. The Club believes it should be.

The issues at stake, including the lawfulness of the EPL’s decision making process and the widely publicised alleged influence of the EPL’s commercial partners on the EPL’s decisions, are of far wider interest to other football clubs, fans and the public in general.

The recent attempted breakaway by some EPL clubs – and the reaction of the government and public to it – has again highlighted the need for transparency and fairness in football governance. Gone are the days when important decisions that affect clubs and their fans should be made secretly, behind closed doors and away from the public eye.

The Club has nothing to hide with respect to the arbitration and invites the EPL to agree that it should no longer be held behind closed doors. If the EPL has acted lawfully and properly, it should have no reason to be afraid of the public spotlight.

To date the EPL has strongly resisted any public scrutiny of its decision-making process. It tried, and failed, to prevent the High Court’s judgment about elements of the arbitration being published last February. It is currently attempting to prevent the competition courts considering a claim by the Club’s sellers from taking place in public, arguing that too should be held in confidential arbitration.

So the Club has invited the EPL to agree – as the claim raises such important issues of sports governance, transparency and openness – that it should be held in public. The Club is prepared for every stage of the process to be in public: the public should be able to see the parties’ evidence and arguments as well as the full decision of the Tribunal when it is made.

The government quite rightly threatened to intervene in reaction to the proposed breakaway from the EPL earlier this year, and the reaction of football fans and the wider public was instrumental in stopping the emergence of the European Super League (ESL).

If the EPL continues to insist that the Club’s claim must be determined behind closed doors, the Club asks that MPs, the government, the media and the general public call on the EPL to finally accept public scrutiny of its decision-making process.’

Mike Ashley’s original Newcastle United Takeover arbitration Statement – 5 March 2021:

‘NUFC v EPL public statement to be considered following publication of the two judgments:

Today the High Court handed down judgment in NUFC’s application to have the Chairman of the Arbitration Panel under the Premier League’s (‘EPL’) Rules removed from hearing its claim concerning the proposed takeover of the Club. The Club asked for the Chairman to be removed on the ground of apparent bias.

The Club made the application because two weeks after the Chairman had been appointed the lawyers representing the Premier League, Bird & Bird, disclosed information that the Club had previously been unaware of. In particular, Bird & Bird disclosed that the Chairman had provided confidential advice to the EPL in 2017.

Although the advice was not provided to the Club, the Club was informed that the Chairman had advised the EPL on amendments to its ‘Owners and Directors Test’ (‘OADT’) in Section F of its Rules. Shortly after the Chairman provided that advice in 2017 the Rules were changed to prevent a foreign owner involved in alleged broadcasting piracy from passing the test.

This information concerned the Club given the following context: in a much publicised letter to EPL clubs in April 2020, BeIN Sports called for the EPL to “strictly apply” the OADT to prevent the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, PIF, from being involved in the takeover of the Club because BeIN alleged that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (‘the KSA’) was involved in broadcasting piracy. Later that year, the EPL decided that the KSA controlled the PIF and was therefore a ‘Director’ under its Rules. The Club disputes this analysis and brought an arbitration to reverse the decision. As today’s Judgment records, the Club’s case is that the arbitration is wider than simply the definition of ‘Director’ and part of the Club’s challenge is to the lawfulness of the EPL’s approach when considering the takeover.

The Chairman had also failed to disclose, when he was appointed, that he had previously been appointed by Bird & Bird and, in the last 3 years, had been an arbitrator in 12 cases involving Bird & Bird. When challenged by the Club, prior to the High Court claim, the Chairman did not agree to step down. The Club’s concerns were heightened when he then engaged in unilateral communications with Bird & Bird about the Club’s challenge, which is expressly against the EPL arbitration rules. In his private emails with the EPL’s lawyers he asked if they wanted him to carry on as Chairman, and he later explained that if they had asked him to step down he would have done so. The private email exchange was only disclosed after Bird & Bird suggested it should be.

Although the Court was critical of these communications, describing them as an “error of judgment” the Court refused the Club’s application to remove the Chairman on grounds of apparent bias.

The Club is disappointed with the Court’s judgment on this issue. As noted at the end of the Judgment, the Club submitted that the Judge did not address all of the Club’s arguments. The Club is committed to the speedy and fair determination of its claim so that the proposed takeover can go ahead as soon as possible. However, it felt it had to make this application given the need for the dispute to be determined by way of a fair process. The Club is considering whether or not to pursue an appeal.

The Club argued for the hearing to be in public but lost on that argument. The Club also wanted the Judgment to be published, even though it was dissatisfied with the outcome. Meanwhile, the EPL attempted to prevent it from being published at all. The EPL said that if it was published it should be heavily redacted and anonymised so that readers would not be able to identify the dispute. Unfortunately, this is consistent with the EPL’s lack of transparency over the takeover. The Club won on this point. The Judge rejected the EPL’s arguments and said there was a “public interest” in publication of the Judgment. The Club welcomes the fact that at least its supporters, and the wider public interested in the takeover and the dispute, will now be able to have some information about the process.

The Club shall continue to actively pursue its claim in the arbitration and calls on the EPL to resolve the matter in a speedy and transparent way that does not prevent the substantial investment into English football, and the North East region, that the proposed takeover would bring.’

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