|Ashes to ashes: Mike Ashley watches the team his owns. — AFP Photo|
by Paul Kennedy
For those of you who have never visited Newcastle, you really are missing out. It’s a great place.
A night out in this northeastern city of the UK should be top of everyone’s bucket’s list. The people are warm, even though the place itself isn’t in the winter, and after many a visit I’m yet to be disappointed.
Just 70 miles or so south of Scotland, Newcastle is a tough, industrious city that has bags of both urban cool and traditional beauty.
Downtown is about as hip as it gets and you are always just a stone’s throw away from spectacular countryside.
In many ways Newcastle is a unique place. Try having a conversation with a drunken native and you’ll probably need an app to translate what they are saying.
Also, unusually for such a big city, it only has one football club. Manchester has two, Liverpool, one and a half, Birmingham and London, loads, even Nottingham and Stoke, places much smaller than Newcastle, are blessed with more than one team.
So by the law of averages, just about every single man, woman and child from Newcastle, supports Newcastle United.
Sure, Sunderland is a rival of sorts but they are 15 miles south.
If you are from Newcastle, all your friends will support the same team. Your work colleagues too will all be united in their love of United. Brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles and aunts, will all bleed black and white.
And right now, they are all suffering, all because of one man; Mike Ashley.
Michael James Wallace Ashley, to give him his full name, is a British billionaire retail entrepreneur in the sporting goods market.
He bought a major stake in the club in 2007 and at first, his ‘one of the lads’ persona seemed to work well with the supporters and he was often seen necking pints of beer while wearing the black and white shirt of the team he owned.
Sadly that didn’t last.
He may well be one of the wealthiest men in Britain (Forbes listed him as number 15 in 2012) but he’s also, it seems, one of the cheapest.
In Rafa Benitez, Newcastle have a great manager. This man has won cups galore, including the Champions League with Liverpool in 2005.
But a good manager isn’t enough. He needs good players, and more importantly, a good owner, one who is willing to invest.
In Mike Ashley, they don’t have that. Instead it appears they have a sulky child who wants to hold on tight to his toys and is refusing to let anyone else play.
Football clubs may have owners but they all should have one thing in common, they work for the supporters.
Ashley’s MO in the past has been to buy struggling sportswear companies like Lonsdale, Donnay and Dunlop Slazenger. He then stocks his 400 plus sports stores with their merchandise and sells it on the cheap.
With Newcastle he seems to have done things the other way around. When he bought them they were doing relatively well.
In 2006 they finished seventh and a few seasons before reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup, and had signed Michael Owen from Real Madrid.
Then in steps Mike.
He made Denis Wise director of football for reasons no-one knows yet alone understands and over the next few years Newcastle were managed by Sam Allardyce, Kevin Keegan, Joe Kinnear, Alan Shearer and Chris Hughton.
Alan Pardew came in, then he left, Steve McLaren had a go, but that didn’t last long and now they’ve got Rafa.
Are you noticing a pattern here? Managers being appointed and sacked at a rapid rate meanwhile the owner is still in place, refusing to let others play with his toy.
The football club is supposedly up for sale, but Ashley seems reluctant to sell.
Newcastle United is a great club based in a great city with great supporters. They are not some cheap sports shop selling Kangol hats and Donnay golf clubs at rock bottom prices.
Mike Ashley needs to sell up. He is ripping the soul from Newcastle and it’s not fair on the real owners of the football club, the supporters themselves.
Last week he took the team and manager for a bonding dinner where he reportedly ate spaghetti bolognese and drank pints of larger.
Many on The Tyne really hope and pray it will be his last supper. — VNS