Does Ashley Deserve To Be Driven Out Of Newcastle?

Posted on: 19 September 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Should we feel sorry for Mike Ashley after he invested some £250 million of his own fortune into Newcastle before being given the boot?

Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley has told the club's rebellious fans he's got the message and is actively trying to sell the club. But after he invested some £250 million of his own money in the club, shouldn't we feel a bit sorry for him?

In late May 2007, Ashley bought Sir John Hall’s 41.6 per cent stake in Newcastle at one pound per share, for a total cost of £55.3 million via his company St James Holdings Ltd. Under the terms of UK takeover law, having purchased more than 30 per cent of a listed company, he was obliged to make an offer to buy the remaining shares at the same or a greater price.

Just over a week later it was confirmed that Magpies chairman Freddy Shepherd had agreed to sell his 28 per cent share to Ashley, which left him free to take control of the North-East club.

100 per cent acquisition was achieved in July with the Sports Direct tycoon paying a total of around £134 million to buy the club. Once he had control, he then went on to tackle the debt Newcastle had by funding a large sum of money from his own pocket to pay off almost half the arrears.

It was later revealed by Chris Mort, Newcastle’s stand-in chairman at the time, that if this had not been done and Newcastle had not been bought they were very close to “folding like a pack of cards”.

Ashley’s love affair with the club was evident when, after being refused permission to wear his Newcastle shirt in a corporate box at the away derby with Sunderland, he announced he would sit with the away supporters at the match in November. At half-time, stewards stopped him from buying a pint of lager for every Newcastle fan in the away end as the match ended 1-1.

On the field in January, increased supporter unrest due to the negative tactics and style of play employed by the Toon Army on the pitch, led to Ashley sacking mananger Sam Allardyce. A week later, Kevin Keegan made his return to the North-East and took the job to the adulation of the Newcastle faithful.

But Ashley’s decision to bring in Dennis Wise as a director of football incensed Keegan and their fractious relationship ended less than a month into the new season when Keegan announced he had resigned following three days of acrimonious debate with the club’s board.

Kevin KeeganComments made by Keegan in May 2008 that Newcastle were not likely to penetrate into the top four during his time in charge were believed to have soured relations between the two as Keegan pointed towards his lack of financial backing and control over transfers.

On 14th September, Ashley made a statement announcing that he had put the club up for sale. This followed major protests from Newcastle United fans who called for Ashley to leave and the club's board to be sacked within hours of the rumours that Keegan had resigned from his manager position.

The next day, Ashley announced his intentions to sell the club leaving the Magpies in a state of disarray.

But for a man desperate to sell his football club, Ashley seems to be going about it in a funny way.

The owner is in Dubai with chairman Derek Llambias, Wise and head of recruitment Tony Jimenez, in an effort to secure a buyer.
But attempts to double his money with an asking price of £481 million have been rejected. This week there were allegations that Ashley snubbed a meeting with a Dubai consortium and caused offence by drinking in public during Ramadan.

These claims came as, back home, Wigan Athletic chairman Dave Whelan branded Ashley as unfit to run a football club and deserving of the stick he is getting.

“I know Mike Ashley quite well because I was running JJB when he was with Sports Direct, and he is a bit unusual,” says Whelan.
“He is a very good retailer, but at managing a football club, no. Especially with him being a Tottenham supporter and then going up to Newcastle, a club that is a different kettle of fish to most in the land.”

“The fans up there eat, breathe and live for one thing, and that is Newcastle United. Unless you put your whole heart into it, they will give you some stick. He has got it and he deserves it.”

Is that a retailing giant having a pop at an easy target or does Whelan speak sense?

Sense is something everyone inside of St James’ Park is struggling to come to terms with. From outside of the club Ashley can be seen as a saviour, willing to put his own personal fortune up to aid a ‘sleeping giant’ turn their dreams into reality.

A sense of perspective from the Newcastle fans will give you no illusions as to what Ashley’s failings have been. The number one on the list is simply, he’s not a Geordie and number two? He let Kevin Keegan walk out on the club for a third time.

Two gladiatorial errors on Toon terms and what started out as a fairytale has turned to turmoil. Newcastle are in a mess of their own making once more and Ashley is unlikely to stick around to pick up the pieces.

Do you feel for Mike Ashley, driven out of Newcastle despite ploughing £250 million into the club? Are Newcastle supporters’ expectations unrealistic? Will Newcastle ever break into the top four? What lessons can be learnt from the Ashley episode?

Let us know by leaving a comment in the box below. Alternatively, share your thoughts with other 50connect members in the forums.

By Mark O'Haire

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