It is the end of a full decade of Mike Ashley’s ownership of Newcastle United and what a fun-packed (cough) ten years it has been. Looking back over the period from 1/Jan/11 to 31/Dec/19 (and there’s time yet for another major bollocks coming our way between now and the sound of Big Ben tomorrow night) it is perhaps timeous to reflect on the low-points of Ashley’s tenure in Gallowgate.
You may have others to add so please feel free to do so in the comment boxes below.
We’ve deliberately avoided the head-banging football decisions made over the last decade which resulted in relegation and stasis but maybe we’ll look at those separately.
In no particular order, eyes down for a full house
THE SPORTS DIRECT ARENA
Despite St James’ Park being the name of the ground Newcastle United has played at since the club’s inception in 1892 and actually even before that, Mike Ashley came up with an idea as crass as its possible for a man who variously vomits into fire-places in pubs and flashes wads of cash in front of employees at his Shirebrook warehouse on NMW. Not content with plastering SJP with his company’s cheap and nasty logo around the ground, aided and abetted by the odious Derek Llambias and notionally to show-case the sponsorship opportunity to potential suitors, Ashley pulled off a stunt that united the support and wider football, world in complete condemnation by attempting to rebrand St James’ Park as the Sports Direct Arena. The criticism spread beyond football to the political sphere with the council and local Labour MPs queuing up to lambast a man who understands the price of everything and the value of nothing.
WONGA SHIRT SPONSORSHIP
It spoke volumes of the ignorance and lack of sensitivity at the top of Newcastle United that the name of an on line loan shark should be agreed to be put on the front of a Newcastle United shirt but given the club has little corporate strategy to develop the club’s commercial income it snapped the hand off the WONGA deal, thinking only about the money to be made (not much really) and completely ignorant of the impact it would have on what remained of the club’s good name under Mike Ashley. A disaster of a decision which did much to bring the club into popular and widespread public revulsion, where it has more or less remained!
JONAS CANCER CASE
When Jonas Gutierrez discovered he had testicular cancer, the response of the club wasn’t to throw a protective arm around one of its employees and players. The response was to work to engineer the circumstances which would force the popular Argentine out of the club to avoid any financial liabilities. Jonas found a safe haven at Norwich under Chris Hughton but would be later vindicated in an Employment Tribunal where the reputations of Alan Pardew and lee Charnley (such as they are) would be further trashed for their words under oath.
THE SHEARER STATUE
After renaming Shearer’s Bar at the Gallowgate End in an act of petulant spite, United could not find space on the club’s land at St James’ Park to host a statue paid for by the late Freddie Shepherd to the club’s record goal-scorer and most recognizable and famous ex-player. So, the Shearer statue is positioned on Barrack Road on the site of a former public toilet where it lacks the position our ex-No.9’s achievements warrant.
ERASING KEVIN KEEGAN FROM EXISTENCE
The modern day Newcastle United would not exist but for the achievements of Kevin Keegan and his team from 1992 onwards. Keegan provided the teams which remain the high point of most supporters’ lives. He is the man who led the club to a cat’s whisker of winning the PL title and which remains adored by supporters. Keegan was the inspiration for the club on the park in the 1980s and again on the touchline in the 1980s. He is a man whose vision, passion and obvious love for Newcastle United is obvious in his every utterance about it. It is a love he is repaid with by supporters who continue to adore him. King Kev was another who revealed the venality of Ashley by winning his court case against Ashley and exposing him as a liar. The result of that is there is barely a photograph or reference to Kevin inside SJP and it is appalling a man of KK’s stature across the globe should feel so unwelcome at St James’ Park under the Ashley regime. Shameful.
THE SPORTS DIRECT ADVERTISING
St James’ Park is one of the best stadiums in Europe. It is instantly recognisable and dominates the skyline of a whole city. Yet it looks cheap and nasty wherever you sit in it, defiled such as it is by Sports Direct advertising which occupies every visible nook and cranny of SJP and for which the club has received little if any recompense. There is not a greater physical illustration of the cheapening of Newcastle United than the general level of shittiness these adverts bring to our club’s home. The adverts are located in places where symbols of the club should be – the over-hang of the Gallowgate End is where the club crest should be not the artless way the owner’s company is placed. Likewise the East Stand, which for years had the simple motif NEWCASTLE UNITED is now booked ended with Sports Direct. Likewise in the Milburn Stand atrium … there isn’t a visible space inside SJP where Ashley’s logo doesn’t squat unwanted and unloved by the supporters.
THE STATE OF ST JAMES’ PARK
There was a time when St James’ Park ranked amongst the finest in the land, with corporate hospitality facilities to match any in the UK and a general level of finish to fill us with pride. Our club, our stadium and a proud symbol of our Geordie Pride! Who can’t recall the documentary footage of Sir Bobby showing Gary Lineker around The Milburn and proudly pointing to the quality of the wooden door frames? Now, the place is generally unkempt, windows are filthy, parts of the stadium are covered in mildew and there is a grubbiness, a physical sense of the neglect of the club at every level.
When Mike Ashley bought Newcastle United in 2007, Newcastle United owned the lease on the land around Strawberry Place and adjacent the St James’ Metro Station. The lease on the land had been bought by United from NEXUS under the Hall-Shepherd regime with a view to extending the Gallowgate End to match the Milburn and Leazes. There are engineering plans which confirm the viability of that potential extension. That would have likely taken the SJP capacity up to c.64,000 and established it as one of the largest in the UK and a shoe-in for European finals and other major international events. In an act of jaw dropping greed that Strawberry Place lease was transferred to the personal ownership of Mike Ashley at no cost and onto developers at a significant personal profit to our club’s owner. The developers have had plans approved for developments which are far from unique for the city, which will block views of the self-styled Cathedral on the Hill but which most importantly severely restrict the possibility of further extending St James’ Park and thus make problematic any increase I capacity under future owners who have ambitions beyond keeping the club on the PL gravy train and little else.
COMPETING FOR CUPS
There was a time when we still had a sense of outrage at how the club was being trashed by Ashley and his minions at SJP but few statements coming from Newcastle United in its entire history can have sickened the supporters more than the publicly articulated attitude towards cup competitions. No wonder Lee Charnley doesn’t say much if this outburst is any measure of his wit and wisdom! For a club official of Charnley’s status to outline the club not being arsed about trying in the cups (a sentiment given evidence in the cup record since 2007) at a Fans Forum begs belief. The spectacular lack of grasp on what supporters find important, the lack of sporting integrity and his own disassociation from the views of the rank and file which would embolden him to blurt out this says everything about the toxic culture in the corridors of power on Barrack Road. The club has attempted to row back on this statements since they were made but frankly with every team selection for a cup tie and every defeat in the early rounds the reality is brought more horribly into focus. This is a Zombie club, interested in nothing other than preserving its PL status. No glory, no romance, no ambition … a sporting institution, barely worthy of the name.
THE FANS FORUM
Is there an exercise more pointless in its box ticking futility than the Newcastle United Fans Forum? It is orchestrated in a manner to shame the North Korean government. Lee Charnley presides over it as the Milburn Stand Kim Jong-un, paranoid about questions asked and answers given with any credible supporter not seduced by the tea and biscuits or the occasional corporate feed, binning it off as an insult to their intelligence. Its history is one of pliable appointees, useful idiots and exists only because of a UEFA and PL regulation. United do the bare minimum and often much less. There is no full time Supporters Liaison Officer and hasn’t been for years since Lee Marshall moved to manage the club’s 2-bob media operation. Not that it meets very much at all and in its manner to date, serves absolutely no meaningful purpose. An embarrassment!
I apologise, there could be more – lack of investment, Pardew, Carver and McClaren in the managerial dug-out and I’d add Bruce to that list too in honesty. Losing Rafa, the lack of success in selling the club to someone with half a good intention, 10,000 free half season tickets and on and on and on.
Can Newcastle United cope with another ten years of Mike Ashley? Ten months? Ten weeks? Ten days?
What have we done to deserve this monster?