If there is one thing that can be relied upon in what passes as reality these days it’s that Newcastle United under Mike Ashley will do the wrong thing. The reflex is so reliable now, so robotically disconnected from any sense of human empathy that many fans simply shrug and move on as if it were a broken clock whose dislocated gears continuously herald the wrong time. The club watches the reaction to each new outrage with silent bafflement, unable to build the logical bridge between a club and it’s members, like an android trying, and failing, to understand love.

 

Things have reached a new level of dystopian numbness in recent weeks. The club continues to blithely take money from fans for games they are legally prohibited from attending, during an era defining global health crisis. Not that this is any sort of human mistake or administrational error you understand, just the organs of the institution running on, unmanned, doing what they were programmed to do. An algorithm churning through it’s lines of code. The HAL 9000 of Football Clubs that has decided the fans are an efficiency problem and it makes more sense to just take their money and not let them in. The club seems unable to comprehend why this is wrong and that they should do something about it quickly and with profuse apologies.

As ever with Newcastle United and Mike Ashley though, the ambition is depressingly limited. Ashley is content to pinch £40 here and a few hundred there from the pockets of those who can’t afford it in the hope that no one will call him out, and if they do, nothing will be done to affect anything. To put things in perspective, the £7million the club has taken from fans for games they can’t attend represents 0.23% of Ashley’s £3bn net worth. The same percentage of the average UK annual income is £70. Not small beer, but also not something most people would shaft 18,000 people for.

 

Ashley, though, is a man of considerable appetites, and like many such people the past and the future are only dimly appreciated concepts. The present and what can be immediately extracted from it are what matters. Ashley’s, and by extension Newcastle United’s lack of ambition when it comes to their greed has ironically seen them shut out from an opportunity to be part of an even larger scheme. A basic level of care and competency from the owner, an appreciation that bad things can happen in the future but can be avoided with planning, could have seen one extra point gained in ’09 and three in ’16. Without those relegations Newcastle would surely have been amongst those hand-picked by Manchester and Liverpool to be part of ‘The Big Picture’ (RIP). Joining the exalted ranks of West Ham, Everton and Southampton. Useful idiots until they aren’t. Made men, like Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, pleased as punch at finally being part of the gang before (spoiler alert) being ushered into a quiet room and shot in the head.

We’ll never know how ‘The Big Picture’ would have panned out, though it seems naïve to think once granted unlimited veto power over the entire football pyramid 6 clubs would act in the best interests of all 92. Indeed, it’s not hard to imagine that ‘The Big Picture’ was a simple mechanism to create the long awaited ‘European Super League’ without the faff of having to actually set one up. Well West Brom, we really do want you in the Premier League but you see Barcelona want to join so just beat them in a best of 7 tournament (in Qatar) and we’ll see you at the start of next season. It is telling that as soon as the Premier League itself expressed reservations over using it’s decaying husk to host a new pan European super organism these careful, months long plans with the best interests of everyone at heart were hoyed out the window in favour of a New Thing entirely, organised with the help of the cartoonishly corrupt FIFA.

 

This Super League is of course a level of greed that Ashley’s brand of short-termist asset stripping can’t even contemplate. It requires planning and a little investment, both things in scarce supply on Barrack Road. Ashley’s ideas have never been particularly grand, they’ve been small, grubby and mean. The Super League is an attempt to make the amazon of football. A global behemoth that obliterates any meaningful competition and gets a piece of every dollar spent on football in the entire world. Ashley wanted to squeeze some poorer folk in the North of England and sell more Donnay socks in a powerdrunk, groundhog day cycle where tomorrow never really materialises. I wonder if he realises this approach has cost him an opportunity to be part of the largest cash grab in football history. I wonder if he cares. Tottenham finished one place and three points above us the season Ashley took over.

Jonny Leonard