This past weekend saw rumours re-emerge of a bid for Newcastle United by Indian billionaire businessman Anil Ambani. Ambani has been linked with the club before and has also been associated with rumours of a bid for Everton in the recent past. For what it is worth, I don't believe a word of this weekendâ€™s story - there isn't a month goes by without rumours of one bid or another and despite what he says, I don't think Mike Ashley would sell. His alleged actions the last couple of times he 'put the club up for sale' indicate that.
I know everyone reading this is familiar with Ashley and his actions to date - but here is a reminder of what has happened at our football club since his arrival.
Ashley would have us believe that he did not undertake due diligence when he purchased the club. That is incredibly hard to believe from a man who had made over Â£1billion in business - but it has to be true. Some would have us believe that if a buyer had not been found, Newcastle would have 'done a Leeds' if not worse following the handling of the club from the Shepherd's and Hall's.
From poor managerial appointments and player signings to dubious business deals, Newcastle United still made the Hall's and Shepherd's money with no little scandal on the way - who can remember the rented warehouse story?
Freddy Shepherd's brother allegedly bought a warehouse for Â£175,000 and then the club leased it on a long term deal that saw the owners make their money back several times over:
So I was delighted when it was announced on 23rd May 2007 that 'reclusive billionaire' Michael James Wallace Ashley had purchased John Hall's 41.6% stake in the club. A billionaire was buying our football club and he was removing Freddy Shepherd! Hoorah! 23 days later and Ashley took full control of the club by purchasing Shepherd's shares having spent a total of Â£134 million. Not a bad price for a football club with a fan base the size of ours. Not a bad price if you didn't bother with due diligence anyway. Debts were inherited and sponsorship monies running into the future had already been spent, and Ashley had to consolidate that.
I heard a worrying story a few days later. I was chatting with a QPR supporting multiple-bar owner and he told me that Ashley had only bought the club as a forfeit from a night's gambling with other mega rich people in the now defunct 50 St James Casino in London - the loser had to buy a football club. Being a man full of bravado, Ashley followed through on this and much to their astonishment, he bought a football club. This is likely to be an urban myth, though it was hot out of the blocks following his purchase.
Ashley appointed Chris Mort as interim Chairman - this was a good move and Mort came across as a professional, intelligent man who would be a good figurehead for the football club away from the field.
The 'reclusive billionaire' got himself out and about in Newcastle's Bigg Market and shared pints with fans and punters in some of the bars around town. He was later spotted on TV downing a pint in the away end at the Emirates stadium whilst we played Arsenal.
Ashley then increased his popularity further by sacking Sam Allardyce - in all of my years as a Newcastle supporter Allardyce dished up the most unpleasant football. Not the worst results (though they were far from great) but as a spectacle his brand of 'the beautiful game' almost put me off. Another good move.
On the 12th January 2008 it was reported that Harry Redknapp had agreed a deal to come to Tyneside from Portsmouth. Redknapp then did a U turn on the deal - rumours were abound that his wife did not fancy the move up north or perhaps he did not buy into the background plans that Ashley was formulating. A few days later the rumour mill went into overdrive - Kevin Keegan was to return. The rumours were quickly confirmed and I was astonished. My heart shouted that this was a great appointment whilst my head kept telling me that this was madness for a number of reasons (never go back, too long out of football, a quitter) but we were excited none the less.
Dennis Wise quickly followed KK into the club - he was to take up a Director of Football role. Given the obvious dislike of Wise as a player amongst the St James' Park faithful, this was an odd decision. When asked about it Keegan said he was happy - this role had been discussed in his interview for the job and the board had named Wise as one of the likely candidates for the role.
Chris Mort quit his role on 17th June 2008 and Derek Llambias - a friend of Ashley's from 50 St James, took on the role of Chairman.
As the summer transfer window drew to a close, it became obvious that all was not well within the club. Milner was sold and initially Keegan did not make too much of it because he had been assured that a significant replacement would be coming in. Keegan found out that this was not the case at all - and, in his own words, he "felt like the wool was being pulled over his eyes". Xisco came in - a player Keegan had never heard of let alone seen play and, yet again,
Keegan walked out on the club after a meeting with Llambias on the 4th September.
In response to this the fans protested - the first of a number of protests that have blighted Ashley's reign. The fans branded Ashley, Llambias and Wise as 'The Cockney Mafia' and let their feelings be known whenever possible.
On the 14th September 2008 Ashley announced that the club was for sale. He claimed that he and his family felt unsafe and could no longer attend games.
Ashley's attempts at selling the club took him and his cronies off to Dubai where they drank a significant amount of alcohol and refused to meet the Dubai Royal Family because he was 'insulted' by their offer of Â£200 million (Â£66 million more than he paid). It is believed that Ashley set an asking price of Â£480 million - a price that was higher than the recent sales of Liverpool and Man City combined.
Stuck without a manager, scared to bring his family to games and unable to find a buyer willing to pay almost half a billion, Ashley obviously felt that he needed revenge on the supporters and what better way to do that than to appoint Joe 'JFK' Kinnear as manager? Kinnear had been out of the game for 4 years - he had been fired by Nottingham Forest in his last role with them sitting in the Championship's relegation zone. They had won 4 games in 23. He had also suffered from serious health problems.
Kinnear quickly managed to alienate the national press as well as one or two players and introduced ineffective football that saw us slowly drop down the table. Initially his contract was week to week, but he was then given a slightly longer contract that only came to an end because of a heart attack suffered just before a game. The club lurched from one Ashley made crisis to another.
Chris Hughton was appointed in the interim with Ashley hoping that JFK would recover in time to take back over again. With 8 games remaining and relegation knocking, Ashley appointed club Legend Alan Shearer as manager with an 8 game contract. Too little too late. Ashley achieved something that in reality should be very difficult - he led the modern day Newcastle United to relegation.
One of the saddest things about the Ashley regime is the fracture that they have caused amongst the fans of Newcastle United. This is shown perfectly in the case of Keith Barratt. Many of you will be familiar with Keith - for years he provided planes and buses for Newcastle games all over Europe. I travelled with his groups since I was a kid - he is a great bloke and as big a Newcastle supporter as you could ever find. Keith found himself banned after a fracas caused by a 'Cockney Mafia Out' banner his group took away to Hull City.
Cue time for another 'club for sale' period. Local businessman Barry Moat tried his hand, but in the end he did not have the finance to push a deal through. I'm not convinced Ashley had the appetite to sell either. The club were also found guilty of the constructive dismissal of Keegan and ordered to pay him Â£2 million.
When the talks with Moat broke down Ashley once again took the club off the market. At the same time he announced that the naming rights for St James' Park were up for grabs. This caused further outrage inside and outside of the stadium - the stewards in the ground took a strong armed approach with any protesters or anyone with banners displaying anti-Ashley sentiments. I can only assume there were no interested parties as the stadium is now officially entitled "Sports Direct .com @ St James' Park" - unless that's what he had intended all along.
Many of us feared the worst as the Championship season dawned. There had been further wholesale player sales and Chris Hughton was again in charge - a decision few, if any people agreed with.
As we all know, Chris performed miracles. We cantered to the Championship title in style. Who predicted that? We spent very little going back into the Premier League and another long season looked to be on the cards, but Hughton stabilised us and presented us with some incredible performances (Villa, 5under1and) built on a phenomenal team spirit.
Things were obviously going far too well for Ashley though, so he sacked Hughton despite our top half of the table position - over achieving in most supporters eyes.
Ashley claimed he wanted a more experienced man in - so he appointed Alan Pardew who had been waiting in the wings for almost 2 months. Pardew - another of Ashley's 50 St James pals.
Pardew, as Ashley's mouth-piece, told us that this is a club that is building for the future. He swore that we would not be selling Andy Carroll and that keeping him was more important than bringing anyone in. It was not hard to predict that Carroll would be sold just before the deadline passed therefore making signing a significant replacement impossible. Anyone who believed the attempted signing of N'Zogbia was anything more than a wind up must be mad - for starters I doubt he would come back to the club and secondly it is HIGHLY unlikely that Ashley's arch-nemesis, Dave Whelan, would sell. So in came 34 year old never-really-was Shefki Kuqi who was apparently on the verge of signing a deal with Barrow. Nothing against Mr Kuqi - I hope he does well.
With the above in mind I find it incredible that a huge number of our fans believe Pardew when he says that he will have the entire Carroll fee to spend. I'm not even sure Pardew believes it himself.
Ashley's most recent petulant act has seen the removal of the Level 7 Singing Corner. This is the section of the ground that generated most of the atmosphere - including most of the anti-Ashley songs...
I just wonder where we are going now. We are a club with no ambition and the profit Ashley has made on players since walking through the doors grows with each passing transfer window. Who is next? Cheick Tiote? "A new contract" I hear you cry! As did Carroll 2 months before leaving - that just ensures maximum market value. Pardon me for being cynical, but all of the above leaves me that way - and, amazingly, Ashley still has a significant number of supporters amongst our fan base and that is the reason he will not sell the football club.
I am sure there will be other controversies that I have missed out - remind me!
Be careful of what you wish for...
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