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The ups and downs of having your very own billionaire! By Barry J. Hindmarch The first I heard of the arrival of Mike Ashley was when my friend Smog Monster texted me to say, “You have been taken over by a billionaire.” That was all. At first I thought it was a joke of some sort, especially as it came from a Middlesbrough fan, but a quick check soon showed it to be true. It seemed that the long suffering Newcastle fans finally had their wish – the evil empire of the Shepherds was over, and the knight in shining armour Sir Ashley of Mike had arrived to set us back on the path started by Sir John Hall in the early 90’s. Sure, nobody knew anything about him – the media called him “reclusive”, but we did know he was from darn sarf, possibly a Spurs supporter, and more importantly he was a self-made billionaire who owned Sports Direct. The Entertainers Mark 2 was coming! Ashley further endeared himself to the Geordie public with his much-publicised beer drinking with the fans in the Bigg Market, sharing the banter and buying a few rounds. His reputation as ‘one of the lads’ was further enhanced as he donned a black and white replica shirt 28 (probably from Sports Direct) and joined the fans in the stands rather than take his place in the Directors Box or an executive box. the “This iswhere point public opinion really swung against Ashley ” In hindsight, the way it was obvious that Ashley wanted rid of Sam Allardyce should have been a warning to us. Unfortunately, he then pulled off a PR coup as he brought it Kevin Keegan as manager, but had also replaced Chris Mort with Derek Llambias and brought in Dennis Wise as some sort of Director of Football/Chief Scout. Players came in such as Nacho Gonzalez and Xisco who KK didn’t want or rate, and in September 2008 after only nine months back in charge, Keegan quit. This is the point where public opinion really swung against Ashley. The appointment of missing presumed –dead Joe Kinnear did not really help things, though when Joe had to leave the club (temporarily, sadly) Ashley again produced an ace and appointed another Geordie hero in Alan Shearer. While another PR masterstroke, similar to the Keegan appointment, unfortunately it couldn’t stop us getting relegated, and according to rumour, Shearer never heard from the club again. This is the kind of thing that shows Ashley’s failure to grasp the mentality of the Newcastle fans, and the hero-worship they can and do bestow upon anyone who serves the club with distinction. Keegan and Shearer were iconic figures at SJP, and yet were treat shabbily, to say the least. Anyone with an ounce of knowledge about the club would understand that certain people are so highly respected by the fans, that they should be shown the respect they deserve (or at least look as if they are) because in the eyes of the Geordie faithful, certain people will always stand head and shoulders above others. The return to the Premier League at the first attempt, under the dignified guidance of Chris Hughton went some way to restoring the pride that had been lost with relegation, and our steady, and at times spectacular (Villa, Sunderland, West Ham, Arsenal) progress in the division seemed to deflect criticism away from Ashley, but then once again he seemed to shoot himself in the foot, sacking Hughton and appointing another so-called Cockney Mafia foot soldier, Alan Pardew. Now, to be fair to Pardew, he cannot be blamed for taking the job – any manager with ambition would be stupid not to – and he cannot be blamed for being awarded a long term deal after taking the club back into Europe. Also, while he has actually started to blend a decent side together, despite the financial constraints he is under, it once again shows Ashley’s lack of understanding of the Geordie psyche. Hughton had won the hearts of the black and whites, doing a good job in tough circumstances, and then had the rug pulled unceremoniously from under his feet. Pardew earned his stripes with the fans, though last season’s poor showing has not helped him built on our top five finish the previous season. Ashley may be an astute business man, but running a football club and running a sports shop is not the same thing. True, the club was buckling under an unfeasible wage bill that could not be sustained much longer, and the owner has done a great job in getting Newcastle United back on a firm financial footing. His lack of investment, however, makes fans wonder how much he wants to do well and how much he is simply trying to regain the millions he lost by not completing due diligence when he bought the club. The changing of the stadium name though, was the final straw for many fans, as over one hundred years of history were trampled on to make SJP basically a large advertising board. Most people knew it was a temporary measure, and would change back under new sponsorship, but that didn’t take away the sense of utter betrayal and complete lack of empathy from the owner. Unfortunately, that is what can happen when one person owns the club lock, stock and barrel. Ashley can do anything he wants – he can change the name, the strip colours, sell the place, or simply will it out of existence. The club is his toy, and as such he is omnipotent. His major failing though, is his lack of communication with the fans. Many Geordies live and breath the club, and soak up information and news like they do Brown Ale, but that is not Ashley’s way. He keeps himself to himself generally, with only the occasional press release through one of his minions to let the fans know what he is doing. If he would let us know his plans for the club, maybe we could understand, even if we could not support, exactly what he is doing. If the long term plan is simply survival in the Premier League, and maybe a lucky cup run, then at least let the fans know and they can prepare themselves, and lower expectations. If he is simply planning to get back his money and then sell the club for a profit, again, let the people know and then they can comprehend why things are being done a certain way, and then simply be patient until a new owner can be found. Ashley will probably never r