Chairman Freddy Shepherd agreed to sell his 28% stake in Newcastle United in 2007 to the man that has single handily stymied Newcastle’s ambitions over the last ten years; Mike Ashley. Shepherd predicted that Ashley and his company will “provide the best opportunity for the club to flourish in the future, to the benefit of the company and its fans". How wrong he was.
Despite the Newcastle fans’ frustrations over the last decade, Ashley announced on the 16th of this month, that he would be putting the club up for sale as a result of not being able to compete financially with owners at the likes of Manchester City. It begs the question; did he ever attempt to compete with the big boys in the league? Did he ever try to add to the rich 150 year old history of the club? I’ll let you answer that one as we look back at his decade in charge of Newcastle United.
After a good opening nine games to the 07/08 campaign, Allardyce’s Newcastle sat 11th with St James’ Park becoming increasingly frustrated at the uninspiring performances before them. It was in December 2007 when Mike Ashley made his first important decision, and swiftly replaced Allardyce with a club legend Kevin Keegan. Not many disagreed with the decision at the time and Ashley was off to a good start with the fans.
"Many labelled the managerial appointments as "thoughtless" and fans had turned on Ashley and his lack of investment"
The 08/09 campaign kicked off in August and a month later Keegan resigned due to board interference in transfers, and Ashley put Newcastle on the market. Three months later Ashley labelled 2009 as “the year in which we drive the club forward together” when he took Newcastle back off the market. The rest of 2009 consisted of three managers, lacklustre performances and even the energy of club legend Alan Shearer managing the last eight games of the season couldn’t stop Newcastle from relegation. Many labelled the managerial appointments as “thoughtless” and fans had turned on Ashley and his lack of investment.
To emphasise the lack of spending over the last decade at Newcastle, the 2005, £15M signing of Michael Owen is still their record transfer. In the last two seasons, nineteen of the other Premier League teams have broken their transfer record, begging the question why Ashley has never got his wallet out and splashed the cash.
Rebranding St James’ Park as the ‘Sportsdirect.com@St James’ Park’ was a massive insult to the fans, and many believed Ashley was using Newcastle as a business stunt. Ashley, despite winning The Championship and returning to the Premier League at the first time of asking under the new management of Chris Hughton, was under a lot of pressure by the fans who were now begging for him to step down as owner.
Hughton was replaced in December of 2010 by Alan Pardew, despite sitting 11th in the league. This decision left most fans scratching their heads, especially when Newcastle only finished the season in 12th.
Small but continuous investment over the next four seasons meant the likes of Papiss Cisse and Loïc Rémy gave St James’ Park a reason to celebrate. In the 11/12 season when Newcastle qualified for Europe after finishing 5th above the likes of Chelsea, the fans were in high spirits. However a bizarre, never before seen, eight year contract was handed to Pardew in 2012. He then left shortly after for Crystal Palace. This led to a landslide of calamitous errors from the board which ended in relegation for Newcastle, despite the shocking yet incredible appointment of Rafa Benitez at the end of the 15/16 season. And to the fans’ delight, Ashley said he wouldn’t leave until Newcastle had won a trophy.
Undeterred by the lack of transfer activity and doubt around the club, Benitez guided Newcastle to Championship success, and publicly called for bigger investments from Mike Ashley at the end of the season.
Over the summer Newcastle were raided by HMRC after tax fraud allegations, leading to yet another poor transfer window and more unrest at the club. Surely this series of setbacks and an abdication of responsibility by Ashley, means he will finally sell the club meaning Newcastle supporters can dare to dream of a bright future yet again.