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On Mike Ashley, The Toon Army and The Newcastle United Squad: 3 Equal Parts To The Club and Only One Has It Right

Manchester City?  Eeeeexcellent.
Manchester City? Eeeeexcellent.

I really did intend to now leave this all alone after Friday's links, but two things happened: the news out there continued to have a heavy flavor of St. James' Park v. SDA and all the thoughts floating around in ol' Duder's head kind of came together and almost made sense. Also, I teased this post a lot in the Sunday Links, so I'm really kind of honor bound to get it out now. Without any further ado, I hope you will suffer me one last opined say regarding the first week of the International Break. Then I will drop it. I promise.

I had originally thought to make this in the form of an open letter to Mike Ashley, but not only did that seem presumptuous, the odds that he would read it are probably roughly the same as those that Alan Sharer is going to be inviting Derek Llambias over for tea any time soon. In it's stead, I present a hopefully well reasoned essay on why I believe that the players are the only ones that have it right in the mess that is once again engulfing Tyneside.

When considering the total make-up of a club, there are three definitive equal parts to the equation with regard to a healthy club. The "Front Office" (Ownership, Executives, etc.), The Support (the consumers of what the Front Office are selling), and The Squad (Players, Coaches and other low-end staff) all must perform their separate tasks in the club organism. Each of these three groups must be able to perform three major tasks to ensure maximum health of the club. They must:
  1. Act in good faith within their prescribed role for the good of the club.
  2. Trust that, ultimately, the other two parts of the club are doing the same, and
  3. Communicate clearly and effectively regarding the first two items.

The Front Office is tasked with the stewardship of the business of the club, which is to say that they make the decisions that will enable the club to survive into the future. These decisions must be made, at their roots, with regard to each of the other parts of the club. A decision that is made in the fiscal interest of the club (reducing of wage bills, for instance) has to be made with regard to the quality and morale of The Squad, which in turn improves morale and participation (through purchase of tickets and merchandise) which in turn further provides for the fiscal health of the club. Involved in this process is an honesty of operations that must be present between all three parts of the club. The Squad, for instance, must train hard and take the pitch every time giving maximum effort every single time out. We all can think of situations where a club, team or player has "mailed it in", which is direct violation of this axiom. The Supporters for their part must be supporters even more than fans. They must fill the seats and spend their money regardless what is going on with the club because they love the club above almost anything. The Front Office must develop an understanding that this (that The Supporters love the club above almost anything) is the fabric of the existence of the Supporters. It all runs in cycles, one piece to the next piece to the next. Does this mean that the Supporters have to accept everything as is and never question any player acquisition or business move? Absolutely not. As long as the move is made in the best interest of the club, the Supporters must reason and understand that this is the case. If Xisco is still on the books 3 years on with only 9 appearances for the team, however. . .

Mike Ashley and the Front Office have made a number of decisions that proved very unpopular with the support in the time that he has owned the club. Some of them have been out and out poor decisions, while some of them were necessary and correct business decisions within the stated business model and with the stated goal of financial solvency of the club. For instance, hiring Kevin Keegan as a conduit to facilitate selling the club (which ended up falling through) was a poor decision both on an ownership level- a manager should never be hired just as a means to sell the club because what if it falls through?- but also turned a disaster with the fans because Kevin Keegan is who he is to the Supporters. On the flip side, you have the sale of the former number 9 shirt. At £35m, he was tremendously overpaid for, and additionally to command that fee and demand it paid up front instead of in installments? Any way you slice it, that's brilliant business. By and large, the club itself has benefited tremendously from the ownership of Mike Ashley. It is incumbent upon the Supporters to realize this.

It's nothing personal, Jack, it's just good business. -- Lord Cutler Beckett, Pirates of the Caribbean

I don't think that there would be near the animosity from the supporters toward Ashley and Llambias if there was respect moving from the Front Office to the Supporters. It does not seem at times that the Front Office has any respect for the years of travel, tickets and merchandise that The Supporters have poured into the club on top of the emotional involvement that is the bedrock of being a Supporter. From the perspective of the support, owners change. Players change. What remains? The jersey (to wit, the club), and themselves. Years worth of monetary and emotional investment give The Supporters a sense of entitlement. Not entitlement to run the club, I don't think... but they do feel entitled to information. Anecdotally:

16 months ago, Mike Anderson was the coach of the Missouri Tigers men's basketball squad. He was the subject of a huge monetary offer by the University of Oregon to become their new head coach, and there were weeks of "will he/won't he" posts on our sister site RockMNation. Once he committed to Missouri after another raise in salary, discussion turned to the future. It was pretty widely accepted that the University of Arkansas job would come open 1 year later (which it did), and that he would heed the call of the Hogs, as he had spent 15 years as an assistant at the U of A under his mentor, winning a national championship while there. We were talking about and accepting this 1 year before it became an issue. In the meantime, Anderson repeatedly reiterated that he was a Missouri Tiger, would retire at Missouri. Denials and denials later, he ended up leaving and taking the head job at the University of Arkansas to great consternation and vitriol from the Missouri faithful. What does this have anything to do with the rest of this, you may ask? Had Mike Anderson said from the word GO that the University of Arkansas was the one job for him... his dream job... and the only job that would pull him away from Missouri... had he done that, 95% of the vitriol and bad feeling would have been gone from the situation.

Bringing it back home: If Mike Ashley really believes that the only way forward for the club is to sell naming rights for the stadium, and he really believes that those rights will not sell if St. James' Park is still in the name of the ground, communicate it to the Supporters and explain your position. Much anger was felt by the Supporters, mostly on account of the feeling that Mike Ashley was making this move without regard for the history of the club (read: years of money spent on tickets, merchandise, etc. by the Supporters). Much of this could have been stemmed if Ashley had just stepped out and been honest, saying "I'm not going to tell you what you will call the ground. I'm not saying that Newcastle need to rename the transit stop to match the ground. However, the potential to improve the financial standing and results on the pitch for this club make this a calculated risk that I feel we need to take. I understand that you are concerned that money from the sale of the previous number 9 shirt has not been reinvested in the club. Let me assure you that this money has been reinvested. [insert expenditure breakdown here] I assure you this is not a money play just to line my pockets. Frankly, I'm a little insulted that this is how you feel. In my tenure, we have moved closer and closer to a self-sufficiency that will ensure that your beloved Magpies will be viable far into the future, so that your sons and your sons' sons will know the joy that you have known from supporting this club. We have instituted a sustainable model of player recruitment that is going to ensure that exciting, young, hungry talent is going to continue to come into the squad-- a fact from which you will benefit in entertainment. Some of these players will necessarily be sold on, it is true, but we will remain fully committed to bringing silverware and European competition to Newcastle. I am in awe at your devotion to this club and to it's players. There are no finer Supporters in the world. I ask your understanding that difficult decisions such as these are made only to ensure that your club does not end up as the next Leeds United, overspending, then overspending some more while the talent level falls around these showpiece players while results decline and decline. Relegation is next, and then relegation again. Years will pass and eventually you may contend for promotion back to the Premier League if you're lucky. It this fate that I am desperate to avoid, which is why this decision must be made."

This mutual understanding is vital to healing the relationship between Front Office and Supporters. If both sides re-examine their motivations, the perhaps we get back to where we were 10 days ago... ever so close to "Peace In Our Tyne."

P.S. -- Where are the players during all of this? Closing ranks, supporting each other, working hard and defying conventional wisdom and the prognostications of even the most optimistic pundits. In short, doing exactly what they should be doing. They're the one-third of the club that have it right. It's time for the other two sides to close ranks and follow suit.