Before getting started, I think it is worthwhile to address the nature of the question itself. How has Mike Ashley persisted at Newcastle for almost 12 years? The obvious answer, of course, is that he carries immense power as owner of the football club, and it would be very difficult to force him out the door. But there’s obviously more to it...
First and foremost, football is a competition, but with the massive amounts of money that is involved, it’s also is considered to be a business. Luckily for many clubs, the owners, who are immensely successful entrepreneurs, are not in football just for the financial benefits. Instead, they are in it for the competition. In this way, they are fans of their respective club. Furthermore, ask a fan of any club what their favorite team means to them, and they will tell you football is more than just a game. Football isn’t merely a pastime; a fan’s favorite club becomes an irreplaceable part of their identity. The club’s success is your own, and its failure is too.
It’s incredibly telling that Mike Ashley is rarely in attendance for Newcastle Unitedmatches. By no means is he a fan of the club, and that’s what makes him such a despicable owner. Mike Ashley has managed to keep his own competitive drive and emotions out of football in such a way that only the business remains. So as long as Newcastle provides a cashable paycheck, he is appeased.
Moreover, his business mentality applies directly to his treatment of the club. An outdated training facility, a weak academy setup, and a squad with the likes of Joselu doesn’t bother him in the slightest. The ambition is minimal; the most obvious evidence is his transfer record. Mike Ashley has only reached into his pocket and invested when the future of his club (more appropriately, “business”) is seriously threatened. Undoubtedly, his negligence this transfer window can be attributed in part to Newcastle’s 10th place finish a year ago and my next point.
Mike Ashley’s need to feel as though he is getting the better of any negotiation ensures that very little get’s done. This statement has certainly held true for countless transfer negotiations that have ended with the classic “couldn’t get _________ over the line,” takeover negotiations, and Rafa’s contract negotiations.
With this long list of grievances, how has Ashley managed to keep his hands around the neck of the club for so long? The answer is two-part.
The first part of the answer is based almost entirely on the circumstances under which Mike Ashley became owner of this club and numerous other “business ventures.” He has shown a propensity to act as a vulture disguised as a savior. So to a uninformed neutral that doesn’t really care about Newcastle United, Mike Ashley has seemingly steadied the ship and saved Newcastle from serious financial issues. While that might seem to be the case, his treatment of the club since that initial action has been nothing short of abhorrent, and the act of saving the club initially cannot and should not excuse the rest of his 11 1⁄2 year tenure.
The second part of the answer comes down to the fans. Now, I am not saying that Mike Ashley’s terrible treatment of Newcastle United comes down to the fans. Instead, it is on us as fans for allowing Mike Ashley to continue to tarnish the club for almost 12 years.
Newcastle United Football Club is a definite part of our identity as fans, and as fans, we will always see it as that first. But sometimes, in order to defeat self-aware pantomime villains, you have to beat them at their own game. Mike Ashley has unequivocally treated Newcastle United as a business for which we are consistent consumers in his eyes. In his eyes, Newcastle United fans have proven to be the perfect consumers, because they continue to fill the stadium despite the terrible product that they consistently receive.
Obviously, Newcastle fans come out to matches with the intentions of supporting the club, but at the same time, they are also supporting Mike Ashley’s pocket. Mike Ashley realized long ago that he could monetarily benefit from Newcastle fans’ devotion to the club, and he hasn’t looked back since.
To those that argue that the governing bodies, such as the Premier League, should be doing more to stop Mike Ashley, consider that these bodies also have the business-side of football in mind. We, as fans, have not done enough to prove our displeasure with Mike Ashley’s tenure or business aspect of the club. Protest at Sports Direct stores or not, fans come through the turnstiles every weekend at St. James’ Park and give Mike Ashley and the governing bodies what they want: money. As far as they are concerned, Newcastle fans are content enough to consume the product, so there’s no urgent need for change.
At the end of the day, we all understand why St. James’ Park is packed every weekend. The fans go to watch and support the club that they love. However, given Newcastle’s current state, it is impossible to do so without also supporting Mike Ashley and subsequently solidifying his grip on Newcastle United’s neck.
Now, before jumping the gun and labelling this criticism as misplaced blame, do not get it mistaken. Mike Ashley is at fault for Newcastle United’s unpromising future, and that’s the problem that underlies this entire predicament.
As of now, Newcastle supporters have tried just about every other method of protest against Mike Ashley. However, by failing to hit him where it hurts him and the governing bodies most, we have done very little to stop him.
The failure to boycott matches is understandable. Newcastle United Football United is a fundamental part of our identities, and turning away from the club (even for its own good) would be equivalent to turning our backs on ourselves. However, it is important to understand that Newcastle United Football Club will not be able to survive this type of behavior from Mike Ashley forever. The club is headed towards insurmountable doom and its up to us to save it before it’s too late.