When Mike Ashley announced he had put the club up for sale back in October 2017, the Toon Army rejoiced. After a decade at the club, Ashley is arguably the most despised owner in the Premier League. So what is that makes the Sports Direct tycoon so hated? Here are just four of the many reasons why Toon fans can’t stand Ashley…
The Kevin Keegan saga
Newcastle’s local newspaper rightly says that Kevin Keegan is a Toon legend. After helping the north east club gain promotion to the top flight, he did the same in his first spell as manager, before very nearly taking them to Premier League glory in the 1995/96 season.
So it came as quite a shock when in 2008, after a third spell in charge, Keegan left the club in acrimonious circumstances and sued the club for constructive dismissal.
Even before the courts ordered NUFC to pay £2 million in damages to Keegan, it was clear something was very wrong at the club. By installing Denis Wise as director of football, Ashley took away Keegan’s contractual right to have the final say on transfers. Wise brought in Ignacio Gonzalez on loan against Keegan’s wishes – a clear breach of contract. The former Chelsea midfielder then instructed Keegan to watch videos of Gonzales play on YouTube, after which the manager resigned in protest at an untenable situation.
By showing the club legend so little regard, Ashley was perceived by fans to have the same attitude to the club and its history.
During home matches, St James’s Park has an average attendance of over 52,000 – making it a more popular club than current champions, Chelsea.
Despite this, the Magpies have been relegated twice from the Premier League during Ashley’s 10-year reign. This is due to a number of factors, but one of them is surely Ashley’s cautious attitude to transfers; a team can’t win anything without decent players, after all. Even now Newcastle have a top-class manager in Rafael Benitez, they apparently have less to spend than much smaller clubs, such as Huddersfield and Burnley.
This is particularly galling to Toon fans when considering the club’s owner has an estimated net worth of £2.4 billion. And when fans hear stories of Ashley’s roulette success in Mayfair and his extravagant spending, they must wonder why he refuses to offer the same generosity to the football club he owns.
‘NUFC for sale’ saga
As Newcastle United marks its 125th anniversary, celebrations are overshadowed by worries over the club’s future. In the autumn of 2017, Toon fans expressed their glee via social media after Ashley announced his decision to put Newcastle up for sale for the third time. But that’s just it – the third time. He didn’t sell before and now it seems negotiations with Amanda Staveley (who wanted to buy the club) have broken down. Many fans understandably feel like they’re in limbo.
Managers and managerial setup
Appointing Denis Wise Director of Football and stripping Keegan of his managerial power was bad enough. But bringing back Joe Kinnear in 2013 adds credence to the notion that Ashley has no clue how to run a football club. In Kinnear’s first interview as the club’s Director of Football, he insulted the Toon Army and got the names of several players wrong.
From the unfair sacking of Chris Hughton to the appointment of the unpopular Alan Pardew on a five-year deal, Ashley keeps digging a hole for himself. As previously stated, bringing in Benitez was a real boon for Ashley, but the tycoon ruined it by not giving the Champions League winner more money for transfers.