Thursday, 3 February 2011

The good, the bad and Mike Ashley

That Mike Ashley's a bastard. What the hell does he think he's doing selling local hero Andy Carroll for a grossly inflated transfer fee far in excess of the player's true value, eh?

The fact that Ashley managed to extract a record-breaking £35m for a striker who has a 72-minute-long England career and who has 'proven' himself with 14 goals in 41 Premier League games shows he knows how to drive a hard bargain (or simply that Liverpool were just desperate). Either way, Newcastle fans will see the deal as further evidence that Ashley is only interested in 'The Money'.

Now, let me be honest, I certainly wouldn't be signing up for a course on how to run a football club taught by Mr Ashley, but I do think some of the criticism he's received from the Toon Army has been a little bit unfair.

For sure, PR is not his forte.  He doesn't do interviews so it's very hard for the fans to understand what (if any) plans he has and while the 'it's-my-company-so-I'll-run-it-the-way-I-want-to-fuck-you-very-much' approach to business might have brought him success previously, it's a little different in the world of football where your customers have a huge emotional attachment to the product.

That said, he has never sunk to the level of the club's previous chairman, Freddie Shepherd who was infamously caught by the Fake Sheikh in 1998, along with deputy chairman Douglas Hall, calling North East women 'dogs' and mocking fans for buying £50 replica shirts which cost just £5 to make. All this in a brothel, by the way. The pair were forced to resign and while they were back in control within a year they never quite managed to wash away the bitter taste the whole sordid affair left.

Come back, Freddie, all is forgiven

If anything, it's Ashley's chaotic approach to recruitment that has really undermined his relationship with the fans.  After sacking Sam Allardyce - a move, let's not forget, the Geordie faithful were calling for - and failing to persuade Harry Redknapp to move north, Ashley instead picked up the phone and called The Messiah. 

While Kevin Keegan was talking cryptically about 'settling unfinished business'  the decision left fans in the rest of the country (a) laughing and (b) asking when - and not if -  the new boss would walk away (which he duly did after just eight months in September 2008).  His departure was no doubt hastened by the decision to appoint the delightful Dennis Wise as director of football, but none-the-less it seemed like a resignation waiting to happen.

Following Keegan, Ashley smashed it through Chris Hughton as a caretaker, Joe 'Fucking' Kinnear (a heart attack waiting to happen), Hughton as caretaker again and Gary Lineker's golfing buddy Alan Shearer before finally giving the job to Hughton full time.

Yet, just as Hughton seemed to be getting used to life as a Premier League manager he was sacked and replaced by Alan Pardew.  Some thought it was akin to shooting Bambi, or at least one of Bambi's relatives seeing as Bambi had already been shot.

But this final decision is an example of how Ashley can't win with the fans. Hughton was removed in December 2010 after gaining 19 points from 16 Premiership games. His team had won five, drawn four and lost seven, scoring 24 and conceding 25. By contrast, after his first 16 games at Newcastle, Allardyce had gained 22 points, wining six, drawing four and losing six. His team had scored 23 and conceded 26.

Remarkably similar records, but that wasn't enough spare Allardyce the wrath of St James' Park, where it seems losing doesn't matter as long as you lose in style, although as anyone who's witnessed a pub fight will tell you, there's nothing stylish about having your teeth knocked out in front of your girlfriend.

Furthermore, between February 2006 and January 2008 Newcastle sacked three managers (Graeme Souness, Glenn Roeder and Allardyce) all appointed by Shepherd at a total cost in payouts of £8.9m. Is Ashley's recruitment record really much worse? It's a moot point.

Oh, make up your bloody minds up

All of this - the piss-poor communication and the chaotic personnel decisions - has clouded the one area where Ashley really can be compared favourably with the previous regime: Money.

The common misconception in Newcastle is that Ashley is more interested in profit than the club (there is even a Facebook group to this effect) but such was the state of the club's finances left by the previous regime, it's debatable whether there would be a club in Newcastle at all without him.

Chris Mort, the man Ashley initially appointed as chairman, wasted no time in pointing out that had the previous board not sold the club, or at least refinanced their loans Newcastle could have 'folded like a pack of cards'. Leeds United anyone?

When Ashley took control of Newcastle the club had just made a £30m loss, was £70m in debt and still had £27m still owing on transfers.

Furthermore, the club's accounts released in June 2008 reveal the full extent of the Hall and Shepherd families' earnings from their time connected with Newcastle. The Hall family amassed £95,748,570 while the Shepherds, profited to the tune of £50,099,604 with the majority of this cash coming from dividend payments, share sales and salaries.  

But there were other payments.  For example, in 2007 the club paid £343,458 to rent warehouse space and houses from a company owned by Freddie Shepherd's brother Bruce and in the same year paid £81,883 to a sports consultancy company run by Freddie Shepherd's son. Both deals Shepherd argued as being of good value to the club.

And I'm sure they were, but let me say this again, just so we're all very clear.  From their time at the club the Hall and Shepherd families profited to the combined tune of £145,848,174.  Nice work if you can get it.

In another echo of Leeds United (remember Peter Risdale 'living the dream' before it shattered into a financial nightmare?) Shepherd has defended himself, saying: "In our time the club played 110 games in Europe, reached Wembley and played in the Champions League. We built a new ground and a new training centre."

All of which is true, but at what cost? He might not have wanted to sell, but when he did not only was the club hugely in debt, but it had had all its revenue streams squeezed dry. Money from a Northern Rock sponsorship deal was paid up front in a lump sum instead of annually and was used to pay Michael Owen's transfer fee, likewise borrowings were made against money from a deal with adidas before it had been paid.

So how has Mike Cashley, the money grabbing git, dealt with all of this? Er, well, so far he's ploughed £286m of his own money into the club firstly to buy it and secondly in the form of loans to pay off debts. While these loans can be recalled at a moment's notice, they have been crucial in keeping the club afloat.  Since the end of 2009 alone he has lent the club £25.5m just to see it safely through a season in the Championship.

So when chairman Derek Llambias says the £35m Carroll fee wil be reinvested in players and that Ashley has "never taken a single penny out" of the club, he's got a point.

The problem is that under Freddie Shepherd Newcastle fans have been used to dining on a rich diet of high transfer fees spent on marquee signings with equally high salaries. They'd do well to remember that it's Mike Ashley who's footing the bill.


Neil said...

Yeah, you would think that, this being a small independent blog and everything, that you would do something other regurgitate hackneyed misconceptions about the club and the fans in general. I don't know what this sentence is about 'But this final decision is an example of how Ashley can't win with the fans' as nobody in Newcastle wanted Hughton sacked, yet you give the impression that this indeed was the case. Nobody in Newcastle was asking for Harry Redknapp as managers and Ashley has a charge sheet as long as my dick, and if you think his tenure has been anything other than woeful you are mistaken. Just been reading on another article about Gramsci and how football - a bit of counter-hegemony would be a good start when it comes to Newcastle but this article is the party-live. I have always maintained that people from outside the region who have never supported the team will never understand it and therefore should just stop trying. Why not go and write an article about Alex Song or whatever the fuck

Neil said...

Sorry that was ranty and absolutely littered with all manner of grammatical errors and even missing sentences, for which I apologise. I stand by the content though.