Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Newcastle United axeman Ashley is so out of Toon

Mike Ashley’s reign has been shrouded in controversy and the sacking of Chris Hughton and possible hiring of Alan Pardew is another bizarre twist
Mike Ashley’s reign has been shrouded in controversy and the sacking of Chris Hughton and possible hiring of Alan Pardew is another bizarre twist

Two years ago a poll revealed that 87% of football supporters believe Newcastle United is “the worst run club in Britain.”

The figure was met with astonishment, and rightly so. I mean, how on earth could it have been as low as that?

Newcastle United fully deserve such an unenviable title — the only one they’re likely to acquire this century.

The Toon’s history is peppered with the results of their propensity to make the same mistake over and over again.

Back in the Seventies, and with the prolific Malcolm Macdonald wearing the ‘legendary’ number nine shirt, the Magpies looked more than capable of adding to their meagre trophy haul. So they promptly sold Macdonald to Arsenal. . .

Ditto 20 years later when, just as Andy ‘Andrew’ Cole was establishing himself as a striker capable of firing Newcastle to a Premier League championship, they offloaded him to Man U — where he helped the Red Devils win five titles, two FA Cups and a Champions League.

They have scored countless other own goals down the years (they’re certainly the only club in the world who believed a certain Titus Bramble was worth paying £6m for) but, recently, the howlers have proliferated.

There’s a simple, two-word explanation for this — Mike Ashley. The current Toon owner is a man who never shies away from making a decision. Unfortunately for the long-suffering fans, the vast majority of those decisions are diabolical ones.

Ashley, a former sports gear tycoon from Buckinghamshire with no obvious affiliation to the north east club, got the comedy of errors under way by sacking the dour but dependable Sam Allardyce in January 2008.

He then decided to turn back the clock 10 years by appointing Gallowgate End hero Kevin Keegan for a second spell as boss.

But any chance ‘Mighty Mouse’ had of recreating the magic of a decade earlier vanished when Ashley brought in Dennis Wise — no, you couldn’t make this up — as ‘director of football’ over Keegan’s head.

Kev’s inevitable resignation followed shortly afterwards, with Wise eventually going the same way 15 months later. Ho’way the lads.

Wise recently spoke of the “damaging effect” Newcastle had on his career — which, coming from someone with his notorious reputation both on and off the pitch, is really saying something.

Ashley’s Next Big Idea was to bring in the hitherto unemployed Joe Kinnear to help get Toon relegated at the end of the 2008/9 season.

Foul-mouthed Joe started the ball rolling downhill before succumbing to heart trouble; his replacement was Alan Shearer, who is an undisputed Geordie hero. So too are Ant n’ Dec — but they have no managerial experience either.

Shearer — appointed, appropriately enough, on April Fool’s Day, 2008 — guided the Magpies to five points out of a possible 24. Newcastle went back to the lower divisions and the boul’ Shearer went back to where he belonged — the Match of the Day sofa.

Then came something remarkable in the club’s history — a period of sustained stability.

Under Chris Hughton the Magpies bounced straight back into the Premier League, amassing a whopping 102 points en route. The popular, modest and promoted-from-within Hughton helped rejuvenate the careers of renowned ‘bad boys’ Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton, helped turn Andy Carroll into an England centre-forward and gave Toon fans enough evidence to support a case for re-establishing the club in the top flight.

The 6-0 drubbing of Aston Villa, for instance; the gutsy 1-0 win at Arsenal, the delirious 5-1 demolition of local rivals Sunderland and the recent, plucky draw with champions Chelsea.

Clearly it was time to sack another manager.

Hughton, 17 months in the job, walked out of St James’ Park earlier this week with his head rightly held high — and the best wishes of players and fans ringing in his ears.

For a decent bloke, callously and unfairly discarded in the run-up to Christmas, it was a remarkably dignified exit.

And now Ashley, 46, is about to appoint the sixth manager of his three-and-a-half year reign as Newcastle owner.

Well, best of luck to whoever that happens to be.

It would be nice to hear the great man, in his own words, explain his burgeoning portfolio of bizarre decisions. But he has never deigned to do so.

It’s often said in football that the loyal, passionate Toon fans ‘deserve’ success. They don’t, no more than any other supporters.

Mind you, they don’t deserve Mike Ashley either.

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