Dear Mr Ashley,
I, like many others, am a life-long Newcastle United fan. I have had my season ticket for 40 of my 47 years. When I started going to games, we were a struggling team, with no superstars, and were a club going nowhere. Drifting along in the lower to middle echelons of – what was then – the second division, with an aging stadium, and a board of local businessmen who were happy to let the club simply exist.
When Sir John Hall bought the club, we finally thought our time had come. Not our time to win trophies, but our time to finally support a club we could be proud of. He transformed us into a side that everyone up and down the country – if not throughout the footballing world – wanted to watch.
In the end, we won nothing, but during that time every fan looked forward to a weekend. We were excited to go to the games – whether at home, or hundreds of miles away on a cold, wet February Tuesday night.
I have told Sam, my 10-year-old son, all of the stories about our 5-0 win over Manchester United, and Asprilla’s hat-trick in our 3-2 win over Barcelona.
After much coaxing and persuasion, my stories finally wore off on him, and like me, my dad, and my grandad before that, became a Newcastle fan.
He got his first season ticket midway through last season’s successful Championship campaign, and he loved it. He was excited about this Premier League season, particularly as I had told him that with Rafael Benitez at the helm, and promises that had been made, finally, we may return to the days of having a team to be proud of. Not a trophy-winning, perennial Champion’s League qualifying team, but one that will win as many games as we don’t, and nestle into the Premier League without the constant worry of relegation every year.
I should, of course, have known better.
In Rafa, we have one of the master tacticians in world football. A manager that most clubs would beg for. When it comes to the game we all love, he, above all others at our club, should be listened to.
So it mystifies and bemuses me why, when he – ”the right man” to lead Newcastle United as you called him during your recent interview – advises you that we need particular players to make us a team able to compete in the Premier League (on the back of promises and assurances that were made to him), he was ignored.
The time to be bold was now. The time to listen to those that know was now. The time to make a footballing statement was now. The time to maintain the growing momentum and feel-good factor was now.
Unfortunately, Mr Ashley, you failed on all levels.
Whether you are wanting to own a club that has a possibility of a good cup run, or a European spot in the table, or whether you are – as you claimed – actively trying to sell the club, then surely the best way to achieve either would be to have a moderately successful product that would either perform to the best of its ability, or look like an attractive proposal for a potential buyer?
My bet, as a fan with a vested interest, is that your interest lies in neither of the above statements. My personal opinion, for what it’s worth, is that you are happy to see the club plodding along, with a minimum of ambition, and continue to use the club and particularly the stadium, as a platform to continually promote your Sports Direct brand as an unofficial sponsor, with little to no money being paid to the club for doing so.
You claimed that you will not put a penny more into the club from your own fortune, yet if your Sports Direct company were an official sponsor, considering all of the advertising in and around the ground, the sponsorship deal would likely be worth a lot more than the amounts of money you have put into the club already.
For us – the fans – it is heart-breaking. We have a love for our club which many would say is unrivalled. It is blind loyalty. If we go into one of your sports stores, and we don’t like the items you are selling, we can just shop elsewhere. With Newcastle United we do not have that luxury. You know that, and you exploit that.
We all watched your interview on Sky. We all hoped we would finally get a chance to hear you answer questions that fans have long been asking. Unfortunately, all we got was a stage-managed monologue of Mike Ashley.
We didn’t want to watch a performance that told us nothing… a friendly chat with a friend and stable-mate, who was never going to ask a hard-hitting question that might be difficult for you to answer or put you on the spot.
I have gone full circle in my time as a fan. We have had our fleeting moment… our flirtation with success. We are now back to the ambitionless, struggling side, just ticking over, without ever making an effort to better themselves.
Rather than pleading you case through Sky, and playing to a national media that, on the whole, enjoys nothing more than reporting on and ridiculing the soap opera that is Newcastle United – particularly when things are inevitably going wrong – make yourself available to speak to me, or fans like me, or the local journalists at the Chronicle, who will ask the questions that need answering. Speak to someone who will at least try to hold you to account on your broken promises, false prophecies, and admitted mistakes – the biggest of which you may have just made this summer.
I would gladly speak to you, listen to you, and have an open mind about anything you, Mr Charnley, Mr Barnes et al, had to say.
Failing that, Messrs Douglas, Ryder and Starforth – local journalists, who by representing the fans, the club actually means something – would also relish the opportunity to sit down and put our concerns to you.
I suspect you will not, but you would – if not get everyone on your side – instantly gain a modicum of respect from the 52,000 fans that pay to see the team you own every week, and the hundreds of thousands that support it from afar.
Failure to do something, could result in the open anarchy that arose a few years ago, except if Rafa were to leave, it would be ten-fold.
The fans are the life-blood of this football club. We don’t own it. We don’t buy players. We don’t seek sponsorhip deals. But we do keep it alive.
Without the fans, this club would be nothing. It would not exist. We have been taken for granted for too long. Your lack of communication with the regional press, and failure to acknowledge our concerns is a dismissal of our importance to the club in your eyes.
But you should remember:
- WE are the reason Rafa decided to stay at the club.
- WE are the reason the ground was full week after week in the Championship.
- WE are the reason that the club makes so much money from shirt and other merchandise sales.
- WE are the reason that you can rely on high season ticket sales year upon year.
- WE are the reason there is a Newcastle United at all.
But be aware… WE are also the reason that the whole club could fall apart.
I realise that you are not likely to read this – or even know that this letter exists – but if, by chance, you do, I urge you to put things right.
Put in writing to Rafa that you will back him unconditionally in January.
Speak to people that matter to the fans – not David Craig, or another Sky pundit to whom the club means nothing.
Install someone who has a passion for the club in a role of actively seeking out a potential buyer, by selling the vision of Newcastle United that they share with Rafa Benitez, and every single one of its fans.
To allow the club to stagnate and continue to slip into footballing irrelevance, is an insult to the loyal fans and could prove to be too much for many.