Newcastle United: Ashley Toons out

Yet more uncertainty for football's also-rans: Mike Ashley has announced he is selling up.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The Sports Direct entrepreneur has finally caved in to supporter demands and agreed to get out. This only 18 months after he bought the club, and only a matter of months after winning fans' hearts by bringing back King Kev, former boss Kevin Keegan, the man seen by many among the Toon Army as the club's ‘messiah'.

But despite Ashley's impassioned support - regularly turning up on the terraces in the club's colours - it was his decision to impose upon Keegan a multi-tiered management system that led the famously volatile manager to quit two weeks ago, and had the fans railing against Ashley's ‘cockney mafia'.

Ashley's sale spells yet more tumult for Newcastle - not least because it comes with another local hero Alan Shearer being booted out. Shearer has been stripped of his ambassadorial role at the club for daring to point out the mess. Still, at least the club's stakeholders can continue to do what they do so well - wallow in past successes while dreaming of the future. And to talk about the club in far more glorious terms than its performances deserve.

Ashley is calling for patience from the fans, emphasising that his ‘is not a fire sale'. He has made it clear he's only leaving because the fans want him out, and that his successor will have to front up a decent pile of readies. This, he is at pains to point out, may take some time.

Newcastle's expectant following may not mind a wait if the club winds up going the way of Manchester City, the latest to get the backing of foreign billionaires - in its case oil-rich sheikhs from Abu Dhabi. Names being kicked around Newcastle's St James Park include Xu Rongmao, a Chinese property baron who may be interested in redeveloping the land around the stadium. Ashley has also tried to make contact with representatives of Dubai International Capital, and may look to tempt the world's six-richest man, Indian telecoms billionaire Anil Ambani, who currently has his eye on Everton.

Toon fans may perhaps derive some twisted satisfaction from the news that Manchester United's sponsor, AIG, is desperately trying to raise $20bn in a bid to shore up its balance sheet. Many Newcastle fans are involved in job losses at the club's own increasingly fitting sponsor, Northern Rock. This has prompted Ashley to quash comparisons with Leeds United, another former great, which sank recently into administration.

Football is, of course, a funny old business these days. Great clubs can quickly collapse, but also-rans can suddenly find themselves mixing with the big boys too. Newcastle fans may well cling to the Man City comparison. Just don't mention that, despite those oil billions, City still lost 3-1 at the weekend.

In today's bulletin:
Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch suffer the sword they lived by
Newcastle United: Ashley Toons out
The CBI: recession and job cuts on the way

Alitalia defies financial gravity
Why brands are at the heart of service innovation

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime