Is it time for Ashley to end his Newcastle venture?
With Mike Ashley's relationship with Newcastle fans at the lowest point it has ever been, is now the time for the owner to call it a day in the north east?
Optimism was high among Newcastle supporters towards the end of last season following reports a Dubai-based group were interested in buying the Magpies, who have been owned by Ashley since 2007.
However, as has been the case on numerous occasions, a takeover never materialised and, to make matters worse for the fans, an agreement couldn’t be reached with Spanish manager Rafael Benitez to sign a new contract.
Much to the displeasure of the Geordie faithful, Steve Bruce was brought in as manager over the summer, ending his short stay at Sheffield Wednesday, and the new boss appears to be fighting a losing battle at St James’ Park.
Even the club-record £40million acquisition of Joelinton from Hoffenheim has done little to lift the mood up north and a season battling against Premier League relegation is expected, with four points picked up from a possible 12 so far.
Protests have been staged ahead of the Magpies’ home games this season while attendances have seen a dramatic decrease. Against Arsenal on the opening day of the campaign, 47,635 was the official attendance while just 22,727 turned up for the EFL Cup defeat to Leicester City.
In the 1-1 draw against Watford prior to the international break, 44,157 attended the contest and these figures should be a worry to Ashley, whose relationship with the fans continues to worsen.
During the club’s Championship-winning 2016/17 season, the average attendance was 50,000-plus, a phenomenal record for a stadium that has a maximum capacity of 52,354.
Ashley may have thought the start of the new season might have helped to quell the anger, but the exact opposite has happened and there were protests before the start of Sports Direct’s recent AGM meeting.
A heavy police and security presence was in place, with security guards escorting shareholders to and from the meeting, while the media had already been banned from attending the AGM.
A group of fans held banners for the waiting media, handed out fliers and even put a flier on Ashley’s Bentley as they sought to draw attention to failings in his ongoing ownership of Newcastle.
— Mark Douglas (@MsiDouglas) September 11, 2019
From a fans’ perspective, it looks like Ashley is more interested in promoting Sports Direct and buying failing stores on the high street as he attempts to corner the market.
Ashley’s portfolio of shops currently includes Jack Wills, Sofa.com, GAME, House of Fraser, Evans Cycles, Agent Provocateur and Sports Direct, while he also failed in an attempt to buy Debenhams.
Owning a football club has never been about making a profit, the man at the top does it for the love of the game, but it appears Ashley is trying to buck the trend, much to the anger of Newcastle fans.