It’s not uncommon for fans to feel aggrieved at their club’s ownership. Think of Arsenal supporters’ disgust at how Stan Kroenke is turning the Gunners into a directionless franchise, or what Blackburn’s followers went through when Venky’s tried to turn the club into a giant chicken advert. But Newcastle fans have had it particularly tough since Sports Direct owner and giant coffee mug aficionado Mike Ashley snapped up the club in 2007.
Ashley’s £134m takeover was supposed to herald the start of a bright new era – a billionaire owner who would take the Magpies to the very top of the game. In reality, however, it’s been like watching zebra-patterned car smashing into a brick wall over and over again. You see, the businessman’s regime has a habit of shooting itself in the foot, only to try and undo the damage by taking a blowtorch to the wound and sawing off the leg.
As hard as it is to believe, it did actually start well for Ashley, who endeared himself to fans by drinking with them at games and installing Kevin Keegan as manager. But the good vibes didn’t last long.
So as the club gets set to announce Steve Bruce – yep, really, Steve sh*tting Bruce – as the new gaffer over a decade later, we’ve rounded up the 10 lowest points of the Mike Ashley era to date.
1 – Kevin Keegan KO’d
Newcastle fans loved it – loved it! – when Keegan returned to Tyneside, but the so-called “Cockney Mafia” Ashley had installed to run the club soon led to the first crushing disappointment.
Keegan felt managing director Derek Llambias and director of football Dennis Wise were interfering far too much in team affairs and that, coupled with a lack of financial support, led to Keegan’s shock resignation. Fans were livid, but this was just the tip of the Ashley-sized iceberg.
2 – Relegation under Alan Shearer
After just a year as owner, Ashley sought to sell the club after Keegan’s departure and brought Joe Kinnear out of the managerial wilderness to look after things on the pitch while he found a buyer. Nobody was insane enough to take the club off Ashley’s hands, and the chaotic 2008/09 campaign was to get much worse.
After ill-health removed Kinnear from the dugout, overpaid Match of the Day pundit Alan Shearer was parachuted in to try and stave off relegation. A return of five points from eight games in charge was simply not enough, however, and Shearer scarpered back to the TV studios as his beloved Newcastle dropped into the Championship.
3 – Sacking Chris Hughton
Despite guiding the Magpies back to the top flight at the first time of asking in 2010 and making a decent enough start the following season, Ashley showed manager Chris Hughton his appreciation for all his hard work.
By sacking him, of course.
Fans were utterly dismayed, and the club was thrown into mid-season disarray yet again. The club stated that “an individual with more managerial experience is needed to take the club forward.” Unfortunately for Newcastle fans, but to the amusement of everyone else, that man was decided to be one Alan Pardew.
4 – The Alan Pardew banter years
After the unceremonious dumping of a promotion-winning manager, Ashley installed silver-haired clown Alan Pardew on five-year deal – a decision only 5% of fans supported. By this point, even Sunderland supporters were starting to feel somewhat sorry for their bitter rivals.
Fans had to put up with years of peak Pardew. Standout moments included: losing to Stevenage in the FA Cup; a run of losing 15 out of 21 games; headbutting Hull City’s David Meyler; blaming a loss to Chelsea on the Notting Hill Carnival; signing an eight-year contract extension (which technically still has another year to run!); blaming a lack of transfer activity on players watching the Olympics; and telling Manuel Pellegrini – a man just eight years his senior – to “Shut your noise, you f*cking old c*nt.”
What a man to represent one of the best supported clubs in the country.
5 – Joe Kinnear’s stint as director of football
In 2013, Kinnear returned to the club as director of football for a disastrous eight month spell. He got off to a terrible start – announcing his arrival by calling up talkSPORT to discuss the club’s star player, “Yohan Kebab”.
And it didn’t get much better: Kinnear once went on a scouting mission and came back with a recommendation for the club to sign Birmingham City’s Shane Ferguson. It was at this point he discovered Ferguson was actually on loan from Newcastle at the time. Suffice to say the Irishman oversaw zero permanent signings.
6 – Having John Carver in charge
When Alan Pardew left for Crystal Palace, his assistant John Carver unwillingly took the reins for the rest of the season. His record as caretaker boss? Played 20, won three, lost 13. Yep, that just about sums it up.
7 – Stadium name shame
St James’ Park has been the iconic home of Newcastle United since 1892. It’s a stadium whose name is entrenched in the very fabric of English football. So what did Ashley try to do? Try to sell off the naming rights twice in 2009 and 2011, by advertising it as the very catchy sportsdirect.com @ St James’ Park Stadium and the Sports Direct Arena respectively.
It took a commercial deal with Wonga to restore the stadium’s rightful name, which made Newcastle fans 8,120% happier – coincidentally the same rates of interest Wonga were charging at the time.
8 – The treatment of Jonas Gutierrez
After midfielder Jonas Guitterez made his heroic comeback from testicular cancer in 2014, the Argentine suddenly found himself marginalised from the Magpies’ first team – with the club stating it was purely because he didn’t fit into the manager’s plans.
However, in 2016 Gutierrez won a discrimination case where a tribunal discovered there was “a continuing course of conduct” by the club to “remove” him in order to avoid triggering a £2m contract extension.
9 – The Steve McClaren relegation
In yet another total disasterclass in managerial appointments, Ashley greenlit the arrival of Schteve McClaren in June 2015. His ill-fated spell (was it ever going to be anything else?) lasted just nine months, with 18 defeats from 31 games leaving the Magpies 19th in the table.
Rafa Benitez came in to replace McClaren, but it was too little too late and the Spaniard was unable to prevent the second relegation of the Ashley era.
10 – Rafa’s vision and Steve Bruce’s arrival
And so we come to Newcastle fans’ latest indignation. Their beloved, Champions League-winning manager Benitez has left after revealing the club didn’t share his “vision” for the future, paving the way for the human kebab and chips that is Steve Bruce to take charge.
What can be more humiliating than that? Oh yeah – Sam “I’ll work anywhere” Allardyce revealing he turned down the opportunity to take the job last week.
We’re sorry to say it Geordies, but the good times still seem like a long way off. At least you’ve got plenty of time to brace yourself for the inevitable this season, eh?