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Can Newcastle and Mike Ashley repair the wounds?

As we come to the end of the year one group of people who must be feeling a little confused are Newcastle United fans. 2008 has certainly been a year of mixed emotions for them and 2009 looks as though it will be little different.

Uncertainty

As we all now know, owner Mike Ashley has confirmed the club are no longer for sale and says that he hopes his decision will end the uncertainty over the Magpies’ future. Ashley had initially put the club on the market back in September when former manager Kevin Keegan’s sudden departure led to the fans turning against Ashley and Dennis Wise in all sorts of ways. The ‘Cockney mafia out’ campaign meant that neither man felt welcome at St James’ Park.

However, despite the media and Ashley’s people themselves claiming that there was plenty of interest in buying the club, it would appear that no suitable offers were actually forthcoming meaning that Ashley has now taken the decision to remain in charge.

Ashley said in Newcastle’s matchday programme,

“I am happy to end the uncertainty fans may have had about the future direction of Newcastle United. I know just how important that is to you. I have withdrawn Newcastle United from the market, and for me 2009 will be the year in which we drive the club forward together. Even when I haven’t been at games I have remained a keen supporter, kicking and heading every ball and cheering the team on TV and being the first to congratulate Joe whenever there’s a good result. When I took the decision to put the club up for sale in September I made a point of saying two things were very important. Firstly, any potential buyer would have to show they had the best interests of Newcastle United at heart and had both the commitment and finance to be worthy custodians of such a fine football club before I would even consider doing a deal. And secondly, I gave you my word that as long as I remain owner, this club would continue to be run responsibly at all levels. I hope you will accept that I have stood by that pledge.”

Mike Ashley originally bought the Magpies in the summer of 2007 and in January this year he brought the fans idol Kevin Keegan back to manage the club. This was a popular move and one that was sure to win over the Toon Army. Some sceptics suggested that was the reason for the appointment rather than it being a carefully planned football decision, but either way, it was an appointment that went down well on Tyneside.

The Messiah

So 2008 started pretty well for Newcastle fans with the return of ‘The Messiah’ although early results under Keegan were disappointing. This was not too much of a problem however because firstly, Keegan would be given as much time as he needed to turn things around by the fans, and secondly, as far as they were concerned, anything was worth getting rid of Sam Allardyce.

However, what did become an obvious problem fairly quickly was the fact that Keegan wasn’t happy with his role and the role of others at the club. In particular, he was unhappy with the role of Dennis Wise and the club’s transfer policy in general.

Hate campaign

Keegan left just a few weeks into the current season when the row over the club’s transfer policy, spiralled out of control. The fans were distraught at the loss of Keegan who had managed to turn things around sufficiently last season but was struggling again now. A hate campaign ensued against Ashley and he decided he had no option but to sell the club.

Sceptics were at it again when the sale was announced. Ashley had priced the club at a level whereby a sale seemed unlikely. Was the sale just a ploy to give Ashley some breathing space from the Keegan furore before returning to the club?

Those who said so at the time will be feeling pretty smug with their ‘I told you so’ smiles at the moment, but we’ll never know if that was really the case.

Genuine

Clearly, something had to be done before the transfer window opened as Newcastle are in need of players and who would go to a club in turmoil and officially for sale? What ever anyone thinks about Ashley, I believe that we all know he is a genuine Newcastle fan and he would have known that he had to make a move now.

Whether this is a spur of the moment move or one that he had always planned is open to conjecture. Whether he will be welcomed back with open arms by the Newcastle fans or not is also open to conjecture.

The one thing about which I am relatively certain is that Dennis Wise will never be accepted by the fans and if Mike Ashley really wants to stay and drive the club forward, he will have to do so without Wise.

Hatred

I don’t know what to believe about the current situation and I still feel that if an offer was made to buy the club that was financially sensible for Mike Ashley he would take it. He is a Newcastle fan but he can’t ignore some of the hatred that was directed towards him and his family after the Keegan affair.

If he is genuine in his desire to stay with the club, backs Joe Kinnear with some funds and sacks Dennis Wise, it is just about possible that the old wounds could be healed. I just fear for the club that all three of those points may be questionable.

Wed 31 December, 2008
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