It’s fair to say Mike Ashley’s time owning Newcastle United has been somewhat turbulent. Fan discontent is at an all-time high, and there seems now to be an unbridgeable gap between the club’s fan base and its want-away financier.
That has created a situation whereby fans are stuck eagerly awaiting the day that news arrives saying Ashley has sold the club and permanently departed Tyneside. For many it’ll be a day of rejoice.
I will make no qualms in stating that I will be one of those supporters, keen to see the tail end of Ashley and his Sports Direct chain.
However, to play devil’s advocate, and because my brain seems allergic to optimism when it comes to my football club, the talk of new prospective owners just over the horizon doesn’t fill me with joy.
Instead, it fills me with nervous uncertainty.
As the saying you see quoted in the title of this article suggests, Ashley might be a nightmare owner, but he is indeed the devil we know. Fans know where we stand with Ashley, even if that means very little financial backing for the club and a real struggle each season just to stay in the league.
He categorically objects to lay down transfer funds, to the detriment of the club, but at least he hasn’t sent us spiralling down through the divisions. Our debts have been mainly brought under control and the club, whilst stuck in an infuriating yo-yo state between Premier League and Championship, is not collapsing like other large English clubs have done around us.
That’s the big concern with new owners coming in.
Already there is talk of interested parties seeking more time to organise deals, and being advised to group together to be able to afford the club. Now, I understand Ashley is asking for a ridiculous sum up front for the club, but if these owners were truly serious about investing what is needed into Newcastle and backing us long-term, then the extra £100m or so shouldn’t make too much of a difference.
The fact it does scares me. To the ever-sceptical like myself, it makes me worry these prospective new owners simply don’t have the financial backing that is needed if we’re to make a step up from Ashley’s ownership.
As of right now, I can’t see how the interested parties like Peter Kenyon’s consortium can generate the funds needed to make the difference. Once they complete the expensive takeover of the club, I just don’t believe that there will be any significant funds left to be spent on players and other necessary improvements.
Instead, I can see the club struggling with the same issues as we have under Ashley, but without the long-term security of knowing that we’re unlikely to drop below a season or two in the Championship.
While his allergic-to-spending attitude might suggest otherwise, Ashley is one of Britain’s richest men and has at times been willing to invest in the squad. Namely, whenever the club are in danger of dropping out of relevancy and losing the commercial power that he truly values owning the club for.
Ashley won’t fund Newcastle anywhere as much as it needs. Every transfer window will be a frustration. But, he will certainly make sure that Newcastle – whether in the Premier League or Championship – are competing at just a high enough level to remain on TV. After all, there’s no point plastering everything with Sports Direct if you’re dropping down the leagues like a stone.
With some of the other suggested owners, I can’t see that happening. I can instead see them jumping ship for cheap if times get too tough, and as a fan, and as much as I hate the way Ashley runs Newcastle, I really don’t want to experience League One football like so many former Premier League clubs seem to have done recently.