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What Is Going On With Newcastle United F.C.?

In recent months, the notorious owner of Newcastle United Football Club, Mike Ashley, purchased nine percent ownership of the Scottish side Rangers F.C. Although news broke this week that Ashley’s attempted takeover of Rangers has been thwarted, what exactly is going on with this miscreant owner and these historic clubs? 

The English billionaire, who made his fortune in the sporting goods market, bought Newcastle United for £134 Million back in 2007. Although initially popular with the fans for “saving” the club from financial ruin and for his fan-like behavior, the Toon Army (as the Newcastle fan-base calls itself) quickly soured on Ashley due to some puzzling personnel decisions. Despite his wealth, it is apparent that Ashley would prefer to finish 17th and remain in the Premier League and make a tidy profit rather than the splash the cash that it takes to qualify for the Champions League. With a fan base as rowdy and dedicated to their club as the Geordies, such an attitude from ownership is simply unacceptable.

So what exactly is it about Newcastle fans that make them so special? Newcastle is in the northeastern part of England on the River Tyne, near the Scotland border. Culturally, its fans are...unique to put it mildly. In fact, the Geordies have inspired an English Jersey Shore-rip off known as “Geordie Shore” that tragically is not available in the United States (believe me...I’ve looked). Based on this clip, I can only imagine how great the full version of the show is, but it ran for seven seasons in the UK.

During the 1990s and into the early 2000s, Newcastle enjoyed a sustained run of success, but always seemed to fall just short. They were runners-up in the Premier League in consecutive years (1995-96 and 1996-97) and also lost in the final of the FA Cup in both 1998 and 1999. Despite these setbacks, they continued their successful run in the new millennium, qualifying for the Champions League on a regular basis and establishing itself as a bona-fide contender for the league title each and every season. 

Thereafter, it was a slow and steady decline that overlapped with Ashley’s acquisition of the team in 2007. Ashley feuded with his managers and even threatened to sell the club as early as September 2008, but was unable to find a suitable buyer. As the club slowly sank down the Premier League table, its fans turned on Ashley and it became clear they wanted him out.

The club hit rock bottom in 2009 when not even club legend Alan Shearer, who was appointed as manager with 8 matches to go in a desperate attempt to avoid relegation, could secure the Magpies the points needed to avoid dropping down to the Championship. Newcastle was out of the Premier League and its fans were devastated.

A devastated Newcastle fan has to look away after the club was relegated in 2009. His ink shows his dedication. Photo:  

But Newcastle quickly bounced back from this disaster, winning the Championship in 2009-2010, securing a return to the Premier League the following season. Hope sprung eternal for those dedicated Geordies.

I think this picture speaks for itself. Photo:

Yet the Geordies were unable to enjoy Newcastle’s return to the Premier League without incident for too long, as Ashley sacked beloved manager Chris Hughton in December 2010, a mere 4 months into the club’s season. Hughton had led Newcastle to the Championship title the season before and was a favorite of the Toon Army. Despite his managerial history, the fans were underwhelmed with Ashley’s selection of Alan Pardew as Hughton’s successor.

But Pardew led the club to a surprise 5th place finish during the 2011-2012 campaign, finishing ahead of both Chelsea and Liverpool. The finish qualified the club for the Europa League the following season and it appeared that things were finally changing for Newcastle, and the club would return to its place among the top clubs that it had during the two previous decades. But the poisoned chalice of the Europa League struck again. Though it advanced to the quarterfinals of the Europa League, its exit coincided with a drastic drop in form domestically and the club barely avoided relegation, finishing a disappointing 16th. 

In October 2014, Ashley secured ownership of approximately 9% of the Scottish powerhouse Rangers F.C. Rangers has long been one of the top two clubs in Scottish football alongside religious and cross-town rivals Celtic. Rangers has come on hard times recently, as it was relegated to the Third Division of Scottish football in 2012 due to its financial struggles. It has since made its way to the Scottish Championship, but still has a ways to go before it can regain its perch as one of the top two clubs in Scotland.

After Ashley’s purchase, there were rumors swirling that he would sell Newcastle and focus on Rangers and/or that this purchase would be a distraction from his duties with the Toon. In January, beleaguered manager Alan Pardew left his post as manager of Newcastle to accept the same position with Crystal Palace, after allegedly being frustrated with the club’s lack of ambition in the upcoming transfer market. Even before his power play was defeated, Ashley claimed that his ownership of Newcastle was his top priority and that his “feeder club” Rangers would not limit Newcastle’s aspirations. I’m sure the dedicated Scottish fans of Rangers were thrilled at being given that label.

Ashley’s attempted power play with Rangers was thwarted this past week when South African Dave King took control of the club and left Ashley out in the cold. He still retains his 9% interest, but his control and influence with the club are minimized for now. Which means that he can now turn the entirety of his focus to’s unclear whether that’s a good thing or not.

Newcastle currently sits 11th in the Premier League table, well above the relegation zone, but well below European qualification. With an interim manager at the helm, it appears to be yet another period of transition for the Geordie nation. Hiring an accomplished manager and making additions to the squad will be Ashley’s main responsibility this summer if the management at the club wants to equal the ambitions of its fans. 

To many Newcastle fans, Ashley’s ownership is the worst thing that could happen to them. But just remember folks, it could be worse. 


Follow Mike Smith on Twitter @thefootiegent

Whoever thought of the headline “Bummed to death by a zebra” would be Mike’s new best friend.

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