Blog by: Anirudh
Not for the first time during his six-year tenure as owner of Newcastle United, Mike Ashley is facing the wrath of the fans after a calamitous summer on Tyneside.
And unfortunately for the Toon’s loyal followers, it’s a familiar tale.
Three games in to the 2008-09 season, the Magpies sat mid-table in the Premier League following an opening-day draw at Manchester United, a home win over Bolton and defeat away to Arsenal.
Sandwiched in between was an away win in the League Cup, and, with four points on the board from a possible nine, the international break brought a brief period of calm after a frantic start to their campaign. That was the plan, anyway.
But during that time events unfolded that would irreparably damage the supporters’ relationship with Ashley forever—an episode that resulted in relegation from the top flight the following May.
Kevin Keegan, the club’s celebrated former player and manager, had returned to the boss’ chair just seven months prior, but leftfield appointment Dennis Wise in an executive director role had an unsettling, and ultimately destructive, effect.
Citing an inability to manage the team on his own terms, Keegan walked out, and a sea of protests from the Magpies’ fans rose to a crescendo in time for their next home game versus Hull City.
A 2-1 defeat followed against Phil Brown’s newly promoted side, and the scene was set for a season of turmoil and struggle that eventually ended in disaster.
Fast forward five years, and though United manager Alan Pardew is still in situ despite a dangerous brush with the drop last term and an alarming lack of new signings, there is an eerily similar plot line developing.
Newcastle are once more on four points after three games and through to the next round of the League Cup after a typically hard-fought away win. But more ominously, there is revolt in the air all over again.
Last term’s troubles saw Pardew’s men escape relegation by just five points, but the obvious need for on-field reinforcements was flagrantly ignored despite repeated appeals from the manager as well as the club’s followers.
The crux of subsequent frustrations lies with another bizarre business decision by Ashley, with Joe Kinnear appointed as his new director of football in June—ironically the man who replaced Keegan for a brief period in 2008.
With Kinnear effectively announcing news of the role himself during an infamous, error-strewn interview where he pronounced his own players’ names wrong, alarm bells began to ring once more.
His arrival signalled the resignation of managing director Derek Llambias and almost sparked the departure of their acclaimed chief scout Graham Carr.
Meanwhile, Pardew, who signed an eight-year contract with the club less than a year ago, has retained the majority of the squad that lurched from the Premier League’s top five to the bottom five in the space of 12 months.
On the whole, with the likes of Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa and Fabricio Coloccini among their ranks, the group are largely considered to be too good to go down.
But this dangerous forecast was also applied to the Magpies back in 2008, when players such as Michael Owen, Nicky Butt and Damien Duff couldn’t save United from the drop.
Apparently, transfer funds were readily available to Kinnear this summer, but the former Wimbledon boss failed to finalise any significant permanent incomings.
Having seemingly failed to learn from his mistakes, Ashley has invoked a fresh bout of criticism from the terraces of late, and supporters’ groups are now mobilising in protest ahead of their next home fixture.
In the eyes of many, Ashley has crossed a line, and calls for him to sell the club were voiced loud and clear at a recent fans meeting.
As footballing fate would have it, the next game on the calendar at St. James’ Park is against—you guessed it—newly promoted Hull City.
And just as it was five years ago, the direction of Newcastle’s season could be determined in 90 crucial minutes against Steve Bruce’s men in two weeks’ time.