Somewhere a rather overweight man is rubbing his hands in delight at the international break. Not only will Mike Ashley be ardently cheering on his beloved England tonight as they take on Spain, but watching his controversial Newcastle stadium name-changing scheme slowly slip from the headlines.
He is a very smart man. Newcastle do not play again at the so-called ‘Sports Direct Arena’ until December against Chelsea. He is banking on the fact that any anger will have long burnt out by then. I for one am not so sure this will happen.
There is every chance that the unbridled optimism of Newcastle’s start to the season will be snuffed out by a couple of sound beatings at the hands of the two Manchester clubs. This would lead to a touch of negativity returning, and what better excuse to protest at Mike Ashley than this latest fiasco.
His henchman, Derek Llambias, claims that the Magpies stand to earn up to £10m a year through selling their stadium naming rights. He claims that because the fans wanted a new striker the club are forced into this situation of a stadium name change.
This would fly in the face of the recent financial figures. The club announced a £4.7m loss for the 2010-11 season, with a profit expected for the current year. This is better than many clubs, yet why do Newcastle, operating in a one-club city, with 52 thousand seats in their stadium, need to resort to changing this stadium’s name for the relatively meagre sum of £10m?
Or could it perhaps be possible that Mike Ashley has no intention of actually selling the naming rights to St James’ Park, and that we will see the Sports Direct name become a more permanent fixture. After all, his chain of sports shops are now benefiting from some free advertising. He has already demonstrated his lack of understanding of the rich heritage and local feeling that the club represents, so could he just be taking the loyal support for a ride?
Don’t get me wrong, this has nothing to do with the club’s performance on the pitch. I am actually in favour of his current transfer policy, as Alan Pardew seems to be able to work wonders on such a tight budget, and as long as Graham Carr remains chief scout, there is absolutely nothing to worry about on the playing side.
I only regret the fact that Mike Ashley seems to have an unrivalled ability to shoot down any budding optimism in the region. He did it with Keegan, turning what could have been a glorious second coming into the damp squib of reality. He did it with Shearer, totally ignoring the club legend who wished to rescue Newcastle from Championship oblivion. He did it probably most inexplicably with Hughton, who was stabilising the club in its first year back in the big time.
Through sheer luck more than anything else, Ashley has landed on his feet with Pardew, yet by plastering his own brand over the St James’ name, he risks losing the 12th man that has carried Newcastle over the line on so many occasions already this season. The Toon Army will always sing for the team. They are even beginning to sing for Pardew. But this latest stunt has ensured that Mike Ashley will never ever hear his own name sung in the Gallowgate. At least, not in the way he would prefer.