In keeping with our inclusive policy, and a firm commitment to care in the community, we felt it would be appropriate, just ahead of the Wear-Tyne derby, to invite Mike Ashley*, the £135m owner of Newcastle United (pictured on a wanted poster – how grand to be so wanted!), to talk about his lifelong passion for the club. Mike is from the old school of Mags: sat with Tony Blair** in the Gallowgate end even before it had seats, watching Wor Jackie Milburn even after Wor Jackie had packed away his boots. When he bought the club, it was an act of selfless solidarity with the Toon Army. To this day, he holds that army in his deepest affections. It seemed only natural to hear from him…
How long have you been a Newcastle supporter?
I started supporting them the day I bought them so that makes me a loyal and dedicated fan of 18 months.
And when did you stop?
Obviously once a fan, always a fan. You can change your wife but not your football team – or at least that’s what the mate who sat next to me at Spurs said. No, the day I fell out of love with Newcastle United was the day that KK walked out and I got all of the blame. I realised that I had to give up a lifetime of supporting the Toon when I realised that the fans were so f****** stupid, they couldn’t even spell boycott. I just couldn’t follow a team where they haven’t yet mastered the art of scrawling on a bed sheet.
What made you buy the club?
I was looking for a club that matched Sports Direct. Something loud and brash with an inflated sense of its own importance which consistently underachieves, annoys the life out of everyone else and appeals to those who have no dress sense whatsoever. Newcastle United was the perfect choice.
Do you have any great memories of games against Sunderland?
I didn’t realise that Sunderland was anywhere near Newcastle until I bought the club. I had looked at buying them but I didn’t feel that I could work with people as dishonest and as avaricious as Niall Quinn, John Hays and Roy Keane. Not my kind of people at all. They were so f****** unreasonable – wouldn’t allow me in the boardroom with my Magpie shirt on. Last time I go there!
Do you see yourself as a rich entrepreneur or as a man of the people?
Would you like to elaborate on that?
Well, I’m obviously rich and I have unique ways of making money by selling rubbish to people who think it’s a good buy. I suppose that’s a bit like the Northern Rock selling mortgages to people who can never pay it back, so they are an ideal sponsor for us. But I know where I belong and that’s with the real fans alongside my 12 gleaming Nubian bodyguards.
What has been your proudest moment as owner of Newcastle United?
Swilling a pint of non alcoholic lager in one go at Arsenal is pretty high up, but I am most proudest of bringing Dennis Wise to the club. Like the sainted Margaret Thatcher, where there is peace he brings discord and all that crap.
Will you be at the Stadium of Light on Saturday?
I had thought of buying a red and white shirt with Keano on the back and sneaking in to give the lads my support but I changed my mind when I saw the mark up on them in the shops. Far too classy and expensive. Give me something cheap and tatty any day.
How are negotiations going regarding the sale of the club?
Moving on, moving on. There’s lots of consortiums interested but most of them seem to come from Iceland or Ukraine and their economies seem to be collapsing – ideal buyers then. I am in negotiations with the people who own Poundland and I have heard that the guy who runs the fridge magnet stall on Tynemouth Station might be interested.
Do you think you have been a positive influence on Newcastle United?
Definitely. I think that I have given the fans an opportunity to show how good they are at demonstrating against the board and allowed them to practise their writing on bed sheets skills. There were rheumy eyed fans waxing nostalgic about the demos and saying it was the best one since they made Lord Westwood walk the plank.
What is the true story behind the Joe Kinnear appointment?
I think Dennis went to the same Queen’s English Society functions as Joe. We needed someone who was articulate, got on well with the press and communicated effectively through the reporters to the fans.
Finally, what memories will you take away from the North East?
Fond ones, fond ones. It has been great buying pints for fans in the Bigg Market, wolfing curries in Chinatown and working with such legends of the game as Joey Barton, David Rozendahl and The Xisco Kid. Then there are unforgettable moments like sacking two managers, losing at Wigan and being four down to Portsmouth at home. I think it can be safely said that I have left an indelible mark on the history of Newcastle United.
* Mike Ashley on Mike Ashley: this bears all the dougHallmarks of a Pete Sixsmith stitch-up. I have not said a word to Salut! Sunderland. I am not a Mag. I do not give a hoot who wins on Saturday.
** Sadly, the oft-repeated Tony Blair story – that he had claimed in an interview to remember “sitting” in the seatless Gallowgate as the long-retired Jackie Milburn flew past defenders – may have no basis in truth. The evidence is from a partisan source – a Mag-supporting journalist called Keith Topping – but seems, disappointingly enough, rather convincing…