It’s beyond belief that a football club the size of Rangers could even contemplate entering administration. But that’s the harsh reality they’re facing right now. An unpaid £9 million tax bill accrued since owner Craig Whyte bought the club from Sir David Murray in May has left the Gers’ SPL title defence in tatters following a 10-point deduction. Despite challenging at the top of their respective league, playing European football every season and holding the status of being Scotland they’ve managed to end up in a hazardous financial position.
That uncertainty resonated with me personally as a Newcastle United fan who almost saw his club suffer a similar fate. Relegation to the Championship in 2009 almost crippled the Magpies leaving supporters like myself unsure as to whether we’d ever recover. Years of heinous overspending, second-rate, money obsessed players and an owner incapable of making diligent football decisions left the Geordie nation staring into the abyss. Like Rangers, who’s future looks bleak under Whyte, the former Premier League giants had engineered their own demise and turned on the portly gentleman plonked in the executive seats. However whilst fans of the Scottish club are lusting after their owners blood it’s an entirely different picture at Newcastle these days.
It’s hard to believe almost five-years have passed since reclusive businessman Mike Ashley swooped in to save the club from financial ruin after former owner Freddy Shepherd frittered away most of the finances at St James’ Park chasing the European dream. Ashley was the best thing since sliced bread upon his arrival. Sitting with the fans at away games, chugging beer, sacking Sam Allardyce and replacing him with local messiah Kevin Keegan. He was the toast of the Toon. Even downing an Emirates pint put him in the Geordie good books. Nothing could go wrong. Well actually yes it could. You all know the story by now. Keegan left, fans revolted, the ‘Cockney Mafia’ tag was born, Dennis Wise, Joe Kinnear, Alan Shearer, Relegation. Enough said.
The toxic atmosphere around the town centre threatened to provoke uproar. Ashley had never anticipated becoming a figure of hostility. From my point of view he never fully understood how much the football club meant to supporters. To him it was just a business but to the Toon Army it’s a part of their extended family. But that was the problem. Ashley was just a businessman. He had no discernible knowledge of how to run a football club and the trust he placed in certain people to make decisions of a footballing nature backfired spectacularly. The premise of creating a team that would report between the manager and chairman looked fool proof on paper. But what Ashley didn’t understand was that the bond between owner/chairman and manager is an important relationship that doesn’t require a middleman to facilitate communication.
Realistically losing their top-flight status should have caused the demise of a club that once came close to winning the league title in consecutive seasons. Uninterested players, astronomical wages, transfer fees and debt left over from the previous regime and uncertainty on who would be guiding the club through it’s first campaign in England second tier for 18-years left supporters fearing the worst. Rumours that the Sports Direct mogul was preparing to sell the club were gripping the North East. Whilst the Magpies were put up for sale on a few occasions Ashley was also formulating a plan that is still in action to this day. Without him the club would still be trying to drag itself out of the gutter. Anyone continuing to doubt his business acumen should continue reading. You don’t become a billionaire over night.
With the financial fair play rules coming into play Ashley decided it was time Newcastle dispensed with the big names and operate under strict regulations. His plan was to reduce debt, cut costs but not at the detriment to the playing squad. No more marquee signings, panic buying or thirty-somethings brought in to plug holes. How refreshing is that in the modern day by the way? Transfers are planned, well thought out and only sanctioned if they represented a good deal for the club.More importantly they had to be the right player for the dressing room. Players are scouted extensively sometimes for years on end. Chief scout Graham Carr is the man responsible for all that and has fast become the clubs biggest asset. Kudos to Ashley once again!
Carr’s talents have unearthed gems like Cheick Tiote, Yohan Cabaye, Davide Santon and new number nine Papiss Cisse. But whilst his keen eye brought these players to our attentions credit must go to Ashley and chief executive Derek Llambias. It’s their negotiating skills that have made it possible for these individuals to pull on the famous black and white stripes without compromising the financial policies in place. Ashley and Llambias aren’t the type to give in to anyones demands or be held to ransom. Just ask Joey Barton. Anyway that group of players alone cost just over £20 million. A little over half of the £35 million received from Liverpool for Andy Carroll 12 months ago. You don’t see many people criticising that transfer anymore do you? Throw free buy and leading scorer Demba Ba into the mix and it’s even more satisfying for us Geordies.
The decision to sack Chris Hughton and bring in Alan Pardew has also turned out to be a masterstroke none of us thought possible. The way events have transpired he is the best manager Newcastle have had since Sir Bobby Robson. The club are currently one point and two places away from the top four under the current regime. Who could have predicted that at the start of this season?
Like every human being on this planet Ashley has made mistakes but quickly learned from them and Newcastle United are better off for that. Looking at Rangers’ plight I can honestly say, Sports Direct Arena aside, I would’t swap him for the world. From the ashes he’s risen like a phoenix….or should that be magpie?