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Mike Ashley's reign of terror

Updated: Nov 15, 2022

Mike Ashley's reign of terror has finally come to an end after fourteen years as our takeover by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, PCP Capital Partners and the Reuben Brothers has finally been completed eighteen months after a £300,000,000 deal was agreed. In this article, we're going to look back on his horrific ownership of our club, apologies if it brings back bad memories but at least we can move on from him.

He took control of the club in 2007 despite Freddy Shepherd appointing Sam Allardyce as manager the previous week. We signed players with Premier League experience in Mark Viduka, Geremi, Joey Barton and Alan Smith but Allardyce was sacked after fan pressure and when Kevin Keegan came back as manager, Ashley did have some popularity and was even mixing with our fans at games and in local bars and clubs. However, his true colours were shown at the start of the 2008/09 season as he was caught downing pints in an area where alcohol is forbidden during the 3-0 loss at Arsenal and then Keegan reluctantly accepted a £12,000,000 bid from Aston Villa for James Milner in the hope that we could get Bastian Schweinsteiger from Bayern Munich. As he rang up the Bundesliga giants to enquire about him, he was told that the club had offered a ridiculously low price for him and that he would cost £50,000,000. Instead, he found out that Ignacio González was joining on loan from Valencia (based from clips of him on YouTube and also to do a favour for two South American agents) and Spanish striker Xisco was also being signed for £5,700,000 from Deportivo La Coruña, both transfers were behind his back and after attending meetings with the board in an attempt to sort things right, he quit and Ashley lost the trust of the fans forever.

As we lost 2-1 at home to newly promoted Hull City in our next game, fans made their feelings clear and Ashley put the club up for sale whilst appointing Joe Kinnear as manager two weeks later. He failed to find a buyer and took the club off the market right before a 5-1 home loss against Liverpool in our final game of 2008, meanwhile, Kinnear was taken to hospital the night before a vital 3-2 win at West Bromwich Albion. After Chris Hughton temporarily took charge (as he did when Keegan left), Alan Shearer was brought back as manager for the final eight games of the season three years after his retirement whilst the unpopular chief scout Dennis Wise left but despite a 3-1 win over fellow strugglers Middlesbrough, which lifted us out the bottom three with two games to go, 1-0 losses to Fulham and Aston Villa sealed our fate.

Soon afterwards, the club was up for sale again but things were still getting worse as we lost 6-1 to Leyton Orient in pre season and there were fears of us ending up like Leeds United by going from playing in the Champions League to League One football. Many players left the club and our only signing was Danny Simpson on loan from Manchester United whilst a lack of communication meant that Shearer did not continue as manager and we started the season with Hughton in charge. The game against Leyton Orient proved to be such a blessing in disguise as Kevin Nolan effectively told any players that if they weren't up for getting us back up to leave and it clearly worked as we won the Championship title with 102 points and an unbeaten home record. Hughton was given the manager's job in late October as Ashley took the club off the market whilst Graham Carr was made chief scout in February.

Our first home game back in the top flight proved to be a memorable one as academy graduate Andy Carroll, who scored his first goals during the 2008-09 season and was a key member of our promotion winning side, netted a hat-trick as we hammered Aston Villa 6-0 fifteen months after our relegation was confirmed at Villa Park. Despite also hammering local rivals Sunderland 5-1 at St James' Park and winning 4-3 away to Chelsea in the League Cup and 1-0 away to Everton and Arsenal in the league, Chris Hughton was bizarrely given the sack in December and replaced by Alan Pardew despite only 2% of fans wanting him when the Chronicle ran a poll asking who they wanted as manager. However, Pardew's reign got off to a perfect start with a 3-1 home win over Liverpool and we also hammered his former club West Ham United 5-0 in our first home game of 2011 but three days later, we suffered an FA Cup third round humiliation at the hands of League Two side Stevenage and Carroll was sold to Liverpool on transfer deadline day for a British record £35,000,000. The timing of his sale meant that we could only look at free agents to replace him for the rest of the season and we brought in former Blackburn Rovers striker Shefki Kuqi, who made six appearances (all off the bench) without scoring and left at the end of the season. Nevertheless, our first season back in the top flight ended with a respectable 12th place finish.

The 2011/12 season proved to be arguably the best one under the Ashley regime as despite selling Kevin Nolan to newly relegated West Ham United, José Enrique joining Carroll at Liverpool and Joey Barton being allowed to join newly promoted Queens Park Rangers on a free transfer, we went unbeaten in our first eleven games of the season whilst Yohan Cabaye and Demba Ba would prove to be fantastic signings that summer. Ba netted sixteen league goals that season whilst Cabaye formed a superb midfield partnership with Cheick Tioté and Papiss Cissé hit thirteen goals in fourteen games after arriving from Freiburg in January to help us qualify for the Europa League with his second goal in a 2-0 win away to Chelsea winning Match of The Day's goal of the season award. Hatem Ben Arfa, who's 2010/11 season only lasted four league games before a horrific injury in a 2-1 loss at Manchester City, netted goals that Lionel Messi would be proud against Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers, Tim Krul overtook the long serving Steve Harper as our main goalkeeper and captain Fabricio Coloccini was named in the PFA Team of The Year. Pardew also won the Premier League Manager of The Season award and the LMA Manager of The Year award. There was one big negative that season though - Ashley's decision to rename St James' Park to Sports Direct Arena, something that was never going to go down well with our fans.

The following season saw us slip back down the table as we didn't prepare adequately for the added pressure of European football with only Vurnon Anita being signed for the first team. We were sucked in the relegation battle as we lost four games in a row in November and to make things worse, Ba's £7,000,000 release clause was activated by Chelsea in early January. His return to Tyneside proved to be a memorable afternoon though, as Jonás Gutiérrez opened the scoring before cracking goals from Frank Lampard and Juan Mata gave Rafael Benítez's side the lead but January signing Moussa Sissoko netted a brace on his home debut to seal a 3-2 win over the reigning European champions. Three weeks later, French Day was held at St James' Park for the visit of Southampton with Sissoko and four other Frenchmen having joined in January and he and Yohan Cabaye both netted for us in a crucial 4-2 win. We also made it to the Europa League quarter-finals with 1-0 second leg wins over Metalist Kharkiv and Anzhi Makhachkala and Papiss Cissé opened the scoring away to Benfica in the first leg but we collapsed and lost 3-1, Cissé scored again in the second leg on Tyneside to give us hope but Eduardo Salvio's late strike killed us off. We then suffered two of our most humiliating results in recent times - rivals Sunderland came to St James' Park winless in nine games but hammered us 3-0 before Liverpool gave us our biggest home loss since 1925 two weeks later with a 6-0 win and we finished the season 16th with our survival only being sealed with a 2-1 win at already relegated Queens Park Rangers in our penultimate game whilst Steve Harper played his last game for the club after twenty years of the service in our final day home loss against Arsenal.

Fans turned on the board once again in the summer of 2013 as Joe Kinnear was brought back as Director of Football and gave a comical interview on TalkSport shortly afterwards, controversial payday loan firm Wonga became our shirt sponsors and only signing was Loïc Rémy on loan from Queens Park Rangers. We had an excellent first half of the season, including earning our first win at Old Trafford since 1972 but star player Yohan Cabaye was sold to Paris Saint-Germain for £19,000,000 in January and as we failed to replace him. Kinnear left two days after Sunderland won 3-0 on Tyneside again to complete their first league double over us in forty-seven years but a six game losing run saw fans walk out in the sixty-ninth minute of our last home game of the season against Cardiff City. We did at least bring in some new players ahead of the 2014/15 season but fans made their feelings towards Pardew more clear (including setting up after he allowed Hatem Ben Arfa to join Hull City on loan without a replacement, especially as we failed to win any of our first seven league games, this included another 4-0 loss away to Southampton.

Things did turn around after the October international break as a 1-0 win over newly promoted Leicester City started a six game winning run in all competitions (including a memorable 2-0 win away to Manchester City in the League Cup) as 21 year old Ayoze Pérez burst onto the scene after joining from Tenerife in the summer. This eased the pressure on Pardew, who picked up November's Manager of The Month award for a second year running and we also ended Chelsea's unbeaten start to the season thanks to a brace from Papiss Cissé but suffered a fourth consecutive derby loss to Sunderland two weeks later. Pardew did go out on a high with a 3-2 win over Everton in our final game of 2014 before being allowed to become Crystal Palace manager.

Assistant John Carver took charge for the rest of the season and it's safe to say that his tenure was a total disaster as we lost eight games in a row and fans organised a boycott of what proved to be game six of that run - a 3-1 loss against Tottenham Hotspur. The final game of that run away to Leicester City was the one that summed up Carver's reign the most as we messed up the kick-off and conceded from a corner after thirty-eight seconds before Leicester scored from another set piece sixteen minutes later. After the full-time whistle of a 3-0 loss, Carver accused Mike Williamson of delibrately getting a second yellow card but the most ridiculous moment came five days later as he claimed that he was still the best coach in the Premier League. We did end the losing run with a 1-1 draw against West Bromwich Albion but despite Emmanuel Rivière's only Premier League goal giving us the lead at already relegated Queens Park Rangers, we somehow bottled it and lost 2-1, meaning that we would be up against Hull City in a final day relegation battle (exactly six years to the day that they beat us to survival) despite sitting tenth when Pardew left. Our only positive from the second half of the season was Jonás Gutiérrez returning to the pitch after beating testicular cancer and on the final day against West Ham United, he put in the cross for Moussa Sissoko to head home to make it 1-0 before scoring a cracker himself to seal a 2-0 win and our survival and showed more passion in his celebrations than many of our players had done during Carver's tenure.

Gutiérrez's final day display couldn't save him from being released the following though despite Sammy Ameobi somehow getting a new deal and it was revealed that he and Ryan Taylor were both released via telephone. On a more positive note, Carver was given the sack with new manager Steve McClaren deciding not to keep him on and around £48,500,000 was spent that summer, including the signing of highly rated midfielder and PSV Eindhoven captain Georginio Wijnaldum for £15,000,000. Despite this, we failed to win our first eight leagues and were knocked out of the League Cup with an embarassing 1-0 home loss against Sheffield Wednesday and with us fighting relegation yet again, we signed four players in January, including Jonjo Shelvey from Swansea City and Andros Townsend from Tottenham Hotspur. Even then, McClaren could not get things right and fans really turned on him in early March as we lost 1-0 away to Stoke City before he started Emmanuel Rivière in a must win game against Bournemouth three days later, we lost 3-1, fans made their feelings clear and he was sacked and replaced by Rafael Benítez.

It took until Benítez's fifty-sixth birthday to record his first win but it was the start of a six game unbeaten run to end the season, it didn't stop us from going down but the love he was shown in the final day 5-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur convinced him to stick with us in the Championship and we spent approximately £57,000,000 on players that summer. Our fanbase was reunited thanks to Rafa and the change of attitude within the squad, promotion was sealed with a 4-1 win over Preston North End before a 2-0 victory at Cardiff City four days later gave us a club record fourteenth away win in the league and gave us a chance of piping Brighton & Hove Albion to the title on the final day. We did our job by beating Barnsley 3-0 and right after Dwight Gayle ensured that we hit a century of goals for the season, Brighton conceded a stoppage time equaliser away to Aston Villa, meaning that the title was our's. However, fans turned on the board once again that summer with only approximately £36,400,000 spent (including the £6,200,000 to make Christian Atsu's loan move from Chelsea permanent) and the club was put back on the market in October with reported interest from PCP Capital Partners chief executive Amanda Staveley, who had attended a 1-1 draw against Liverpool.

Towards the end of 2017, Ashley and Staveley were reportedly close to a takeover agreement but the deal fell through in January before we brought in Kenedy, Martin Dúbravka and Islam Slimani on loan. Slimani's time was ruined by injury as he only played four games and despite playing a role in our winning goals against Huddersfield Town and Arsenal, his only notable act was his violent conduct on West Bromwich Albion's Craig Dawson, which brought his loan spell to an end. Kenedy and Dúbravka, on the other hand, played key roles as we moved up the table from a relegation battle to finish 10th, which was sealed with a 3-0 win over Chelsea on the final day. Dúbravka joined permanently shortly after the end of the season but it would be another summer of discontent on Tyneside as we made a profit, especially when we only got Salomón Rondón in a loan swap deal with Dwight Gayle despite him having a £16,500,000 release clause following West Brom's relegation and Aleksandar Mitrović being sold to newly promoted Fulham for £22,000,000 after a successful loan spell at Craven Cottage with the Serbian striker clearly not rated by Rafa. Kenedy did come back for another loan spell but failed to produce anywhere near the same form from the second half of the previous season and the lack of money being spent lead to fan protests coming back, especially as we only picked up three points from our opening ten games - all 0-0 draws against Cardiff City, Crystal Palace and Southampton.

Benítez did manage to turn things around and won November's Manager of The Month award as we beat Watford, Bournemouth and Burnley as Rondón started scoring goals and fellow new signings Ki Sung-yueng and Fabian Schär also came good with Federico Fernández already performing well after his arrival from Swansea City. Despite Schär scoring twice in a 3-0 win over Cardiff City and academy graduate Sean Longstaff breaking into the first team (including scoring his first senior goal for us in a 4-2 FA Cup replay win at Blackburn Rovers), things still looked bleak in January as Rafa was reportedly set to reject any contract offers and leave in the summer if he didn't get Miguel Almirón and a new left-back. Jordan Lukaku looked set to join on loan from Lazio but failed his medical and morale was low after we lost 2-0 at home to Watford in the FA Cup but hours before kick-off at home to Pep Guardiola's Manchester City three days later, a club record £21,500,000 deal was agreed for Almirón (thirteen and a half years after our previous record signing in Michael Owen) and we came from behind to beat the reigning champions 2-1. Meanwhile, Antonio Barreca was signed on loan from Monaco as left-back cover.

Almirón instantly helped us out, especially alongside fellow Spanish speakers Salomón Rondón and Ayoze Pérez in attack as we climbed up the league away from the relegation to another mid table finish despite Ashley's neglect. This included coming from 2-0 down to beat Everton 3-2, Pérez netting a hat-trick in a 3-1 win over Southampton and a final day 4-0 win away at already relegated Fulham. Attention then turned to whether or not Rafa would sign a new contract until we heard reports that the Bin Zayed Group were set to takeover but it never happened despite positive noises from them and Benítez left. The Spaniard admitted upon his departure that he wanted to stay but that he wanted to be part of a project and that those above him did not share that vision. Pérez also left when Leicester City activated his £30,000,000 release clause and Rondón joined Rafa at Chinese Super League club Dalian Yifang, Steve Bruce was appointed as our new manager and our transfer record was broken again as we signed Joelinton for £40,000,000 whilst the signing of highly rated Allan Saint-Maximin also helped to limit the damage done that summer from losing Benítez.

Many would've predicted relegation in Bruce's first campaign whilst Paddy Power even paid out all bets on it in the wake of Benítez's departure but despite embarrassing losses against Norwich City and Leicester City early on, this didn't prove to be the case. We even saw Sean Longstaff's brother, Matty, break into the first team and score the only goal against Manchester United on his Premier League debut whilst we also won 1-0 in our first game at the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium as Joelinton scored his first Magpies goal and at home to Chelsea as Isaac Hayden headed home a last minute winner. The season was suspended on 13 March due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a month later, Ashley agreed to sell the club to the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, PCP Capital Partners and the Reuben Brothers but after the season was concluded behind closed doors throughout June and July, they pulled out due to the prolonged delay for a decision from the Premier League and their failure to communicate a time-frame for it. The BN Group then made an attempt to buy us the following month but failed to meet the asking price and three days before the start of the season, following the signings of Callum Wilson, Ryan Fraser and Jamal Lewis in the space of two days, the club claimed that the Premier League rejected the takeover and did not act appropriately when they did so and that all relevant options were being considered.

Ashley's final full season would prove to be a frustrating one on the pitch, especially as COVID-19 continued to stop fans from attending matches. This meant that we couldn't make our feelings towards Steve Bruce known (other than on social media) as in the space of four weeks during the winter, we were hammered 5-2 away to newly promoted Leeds United, dumped out of the Carabao Cup 1-0 by Championship side Brentford and gave bottom club Sheffield United their first league win of the season by the same scoreline. We did beat Everton 2-0 and Southampton 3-2 to get us further away from the relegation zone but we then failed to win any of our next seven games (including another 3-0 loss to relegation rivals Brighton & Hove Albion) until a good end to the season, including Joe Willock scoring in his final seven appearances of the season (including a last gasp equaliser at Anfield and the only goal our fans got to see in person as we beat Sheffield United 1-0 in our final home game), saw us finish 12th. Willock did sign permanently for £22,000,000 after his successful loan spell from Arsenal but that proved to be our senior signing of Ashley's final summer as owner and things looked bad on the pitch as we only picked up three points from our first seven league games. It had also looked like our takeover saga would continue into 2022 but it was revealed last week that a major hurdle had been overcome as Saudi Arabia lifted the ban on BeIN Sports in their country and on Thursday 7 October 2021, Mike Ashley's reign of terror came to an end when the Premier League approved the deal and allowed the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, PCP Capital Partners and the Reuben Brothers to take control. Here's to having ambition once again and better days ahead.



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