Tuesday 16 September ~
They are the flight companions that nightmares are made of. Mike Ashley, Dennis Wise and Tony Jimenez are all reported to have flown to Dubai to meet Middle East “powerbrokers” about the possible sale of Newcastle United. Yet according to a financial source quoted this morning: “People like Mike Ashley just don't get to see key members of the Al Maktoum family. Trying to do business by just turning up like that will not impress Gulf Arabs.” Ashley has been reportedly hawking Newcastle around for several months, so all that has really changed is the urgency of the task with fan demonstrations against the owner set to escalate. But if Newcastle's problems were not grave enough, a large figure from the past has recently resurfaced.
Should the “Cockney mafia” fail to replace itself with investors originating even further away from Newcastle than London, (the “Singapore saviours” or “Abu Dhabi Ashley avengers” perhaps), there are rumours of interest from a north-east based consortium. From today's reports it seems that former chairman Freddy Shepherd would be interested in a figurehead role. Right-thinking Newcastle fans must be horrified – there is still a website dedicated to Shepherd's financial mismanagement of the club. Yet today, with typical lack of self-awareness, Shepherd began a media charm offensive, aimed at the “Toon army” footsoldiers.
Shepherd has refuted recent claims by the Ashley regime that the club was on the verge of bankruptcy when they took over: “Newcastle were in good shape when I left. There was no way the club was going anywhere but upwards... We'll stand by our record, the Halls and the Shepherds. We built a great stadium, we built a great training ground. We left all the tools there and a good set of players. Everything was there. We've nothing to be ashamed of.” The former chairman also applied moral pressure on Ashley: “He can’t ask for any more than he has put in there. If he doesn’t want to capitalise on Newcastle United, if he loves the club so much, then surely he will sell for its true worth.” In a final populist push he demanded Keegan's return: “I will take a bet we have not heard the last of Kevin Keegan. I would definitely bring Kevin back. He is the guy for the job, the right guy to run the business." It's a wonder no one else has thought of that.
Considering the range of lurid financial allegations that surrounded the Freddy Shepherd stewardship, his claims to have not profited from the club are flaky at best, hypocrisy at worst. This fact that has not been lost on some. Whatever Newcastle require to sort out the mess at St James' Park it's certainly not the return of Freddy Shepherd, a man who could yet make some feel nostalgic for the Mike Ashley era.