Joey Barton (second from right) arrives at Newcastle’s training ground on Thursday morning. Photograph: Chris Brunskill/Getty Images
An outbreak of stick broke out among Newcastle United’s supporters when the club announced in July that owner Mike Ashley would be pocketing £100m in the next two years.
“$93m x two years = $400m,” tweeted The Mag, as one smart Tweet boasted. “And another $1.9m x four years = $10m per signing. Apparently that’s £20m per player.”
The response to this little celebration of Newcastle’s owners was so overwhelming that the club decided to take drastic measures to quell the unrest. A club website now states: “To ensure the content is consistent with the views expressed in this post, and our long-term strategy for the club, there has been an increase in both length and width of the headline.”
Both for good reason, given the tensions which have been exacerbated by a group of City fans who infiltrated the club’s last home game to up their attempts to get around the new, supposedly stricter “stadium ban” on season ticket holders.
Naturally, these loyalist fans made their voices heard at the Macron. Like many supporters on social media, they were highly disgruntled at the unprecedented amount of money being taken out of the club every year by Ashley. The Texan-American has returned £260m to the fans since 2010, around £170m of which came last summer, by selling 10.1% of the club to Singapore-based investors in July. The remainder was taken on by Norwegian-born billionaire Mike Ashley.
So what has Ashley added to their coffers? Well, £11m will go on training and technology in the short term, and even more will go on infrastructure this winter, and the two clubs’ boardrooms have been redesigned.
Ashley will have taken Newcastle to its highest profit since the Premier League began in 1992, a good year for the club at the time. But after taking in a £12m share from Chinese investors 10 years ago, Newcastle’s current bosses have never missed a transfer window to assist the results of previous campaigns.
The former midfielder Joey Barton added to the increasingly stiff jibes made towards Ashley in the wake of the announcement that his hands would be $400m lighter in two years. “About time,” he tweeted. “Rocked all week in League Two. When @MikeAshley gives u £100m in advance for two years it f**king rocks.”
Many other supporters felt a similar passion. Some were as supportive as ever, others were incredibly distrustful. “Mike Ashley has your club poisoned by his money,” said former Magney Steve Prior. “So come on £20,000 per player is nothing to sit around and wait for any longer.”
Gary Cahill, the Newcastle-born England defender, added: “Basically, we’re getting a big big f**king ticker tape banner everywhere.”
Mickle Merrill, a Newcastle United journalist for the Observer who penned an account of Ashley’s purchase of the club in September 2010, described the feeling inside St James’ Park at the moment as: “Minimal reaction. Nothing has changed in terms of behaviour at all.”
Similarly disgruntled was Jim White, a former Guardian columnist and expert on football finances. He told Guardian Sport: “The only different was they wrote it online. They’ve clearly taken a lot of money out and given a lot of money back. But nothing has changed. It’s still as crazy as it ever was.”
The huge amounts of money that come through the door seem to make the club’s hierarchy perpetually mindful of being in hock and keen to turn a profit, by making the cuts that the Premier League requires.
In addition to the £26m taken to pay off outstanding mortgages, Danny Simpson received a £13m termination fee for moving to City and France-based midfielder Moussa Sissoko took a £12m pay-off in the final summer window to join Spurs.
The Daily Mirror in June reported that £15m has gone on Lewis Cook, an England Under-21 midfielder, while £15m was also paid to defender Jamaal Lascelles and £11m was put towards the bumper wages of manager Rafa Benítez. The club were apparently in talks about the free transfer of uncapped Dutch striker Marko Arnautovic as recently as a fortnight ago, but his proposed £60m deal collapsed.
However, it seems the investment of late has