Lies – Mike Ashley’s letter to Jeremy Wright

On 24 July 2018, Chi Onwurah presented a petition to parliament on "Football Club Ownership and the deep concerns surrounding Newcastle United", it's purpose was to "request the House of Commons to take action to prevent unscrupulous football club owners from exploiting the clubs, their fans and local communities, with particular reference to Mike Ashley and Newcastle United FC." 

On 3rd August, Mike Ashley sent a letter to the Secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Jeremy Wright. The letter, published in The Daily Mail on 6th August was to complain about the petition, which Ashley claimed presented "a wholly inaccurate assessment of the situation at Newcastle United".

The Magpie Group and Chi Onwurah both responded to Ashley's letter in great detail. I recommend reading both of those responses. Below, I only repeat much of what they covered, for the record.



Communication
Ashley on dialogue with Ms Onwurah:
I was disappointed that, to the best of my knowledge, Ms Onwurah made no attempt, in advance of presenting the petition, to contact or engage with me, or anybody at Newcastle United.
As described by the Evening Chronicle, Chi Onwurah Wrote to Mike Ashley in 2014.
As the representative of so many Newcastle fans I would like to invite you to tea in the House so we can discuss concerns constructively in an agreeable environment.
Clearly this was long before she presented her petition, but regardless the response she received was curt and unequivocal. Just one line from Lee Charnley
I have to advise that Mike Ashley must politely decline your invitation, and I would kindly ask that all future correspondence be directed to me here.


Debt
Ashley on his much vaunted (by him) interest free loans
As owner of Newcastle United, I have provided the club with interest-free loans, the outstanding balance of which as at today’s date is £144million, whilst I also cleared all of its third-party debts, which stood at £76m in 2006/07 and incurred finance costs of £6.5m that existed when I purchased the club.
Ashley could have been entirely factual here, but for the use of one word - "also".

He wants to give the impression that he has loaned this money in addition to clearing third party debt.
That is not the case. The £144m includes the £76m. It also prompts the question, isn't the model he's running unsustainable, if it leads to almost doubling the club debt? This, despite being profitable in six of the last seven sets of accounts?



Affordable Tickets
Ashley on ticket pricing policy
This enabled Newcastle United to establish an affordable ticket-pricing policy for fans.
As reported by the BBC, outside of the top six, Newcastle's cheapest season tickets were the costliest “cheap” season tickets north of Southampton last season.

Newcastle also sold the costliest “expensive” tickets north of West Ham.

Given the geographical location and economic factors associated with that, to call this "affordable" in comparison to other clubs cannot be justified.



Facilities
Ashley on investing in infrastructure
Our training facilities have improved significantly during my tenure. They are fit for purpose and very clearly do not have a negative impact on performance, given we secured a place within the top 10 of the Premier League last season.
Incapable of distinguishing between what contributes to success at a football club and what hinders it, Ashley is unable to realise that the top ten finish achieved in 17/18 was despite the training facilities, not thanks to them.

As reported by Ashleyout.com, every other Premier League Club has redeveloped (or are re-developing their training facilities) since Newcastle United did so in 2003, four years before Ashley arrived.



Intimidation
Ashley on abusive correspondence:
Following publication of the petition, an unprecedented volume of unacceptable abuse was directed towards staff at Sports (re)Direct and its associated companies, via social media, email and telephone. This included digital material of an obscene nature, incitement to commit criminal damage, and language that was clearly intended to intimidate and harass staff. We are in the process of bringing examples of this behaviour to the attention of police.
Since the publication of Ashley's letter there has still not been one report of police having acted on any of these examples. I will gladly update the blog with any brought to my attention, but I won't hold my breath, Ashley has a history of attempting to demonise opponents and take the moral high ground when challenged with justifiable criticism. In 2008 he claimed Newcastle fans would assault his children if he took them to games, even as police praised the behaviour of Newcastle supporters.



More Communication
Ashley on dialogue with Mr Wright:
I would be happy to provide written answers to any questions that you may have.
Through his entire tenure, Mike Ashley has demonstrably been totally unwilling to answer questions from Newcastle fans or managers, from MPs or even from shareholders in his shop.

It would be fascinating to see if, contacted by Mr Wright, he would respond to the sorts of questions supporters and Chi Onwurah have wanted to ask him for over a decade.

I suspect this is a fake offer for the sake of a PR stunt and he would go as quiet as he has every previous time anyone tried to engage him.

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