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Mort aiming to get off Newcastle rollercoaster and find safer track


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Derby day, a day for thudding hearts, visions of triumph over local rivals and gnawing, nagging dread. Plans to encourage a more measured existence for Newcastle United, a club who could have a rollercoaster enshrined on their crest, will be delayed until after the short journey back from the Stadium of Light this afternoon, when Chris Mort, the chairman, will return to his quiet revolution.

 

Six managers since Kevin Keegan resigned in January 1997, no domestic trophy since 1955, stellar names and defective teams, chasing European glory and dodging relegation, memories to be savoured and exorcised. There has been a preconception that the soap opera will linger under the ownership of Mike Ashley, the billionaire, but for now at least, that theory feels defective.

 

This week, Mort, the lawyer appointed by Ashley to succeed Freddy Shepherd, was holding forth in Northern Rock’s corporate box at St James’ Park, itself a fitting symbol of the turbulence of Newcastle’s recent history. Since the summer he has been conducting a review of all club affairs and an initial conclusion has been made – constant drama is destabilising.

 

“It’s something Newcastle has a reputation for, that there will be overexpectation and overpessimism,” Mort said. “The fact that there are so many fans who keep the club close to their hearts and take it so personally when the club’s not doing well is part of the reason why we’re here. That passion made the club attractive to us in the first place.

 

“But part of our game plan is to move away from the rollercoaster and getting on to a straight line that’s going in the right direction. The rollercoaster can be fun when you’re close to hitting the peak, but it’s the wrong way to run any business. It just isn’t sustainable. It’s impossible to plan ahead.

 

“Over the last ten years we’ve had some Champions League football, but we’ve mostly ended up in the bottom half of the [league] table. We need to try for long-term progress that sends us in the right direction and helps us stay there. It comes back to that rollercoaster. It doesn’t make any sense to get us as high as we can this year if we’re just going to fall back again.”

 

It will take time for that message to be appreciated. Newcastle are embedded in the public consciousness as a fount of intrigue and Ashley is presumed to have the same hair-trigger patience as Roman Abramovich, the Chelsea owner, as well as the wealth and aversion to the media. Those elements have combined to see speculation swirl around Sam Allardyce, a situation that Mort condemned as “ludicrous”.

 

The manager’s appointment preceded Ashley’s £134 million takeover, but Allardyce’s relationship with Mort is solid. A new gym has been installed at Newcastle’s training ground, the academy is being bolstered – “if we’re going to get this club right, that’s going to be a vital part of it,” Mort said – and vanity will be removed from their transfer dealings.

 

“We’d like players who’ll be here for a number of years; my focus will be on bringing in people that aren’t quick fixes,” Mort said. “Let’s build up a squad that’s going to develop together, instead of trying to put your finger in the dyke. From day one we’ve been determined not to panic and we haven’t been beaten up financially on any player transaction.”

 

Shepherd’s regime was emotional, self-destructive and, on occasion, embarrassing. Mort, still a partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, the international law firm, in London, is an antidote, but hardly arid. He has met community leaders and fanzine editors, repairing bonds that had been stretched beyond safety. He and Ashley have drunk with supporters.

 

“We’ve made a conscious effort to go out and meet people,” he said. “That’s partly to promote the club, but also to hear what they have to say, making this a club that they feel a part of. I spend a lot of time walking around the city, just to get the place under my skin.”

 

Early validation for the new regime could come today and Ashley’s status will be enhanced by his decision to sit with away fans, clad in monochrome shirt. “I’m going there with the view that 8-0 would be great, blast them, win it all hands down,” Mort said. “But I’ve tried to make sure we don’t have a silly relationship with Sunderland.” It is another break with the past.

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