The owner of Newcastle United, the eccentric billionaire Mike Ashley, is famous for taking his obsession with privacy to extraordinary lengths. He’s thought to live somewhere in Herefordshire, in a large mansion protected by an elaborate security apparatus, and to emerge only in order to distribute lager to fans at Newcastle games. He never gives interviews.
But in an astonishing turn of events, he agreed last night to sit down with Pitch Invasion writer Brian Phillips for an in-depth discussion about the decision to sack recently departed Newcastle manager Sam Allardyce. What follows is a transcript of their erudite and wide-ranging conversation, conducted over a dish of pickled herrings at Ashley’s favorite dining spot, a diving bell sunk 60m into the northern Caspian Sea.
BRIAN: What the fuck, dude?
NEWCASTLE OWNER MIKE ASHLEY: Sorry?
BRIAN: That is my question for you. My question is: What. The. Fuck.
NOMA: Well, I don’t—
BRIAN: Because you finished thirteenth last year. You realize that, right? That you finished thirteenth last year? I know you don’t get out much. They have football tables in your hidden underground zebra-striped space cockpit, right?
NOMA: I know where we—
BRIAN: And the year before that you were seventh, and the year the before that you were fourteenth. These are not good numbers, dude. This is not a winning lottery ticket. The popcorn popper that churns ping-pong balls does not think you have won today’s powerball jackpot. We’re sorry, you bought Newcastle United. Please try again next week.
NOMA: What are you—
BRIAN: So why fire your manager now, champ? Midway through the season, he’s been on the job eight months, the team’s in eleventh place. That’s better than you did last year! And that’s not me talking; that’s math. Was it something that just came to you while you were blasting at TIE Fighters one day?
NOMA (bristling): Now, look here. I do not spend all my time playing Star Wars in a secluded bunker in my basement.
BRIAN: That’s my bad, man. Tone of your presence, man. That was just a thing I thought. I apologize to you.
NOMA: That’s all right.
BRIAN: I just pictured the blueprint of your house and there was like this hatch that led down to a secret Millennium Falcon clubhouse except you had to like hold your eye over a tiny camera to make it open. There was a firehouse pole. Seemed so believable. What made you fire Sam Allardyce?
NOMA: Well, the team were heading in the wrong—
BRIAN: You realize the dude took Bolton into the UEFA Cup? Bolton! That’s like taking Cameron Diaz to the Golden Globes, man. Just should not happen. I’m not saying he wasn’t basically showering with bars of solid gold soap he got from Tal Ben Haim’s agent’s nephew’s backpack, but you’ve got to give him more than eight months, right? Otherwise you’re just wasting the club’s money and everybody’s time, right?
NOMA: Well, I don’t see it that—
BRIAN: I mean, I keep hearing that when you bought the club, you didn’t want him in the first place, it was like a new house with a bat in the attic, he got hired a month before you took over, and ever since then you’ve just been looking for an excuse. So why not fire him at the start? You own some sporting-goods stores, right, Mike? Is that how you started to be worth 1.9 billion pounds?
NOMA: That’s right, yes.
BRIAN: Cool, cool. A child needs boxing gloves. You are standing at the ready. It’s just, I don’t know how it is when your job is selling trainers to the people who make a special trip to the supermarket to buy Beckham: The Story of David Beckham in hardback, but a football team needs stability, doesn’t it? I mean, you can’t just rip the stitches out and sew it up a different way every few months just because you got a bad result at Wigan. You see where I’m going with this sewing metaphor?
BRIAN: Woah, Captain Solo. I’m not Greedo, here. Don’t interrupt me, man. I’m working on something. What I’m saying is, there’s patience involved in running a football club. This is about letting a seed take root. It’s nature; it’s beautiful. This is why owners have to be different from fans, capice, because fans are going to be like the old blues singer who had hot-foot powder sprinkled outside his door, and had a ramblin’ mind every old place he went. They’re not going to sit still past the first bad goal from Man City. And do you know what the owner has to be like? He has to be like the sweater-wearing bald guy in the horn-rimmed glasses who produced, pressed, and marketed the record. Whole different thing, dude. Just sayin’.
NOMA: Well, it’s not quite that sim—
BRIAN: So I worry, man. I worry when I see these apple-cheeked billionaires buying up clubs to impress their twelve-year-old sons who already resent them because they only got the silver Learjet for Christmas when they wanted the Island of Capri. I worry that we’re getting too many owners who want to think like fans, who want to play “beautiful football” and fire anyone who makes a bad joke on a Tuesday, when they ought to be putting their club on some kind of footing and getting things in place. I worry that they’re liable to hear the fans chant for Alan Shearer and think, “Yeah, that’s the guy for me,” when ever since he retired Alan Shearer has basically been a comma stuck in the wrong place in a sentence. But you new owners all want to wear the shirt and sit in the away end when the team travels, and I mean, dude, when you’re in the away end with two scowling men with earpieces sitting on either side of you, you are not of the people, man. No one ever pleased their fans by thinking like a fan, man. It’s a paradoxical existence.
NOMA: But it’s not at all that simple. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. Fans only want to listen to their own opinions. Fans want to be the owners! They think they know how to run the team! But by God, there’s a different side to this. Listen—
BRIAN: What, man? What’s the other side? What are we missing here? What?
Brian Phillips is currently pricing a Death-Star-trash-compactor closet for The Run of Play.