Ashley takes two steps back

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Upon taking over at Newcastle United, it took little time for Mike Ashley to achieve popularity among the clubs' supporters.

After saving the club from financial ruin, Ashley sought to bridge the gap between the boardroom and those who sat in the Gallowgate, by donning a Newcastle shirt and joining the rest of the home faithful in the stands.

The move came at a time when foreign ownership in the Barclays Premier League was becoming the norm. Malcolm Glazer had plunged Manchester United into debt, while the following year Tom Hicks and George Gillet took control of Liverpool - both achieving unpopularity with supporters before a dime had even be spent.

Even with Freddy Shepard ousted from the club, Ashley took to the stands to improve relations with, whether he liked it or not, those who's business he needed to keep the club alive. And for at least the short-term, it worked.

Ashley's maintained favourability as he appointed Kevin Keegan as manager; he could seemingly do no wrong.

Fast-forward a three years that has included five managers, the sale of the club's best players, one relegation and numerous supporter protests, the club is in a very different place.

Ashley now refrains from sitting with the rest of the home support, not because he can't get a seat, but because he's afraid of being lynched by 50,000 Toon supporters baying for blood.

After 11 games in the league this season, Ashley and Newcastle were edging closer to the relationship they enjoyed at the start of his tenure at the club.

After a summer littered with hasty sales of the club's best and biggest earners, and even hastier purchases of several unknown, injury prone replacements from across the English channel meant expectations plummeted.

Attempts to balance the books at Newcastle also saw the appointment, not a big name, but Alan Pardew, whose managerial career had taken a turn following his FA Cup heroics with West Ham United five years ago. He could have been accused of being out of touch.

An uncertain transfer policy has produced the most remarkable of starts to the season, with seven wins, amid an unbeaten run, the longest held by any in the top flight, has left many in the north-east scratching their heads; has Ashley pulled a rabbit out of the hat?

However, any confusion over how Ashley has turned around the club's fortunes will have been replaced by anger, a common emotion during the 48-year-old's time at the Magpies, after it was revealed the club will be trading in their 119-year-old stadium name.

St James' Park, at least to the corporate big-wigs, with be known for the remainder of the season as the Sports Direct Arena, the company owned by Ashley.

The move will, according to the club, showcase future sponsorship opportunities, a package which will also include sponsoring the team's shirt.

The move appears to be poorly calculated, not least because, as former-chairman Shepard has already noted, the new sponsor will be fighting against a name that's been installed for over a century, and it's unlikely to stick.

Supporters won't be ushered into calling the ground a different name, it'll still be known as St James' Park to them. However, the move does nothing to improve relations between the two, at a time when Ashley had begun to turn the tide.

Events on the pitch had at last overshadowed the currently ownership, but this latest move has brought it right back into focus.

Derek Llambias' claim that the money the club can gain from the deal, in the region of £8-10 million, can be spent on a new player won't sit well with supporters either, as just this summer they refused to shell out big money for a replacement for Andy Carroll, despite having £35 million sitting in the bank.

Why fans should now believe they'll spend they money from this sort of deal I'm not sure. It's a feeble attempt to get them on side.

And that's what Ashley's policy was from the off, get the fans on side. Unfortunately, of late, his decisions have been littered with unpopular responses. He'll do well to recover from this.

Premier League
Newcastle United

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