The Labour leader was in Newcastle on Saturday and laid out plans for fans of clubs to be empowered to elect two board members. He said he would ban zero-hours contracts for staff at football grounds and enforce a £10-per-hour minimum wage. All of which is wonderful and just what the game needs.
Mike Ashley, who has underinvested in Newcastle for the last eleven years, driving out popular managers and alienating Geordie fans, had the club issue a statement that was full of bullshit…
The statement had the nerve to open with this, “Mr Corbyn has demonstrated a surprising lack of knowledge about our national game”, it went on with this surprising fib: “Mike Ashley has not taken a penny out of Newcastle United in interest, salary or dividend”.
Corbyn actually said “Sport must be run in the interests of those who participate in it, follow it and love it, not just for the privileged and wealthy few.
“We will ensure that supporters have a say over how their club is run and review how fans can have more of a say about how all of our sporting bodies are run.” Hallelujah.
“Under a Labour government the Premier League riches will be used to invest in grassroots football for the good of all our communities, fans will be protected from rip-off online ticket touts and staff who work at football clubs will get security and a living wage.”
Let’s have a general election tomorrow.
That excuse that Ashley bravely takes not a penny in wages, dividends or interest looks a little threadbare when you realise that only one top-flight club pay any interest on loans to their owners, only one pays any dividend and only one owner takes a salary – all at different clubs (West Ham, Manchester United and Crystal Palace if you want to check).
Mike Ashley used St James’ Park as a free advertising hoarding for his other business – Sports Direct – for years. The Newcastle United fanzine, the Mag, said that the club had announced that this free advertising would be paid for in the coming season, although that promise was made in 2015. If, as the club say, the advertising will be worth £2m per-season and the freebies have been flowing for 11 years it isn’t too much of leap of the imagination to calculate that Mike Ashley has benefitted to the tune of at least £20m. But not in interest, wages or dividend you understand.
The weaselly little statement also doesn’t cover the property deal Ashley cut himself when the club sold Strawberry Place to him for £6m. The £3m profit on the sale of the land didn’t come back to the club.
A running total of £23m.
The scamming hasn’t stopped there: Newcastle United pay Sports Direct £1.6m a year to stock their merchandise. £9.8m in total in not interest, wages or dividends.
The club statement dodged and ducked under the fact that Ashley extracted £33m in loans he’d made to the club in a single season.
St James’s Park was temporarily renamed the Sports Direct Arena because St James’ Park was seen as not being “commercially attractive”. How much that free advertising is worth is difficult to quantify.
These people are such responsible guardians of our game they were found guilty by a parliamentary enquiry and forced to admit that Sports Direct workers were not being paid the legal minimum wage. Ashley was accused of running his company like a Victorian workhouse and running a business model that treats workers “without dignity or respect”.
Newcastle also said: “we will push the boundaries of our budgets as far as possible to maximise the impact on the team”, a statement that will have Magpies snoring their brown ale down their noses in surprise. They’ve seen little investment so far.
Newcastle also said Corbyn was “overlooking existing governance and regulation” of the game. They seem to be overlooking the fact that this governance and regulation meant we lost Bury this summer and nearly Bolton Wanderers too. Premier League teams are on record incomes from huge television deals and yet they still borrowed £600m from their owners last season. And Manchester City ran a coach and horses through the governance and regulations as exposed by Football Leaks last year.
The Mag finished with this “The truth is, [Ashley] is one of the very worst owners in the league, using and abusing a club he cares nothing about for personal gain.”
Whatever your view of Jeremy Corbyn he seems to be a lot closer in his analysis and understanding of the problems of the game and the feelings of football fans than is Mike Ashley.