Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Newcastle owner Mike Ashley disgraces himself once more as direct debits continue

Newcastle United and Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley has shown his true colours once more during the COVID-19 pandemic currently sweeping the globe. He’s managed to find yet another way to screw over the Geordie nation, despite the country being in the midst of a global pandemic and financial crisis.

As well as that, the actions and behaviour of the sports retailer he owns, Sports Direct, has been nothing short of shameful. It’s been quite frankly a week wherein we have seen PEAK Mike Ashley…

The Season Ticket debacle at Newcastle

Obviously with the vast majority of the country currently on some sort of lockdown, be it full scale or not, people aren’t working and thus, have money issues. I know, from my own personal experience, that the majority of the North East are in a state of panic regarding COVID-19 and what it will do to their finances.

Obviously football, which is normally the one escape we have from the painful day-to-day existence of working class life in northern England, has been postponed indefinitely.

However, we then come to the thorny issues of finances and season ticket direct debits – we’ve seen some clubs halt all payments from their fans to help relieve stress, but Newcastle are having none of that.

Newcastle Owner Mike Ashley

Obviously with the majority of football fans in the north east being part of the working class socio-economic banding, not many of us are working currently. As a result, finances are running low, bills are mounting up and to top it off, fans are having to pay direct debits and one-off payments for a season ticket they can’t even use…

Here is a statement from the NUFC Supporters Trust – in it, you’ll find this little nugget:

“The club has stated it has no intention of freezing or delaying payments from those fans who opt to pay for their ticket annually. Monthly payments will also continue as normal.”

Today, March 25th, thousands of those aforementioned NUFC fans who opt to pay for their ticket annually saw the full amount be taken from their bank accounts. I’ve even seen at least one case of a fan who actually pays monthly have the full amount of his ticket taken, leaving him in severe financial trouble.

This is simply not good enough from Mike Ashley and Newcastle. The club is the beating heart of the city, yet they continue to show complete and utter ignorance to the plight of the people who keep it afloat.

The Geordie nation, a group of people I am very proud to be a part of, love their football, but there’s only so much they can take. Even a hardcore believer of “support the team not the regime” like me is struggling to see past this one.

This club pulls in hundreds of millions every single year, and they can’t even suspend direct debit payments for a few months to help their fans get through the most difficult period in all of our lives – financially and otherwise. That, for me, is shameful.

Not even the only shameful thing Mike Ashley has done this week…

Yesterday, in the direct aftermath of the governments order to lock down the country and keep only essential businesses open, Mike Ashley’s sporting retailer Sports Direct issued a letter to staff saying they intended to stay open.

In it, Sports Direct CFO Chris Wotton had the audacity to claim that Sports Direct employees are part of the “key workers” demographic to whom the lockdown does not apply. He stated that Sports Direct are “uniquely well placed to help keep the UK as fit and healthy as possible during this crisis.”

After pressure from just about the whole country to shove that letter straight up where the sun doesn’t shine, Sports Direct overturned their decision and opted to close their stores… not that the controversy ends there.

Yes, the stores are now closed, but you can order your sports gear (why you’d want to order from there I don’t know…) online. So, of course, Ashley and his cronies at Sports Direct have found yet another way to manipulate this global crisis for their own gain.

Reports from the Press Association and Evening Standard show that they have hiked prices of sports gear by up to 50%. Obviously they know that people will have very little to do while quarantined and so many will use their new found spare time to work out – not to miss an opportunity, prices have shot up.

A kettle bell normally priced at £9.99 can now be found and purchased for as £14.99 – a new COVID-19 special bargain. Plenty of other items from brands such as Everlast, Slazenger and Lonsdale (all owned by Sports Directs parent company Fraser Group) have seen significant price hikes.

All that is despite orders from the Competition and Markets Authory (CMA) to companies across the nation not to increase their prices significantly during the crisis.

At this point, we should be treating Sports Direct the way the nation treat The S*n newspaper. They have no regard for their employees, no regard for their customers and no regard for anything other than the size of their revenue stream.

Unfortunately for me and the Geordie nation, this is an attitude Mike Ashley took with him into the world of football ownership when he bought the club 13 years ago. If there’s one group of people who weren’t even remotely surprised by this disgusting behaviour from Sports Direct, it’s the Newcastle United support base.

I realise this article has been more of a rant but, in case you didn’t notice, this story has really wound me up. The only organisation I’ve ever seen show this much ignorance to their people is the UK government… maybe Mike Ashley should consider a run for MP.

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Kieran Harm
Kieran hails from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and holds a degree in Sports Journalism from the University of Brighton. He covers a range of sports, specialising in football and NFL. Kieran is a long-suffering member of the Toon Army as well as a very proud member of Broncos Country.

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