Newcastle supporters protest owner Mike Ashley before Premier League opener
Several hundred Newcastle United supporters gathered to protest Mike Ashley's ownership of their club prior to the Premier League game against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday.
The Magpie Group, which presents itself as a network of Newcastle supporter groups, called earlier this week for "peaceful protest action" outside the Sports Direct store on Northumberland Street in Newcastle-upon-Tyne "to take part in an audible and visible display of displeasure against Mike Ashley and his running of their football club."
Supporters gathered outside the store, less than half a mile from St James' Park, chanted "We want Ashley out" and held signs and banners, including one that read, "He is only one man. We are a city."
Ashley, who owns Sports Direct and on Friday completed a takeover of British department store House of Fraser, has long been criticised by supporters for what they perceive to be neglectful ownership of the club he purchased in 2007.
His lack of a relationship with manager Rafa Benitez, whose contract runs only through this season, has also irritated fans in recent months -- and even Benitez has expressed his own frustration on numerous occasions, especially with Newcastle spending only half of their revenue from players in the summer transfer window.
Newcastle made seven additions, including a permanent deal for Martin Dubravka and another loan for Kenedy, as well as a loan of Salomon Rondon and a free transfer of Ki Sung-Yeung, during the summer.
On Saturday, in an appearance on Sky Sports, former striker Shola Ameobi said Ashley should be praised in light of mistakes other ownership groups have made across England.
"You look at the amount of money you need to pay to buy superstars now -- Mike Ashley has come out and said he hasn't got the funds to do that, to compete with Manchester City and Liverpool," Ameobi said. "He's a businessman, and unfortunately for Newcastle fans, he wants to run his business in a way that is sustainable.
"Credit to him, because if you look at the likes of Aston Villa and these clubs who are struggling financially, the one thing that Mike Ashley has done for Newcastle over the last 10 years is to stabilise the club where the club is running itself and we've got no debt. That's a credit to Mike, but obviously, fans of a football team who want to progress year on year, they want to see big players. We can be quietly happy with our business."
In an open letter attributed to Benitez, managing director Lee Charnley and captain Jamaal Lascelles and posted on Newcastle's website on Friday, the club urged supporters "to pull in the same direction for the good of the club."
"Doing good business in a transfer window is about ending the window clearly stronger than when you started and we believe we have done this," the letter reads. "The view we all share is that we have a better squad now than the one that finished 10th last season and all involved have worked tirelessly to make this happen."