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Toon owner Ashley takes club off the market

Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley has confirmed the club are no longer for sale after failing to find a buyer.

The billionaire sportswear magnate has decided to push ahead with his own plans for the club following a three-month campaign to find a purchaser.

Ashley engaged the services of investment bank Seymour Pierce after deciding to call it a day at St James' Park in September following mass protests against his regime in the wake of Kevin Keegan's departure as manager.

Ashley launched a £134.4 million takeover of the club in May last year and has since invested around a further £100 millon in servicing the debt burden and attempting to strengthen the playing squad.

Ashley said in a statement on the club's official website: ''I am happy to end the uncertainty the fans may have had about the future direction of Newcastle United.

''I know just how important that is to you. 'I have withdrawn Newcastle United from the market, and for me 2009 will be the year in which we drive the club forward together.

''Even when I haven't been at games I have remained a keen supporter, kicking and heading every ball and cheering the team on TV and being first to congratulate (manager) Joe (Kinnear) whenever there's a good result.''

Ashley revealed the club had failed to find a suitable buyer.

He added: ''When I took the decision to put the club up for sale in September I made a point of saying two things were very important.

''Firstly any potential buyer would have to show they had the best interests of Newcastle United at heart and had both the commitment and finance to be worthy custodians of such a fine football club before I would even consider doing a deal.

''And secondly, I gave you my word that as long as I remain owner, this club would continue to be run responsibly at all levels. I hope you will accept that I have stood by that pledge.''

Michael Ord, a spokesman for the Newcastle United Supporters' Club, insists the news will be unwelcome to many on Tyneside.

Sunday's game against Liverpool had been earmarked as a chance to pay tribute to former manager Sir Bobby Robson, who turns 76 next month, but Ord believes the occasion may now be overshadowed.

''It's the most unwelcome late Christmas present Newcastle United supporters could have,'' he told Sky Sports News.

''The timing of this stinks. Newcastle fans are celebrating the life of a great, great football man and a great man of the north-east, Sir Bobby Robson.

''For Mike Ashley to try to rain on that parade by putting out this news today, I think tells you all you need to know about what he views the custodianship of Newcastle United to be.

''I am unhappy about it. This man said 'I will not subsidise Newcastle United any further'. There is nothing in that statement that tells us that he is going to provide funds. I am at a stage where I do not believe a word this man says.

''He needs to start thinking long and hard about what he is saying, because I don't think Mike Ashley will take Newcastle forward at all.''


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