Freddie Fletcher: Persuasive administrator who revitalised Newcastle United football club

 

If Kevin Keegan was the public face of Newcastle United's revival in the 1990s, and Sir John Hall the man who bankrolled it, it was the club's former chief executive Freddie Fletcher whom one of Hall's closest allies, Freddy Shepherd, hailed as "the real driving force behind the Newcastle revolution".

Fletcher, who has died at the age of 71 after suffering from cancer, was only weeks into the job when he proposed asking Keegan, a Tyneside idol but a managerial novice, to give up his eight-year retirement on the golf courses of Marbella and succeed Ossie Ardiles in February 1992. Newcastle were bottom of the old Second Division and the new owners, Hall's Magpie Group, had inherited a parlous financial position.

The responsibility for sacking Ardiles fell to Fletcher. The Scot, who had cut his teeth in big-time football with Rangers during the 1980s, drove to Ardiles's home and, according to Geordie folklore, fired him with such charm that he was invited to stay for breakfast. Fletcher then set up a meeting in London to try to coax Keegan back to the North-east. The former England captain had told his family that Newcastle – where he had enjoyed two swansong seasons as a player – was the only club that could make him consider becoming a manager.

Fletcher's ability to think outside the box and his persuasive powers paid off. Keegan, having kept Newcastle out of the Third Division on the final day of 1991-92, initially retreated to the Costa del Sol complaining "it wasn't like it said in the brochure" because there was no transfer kitty to take the club forward. Fletcher, along with Sir John's son, Douglas Hall, flew to the Costa del Sol to dangle a three-year contract worth a then-handsome £120,000 and acceded to his demand for a written guarantee of a £2m war chest.

Newcastle swiftly won promotion and were twice runners-up in the Premier League in the mid-'90s. Fletcher's tenacious negotiating skills earned him the nickname of "The Rottweiler" (as Shepherd recalled, "he wouldn't give up on anything") and he secured a succession of high-profile targets for Keegan, among them Alan Shearer, David Ginola and Tino Asprilla. He cheerfully told the story, against himself, of how the Parma president shook hands and addressed him in Italian after Asprilla's transfer was finalised. Fletcher thanked him, only to be informed by the interpreter that the president called him "a little shit".

Fletcher also oversaw Newcastle's stock-market flotation in 1997 and the redevelopment of St James' Park into a 52,000-seat stadium. Yet football was only one facet of a richly diverse life; he called the sport "one of my two hobbies", the other being politics, although business formed a strong third strand.

Born in the shipbuilding town of Greenock, he never knew his father, who was killed in the Second World War, growing up in a house with his mother, her parents and seven assorted relations. For his fifth birthday he was given a season ticket to Morton, the local club, where he later took his first steps in football administration by joining the board in 1978. In between those pivotal moments, however, he emigrated to the United States in 1962, finding work in a publishing company in Massachusetts. Realising US citizenship would make him eligible for national service, he returned within a year.

Fletcher became involved in local politics, being elected in 1966 to serve on the first Liberal-controlled council in Scotland. He went on to hold the office of Provost of Inverclyde District Council from 1977 to 1981 and maintained an interest in Liberal Democrat Party affairs.

After working for an uncle's plumbing business, he was employed by Mars, Kraft Foods and United Biscuits before joining John Lawrence (Glasgow) Ltd, the construction company which owned Rangers for 25 years from 1963. Invited to become commercial director at Ibrox, he developed the lucrative corporate side of the club and was part of the executive team that sparked an era of trophy-strewn domestic dominance by bringing in Graeme Souness as player-manager and making big-money signings from English football.

Having also acted as treasurer of the Scottish League and sat on the international committee of the Scottish Football Association, Fletcher continued in his role at Rangers after David Murray took over in 1988 before leaving the following year. He had attracted Scottish & Newcastle Breweries to the club as sponsors and one of its directors recommended him to Sir John Hall. An eight-year sojourn as Newcastle's chief executive ended when he left in 2000 to become managing director of PTV (Ventures), later setting up his own company, Mercer Street Marketing and Consulting Ltd. In 2005 he was appointed a freeman of the City of London.

Fletcher, who relished reminding people he was "the Freddie who didn't get caught in the sting in Spain" (in which the News of the World snared Shepherd), was rushed to hospital with a collapsed lung in April. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a form of cancer usually related to exposure to asbestos, which he believed he had been as a young man walking past the dockyards in Greenock.

Phil Shaw

Freddie Fletcher, football administrator, politician and businessman: born Greenock 1941 or 1942; married Margaret (two sons, one daughter); died 27 August 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
News
Lois Pryce... Life Without a Postcode. Lois lives on a boat with her husband.. Registering to vote in the election has prooved to be very difficult without a fixed residential post code. (David Sandison)
newsHow living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing