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
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable