James Lawton: Ashley will have to live with being just a sideshow

At the peak of his ruthless rise as a sports shirt salesman sweeping past his first billion-pound milestone, Mike Ashley was said to be in the habit of parking his tanks on the lawns of anyone who might be considering standing in his way. For the sake of his shot-through credibility as a serious presence in football, however, he should perhaps now be checking what is left of his armoury.

A howitzer or two, at the very least, will certainly be required if he dreams for a second that he will be able to treat Alan Shearer with even a hint of the contempt he showed for another Tyneside hero, Kevin Keegan.

Ashley, in the way of all those professional bullies who have seen in football the chance of a sudden blaze of attention and fame after all their anonymous scuffling in the business world, to which TV cameras were so rarely tempted, no doubt detected a strain of emotional vulnerability in "Wor" Kevin. He had, after all, been known to weep in times of crisis.

"Wor" Alan is not, of course, prone to emotional stress. He may come to the chaos and the dangerously eroding hope of Newcastle without a day of professional experience as a manager but he brings to the challenge something far more valuable than a clutch of coaching badges.

Apart from his iconic status as the boy who made good in distant places and then came home when he could have booked himself a cupboard full of glory with Manchester United, Shearer has an essential toughness that has never required any obvious cultivation. So if Ashley's wealth covered a multitude of sins, including a crass attempt to popularise his image in a souvenir shirt and with a pint in his hand, and persuaded such a notional hard man as Dennis Wise to come running to his banner, we can be sure Shearer will stand entirely alone when it comes to assessing the immediate needs of the club which is threatened with the inevitable price of endemic failure.

Ashley's reserve towards Shearer until this week's issuing of an SOS was not exactly a mystery that required the sleuthing of Inspector Poirot. When the owner paid out his millions, he was investing, apart from some potential profit down the road, in the Mike Ashley Show. That it was so far off Broadway that a self-respecting Miners' Institute would have given it a run no longer than the time required to get in a round of drinks, will of course have been noted by Shearer as he kept his distance, while at the same time quite gently pointing out that no football club had ever before needed such an emergency immersion in some of the basics of success.

We are told that, with the help of the combative pro Iain Dowie, Shearer is committed to nothing more extended than a rescue mission. However, that would surely be negotiable if he brings salvation in the relegation zone and makes Ashley's folly of a purchase into a viable property again.

One point is inescapable. The style of Ashley will inevitably be compared by Shearer to that of his former patron, the late Jack Walker of Blackburn. The old steel man paid his money into a Premier League-winning cause because of the meaning of the club to him when he was a boy. Ashley, like that other self-advertising bully boy from the dusty corridors of commerce, Sir Alan Sugar, came from a slightly different direction.

Sugar, who as guardian of the traditions of Tottenham Hotspur told one of his managers, Gerry Francis, that the way to run the club was buy small and sell big, a bit like the Wimbledon of Sam Hammam, while all the time building up the value of the shares. To be fair to Sugar, he didn't patronise football. Indeed, he declared his hatred of it, possibly because he realised quickly enough that he would never be more than a pygmy figure beside such football characters as Terry Venables and Jürgen Klinsmann.

Ashley, with his supping and his stagy bonhomie on the terraces, came to the same conclusion some time ago. Now he hopes to ride to safety on the back of an authentic hero. He will be wise, though, to go very easy in his stirrups.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
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