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

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions