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Page last updated at 16:11 GMT, Friday, 19 September 2008 17:11 UK

Beardsley backs besieged Ashley

By Matt Slater

Peter Beardsley and Mike Ashley
Beardsley says Ashley deserves better from the Newcastle support

Newcastle legend Peter Beardsley has told Geordie fans to lay off under-fire owner Mike Ashley and thank him for reducing the club's debts.

Ashley put Newcastle up for sale this week when protests revealed the extent of his unpopularity.

But Beardsley, who enjoyed two great spells as a Newcastle player, believes Ashley has been harshly treated.

"He didn't come here to fail and he has put a lot of money into the club, so credit to him," said Beardsley.

"Unfortunately, it hasn't worked out but I'm a little bit disappointed he has to walk away.

"His heart was in the right place. Maybe he didn't always show it in the right way but I think he really cared about Newcastle."

A successful businessman in the sportswear sector, Ashley has found sporting success harder to come by.

Ashley might be at the club a while yet - he should be allowed to watch the games

Peter Beardsley
The 45-year-old completed his purchase of the Tyneside outfit in July 2007 and has invested almost 250m of his estimated 1.4bn fortune in the club.

A large chunk of that has gone on reducing Newcastle's previously alarming debts, although he has also made considerable sums available for transfers and wages.

Forced by supporter unrest to sack Sam Allardyce as manager in January, Ashley appeared to have secured some breathing space when he handed the reins to fans' favourite Kevin Keegan.

But results on the pitch did not improve drastically and off-field tensions between the manager and the continental-style structure Ashley put in place around him to handle transfers and scouting led to Keegan's resignation earlier this month.

Fans did not take long in deciding who to blame and Ashley, who was born in Buckinghamshire and lives in Hertfordshire, became a target for growing dissent.

Matters came to head last Saturday when a depressing home defeat by Hull City was almost a sideshow to vociferous protests against Ashley, executive director Dennis Wise and the rest of the board.

The following day, the supporters got their wish when Ashley, who has been a regular at St James' in his replica shirt, issued an emotional press release stating his intention to sell.

"I am not stupid and have listened to the fans," the entrepreneur said.

"I am now a dad who can't take his kids to a football game on a Saturday because I am advised we would be assaulted.

"Therefore, I am no longer prepared to subsidise Newcastle United.

"I am putting the club up for sale. I hope the fans get what they want and the next owner is someone who can lavish the amount of money on the club the fans want."

But Beardsley, who received a Football Foundation award on Thursday for his community work for Newcastle, regrets the manner of Ashley's departure.

"Ashley is trying to do the right thing," said the 47-year-old.

"He's always tried to do the right thing, but it's hard, because Newcastle is Newcastle and unless you're used to that part of the world it does take a bit of getting used to.

A Newcastle fan protests against Mike Ashley
Keegan's exit was the final straw for many Newcastle fans
"I feel a sorry for him. But he'll sort it out and hopefully everybody will be happy with the conclusion."

The former England star said he understood why the fans were upset with the situation and praised their support for the club.

"We have a passion that probably isn't equalled anywhere," he said.

"If you look at the lack of success - and that's not Mike's fault - the support is unbelievable. They've been there through thin and thin.

"I don't think the fans are the problem - they care. They used their power and Mike has decided to walk away. But I think that's a shame, I really do."

Any sale of the club, however, is dependant on Ashley finding a buyer, and that might take some time.

With an asking price in excess of 480m, Ashley does not give the impression of a man looking for a quick sale and a trip to Dubai this week interested the British media more than any potential buyer.

"Ashley might be at the club a while yet," admitted Beardsley.

"And if he is he should be allowed to watch the games. It's his club and he has spent a huge amount trying to make us a force, first by clearing debts and then for transfers.

"It might not even be too later for Mike. If he brings success as an owner the fans could still forgive him. Geordies are like that."

see also
Who would buy Newcastle United?
15 Sep 08 |  Business
Mike Ashley statement
14 Sep 08 |  Newcastle
Ashley puts Newcastle up for sale
14 Sep 08 |  Newcastle
Keegan & Ashley in surprise talks
12 Sep 08 |  Newcastle
Magpies hit back at Keegan claims
06 Sep 08 |  Newcastle
Shearer cool on Newcastle vacancy
05 Sep 08 |  Newcastle
Reaction to Keegan's resignation
04 Sep 08 |  Newcastle
Keegan resigns as Newcastle boss
04 Sep 08 |  Newcastle
Ashley to take over Newcastle Utd
07 Jun 07 |  Business
Profile: Mike Ashley
23 May 07 |  Business

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