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Mike Ashley: what went wrong?

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Ashley founded Sports World in 1982 and built it into the UK’s largest seller of sporting goods. He pocketed £929m in a single day when he floated the company on the stock market last year. He was fiercely private man who rarely spoke to the press and avoided industry events.

All that changed when he bought Newcastle United in May last year, investing £244m – £110m of which he used to clear debts. Suddenly, the reclusive billionaire was posing for the papers and downing pints with fans.

Then things turned stale. After ousting two Tyneside legends from the club – Kevin Keegan and Alan Shearer – the footie fans turned against him, culminating in a mass demonstration at St James’ Park on Saturday.

In a 1,644-word statement on the club’s website, Ashley said he has listened to the fans and is selling up. "That is what I am now trying to do but it won’t happen overnight. I have the interests of Newcastle United at heart. You don’t need to demonstrate against me again because I have got the message."

But who will buy The Magpies? Does anyone have the cash (or the balls) in this country to buy a strife-torn club?

Apparently not. Ashley has despatched his representatives to the Middle East. The Dubai Investment Group (which tried to buy Liverpool in the past) has shown interest – but will only take the club off Ashley’s hands at a knock-down price.

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