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    Joe Jones
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    Joe Jones: Newcastle United fans deserve better than current state of affairs under Mike Ashley

    As a 29-year-old fan of a lower-league football club, and thus a "neutral" in Premier League terms, it's pained me to see Newcastle United having a tough time in the top flight this season following years and years of stagnation and mediocrity, with the occasional relegation thrown in.

    My early memories of Newcastle, as a 1990s child and 2000s teenager/young adult, were of a swashbuckling, exciting outfit boasting superb footballers and cult heroes - basically, a team well worthy of its place in the upper echelons of English football.

    I was a bit of a latecomer to football, to be honest, and didn't really start following it week in, week out until after the 2002 World Cup. The 2002-03 season saw Newcastle in the Champions League, having finished fourth the previous term, and under the management of Bobby Robson, one of the best (and best-loved) managers to have ever come from England.

    And I remember their high-scoring games against Manchester United, crazy displays of football, not to mention the Champions League run which saw them playing the likes of Inter Milan, Juventus and Barcelona.

    Given that was the season in which I properly got into football, that's become a benchmark of sorts, and to me, Newcastle were always a "big" club. So the events of the following 15 years were difficult to fathom.

    Robson being fired early in the 2004-05 season, Graeme Souness's arrival and woeful management of the side, a 14th-placed finish, and it would only get worse, with Mike Ashley seizing control of the club from Freddie Shepherd.

    From then on, Newcastle would lurch from disappointment to disappointment, as one of the best-supported clubs in England would make relegation battles a regular occurrence, and to date, they've had two seasons in the Championship, although to their credit, they've managed to bounce straight back up each time.

    Now, with the club managed by Rafa Benitez, one of the finest managers in world football at the moment, and in the Premier League, it looks as though Ashley's time owning the club could potentially be coming to an end soon.

    I say "could", it all depends what happens with regards to Amanda Staveley's potential takeover of the club - the last round of negotiations didn't yield a deal, in fact it ended on a somewhat sour note as Ashley stated: “Attempts to reach a deal with A. Staveley & PCP have proved exhausting, frustrating and a complete waste of time.” Ouch.

    Now, a report in the Chronicle claims that Staveley has completed a business deal worth £142million with the Reuben Brothers to raise renewed hopes of a takeover. So this is a space that will most certainly need to be watched.

    One of the most damning indictments regarding the situation at the club came from former Magpies stalwart Rob Lee, who told BBC Sport: "There is no point in Newcastle getting into the Premier League then keeping the same players that got them there.

    "Sometimes you need better players. Bournemouth and Watford have both spent more than us. Newcastle is a huge club but it does not feel like that anymore, people don't want to play for them anymore.

    "We were challenging the top teams like Manchester United and Arsenal, had trips to Europe, but it all seems so far away now. It is a shame. The club has been in decline for such a long time.

    "Mike Ashley takes one step forward and then three giant steps backwards. It is time now for change, we need change, we need someone else to take the helm.

    "It has become a stalemate. It is complicated with Ashley wanting a certain amount but prospective buyers are only willing to pay a certain amount because of what they value the club."

    A takeover does not necessarily mean a guaranteed upturn in fortunes, it's more of a lottery at times - it could be anything on the scale from "Man City" to "Portsmouth".

    But with the last 11 years having yielded nothing but disappointment for Newcastle fans, who are arguably the most passionate in the country, it's a gamble worth taking, given the stagnation, poor results and sometimes farcical issues that have beset the club in recent years.

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