Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley made his first appearance at a Magpies game in 18 months away at Crystal Palace, and the fact it was at an away match just demonstrates his ‘absent owner’ status more than ever.
There was one reason he was more willing to attend the Premier League clash with Palace, and that was because it was happening in London.
It was convenient for the Sports Direct businessman, and that in itself demonstrates a key flaw in the way Ashley operates the club he owns.
Owning a football club like Newcastle, the fans expect not just the bare minimums of funds – though they would certainly be appreciated after countless disappointing summer transfer windows – but also an owner who cares for the club as much as they do.
They want to see their owner making the commute to St. James’ Park at least semi-regularly.
That way fans feel as if they have a connection with their club’s owner. They don’t feel disassociated with the individuals who ultimately fund their football club.
With Ashley, that’s never going to happen.
He has made it clear from past experience that he will not worry himself with attending Newcastle’s matches. He might have turned up against Crystal Palace, but that is quite likely to be the last game he’ll be at for another 18 months.
He is the epitome of an absent owner – and it has an even more severe impact on the club than it might at first seem.
Frustrations are well beyond boiling point on Tyneside with fans over Ashley’s running of the club. The protests against the owner are becoming louder, more frequent and more pertinent but, with the owner never at the ground to hear them, all it does it create a hostile and negative atmosphere that can impact on the players.
At a time when the club hasn’t had the backing it needs, and has a squad that for all their hard-working attitudes and resiliency are not of a particularly high standard, manager Rafa Benitez doesn’t need additional problems like a hostile crowd.
Unfortunately, it is what he is faced with.
And fans are desperate to make it clear that they stand with the players and the manager. Their grievances are entirely with the owner, but it doesn’t matter who the target of the negativity is – it can have a demoralising effect to everyone when those kinds of feelings and emotions are coming down from the terraces.
It isn’t going to be fixed easily, either. As much as he talks of selling the club, Ashley has little desire to seriously move on. He’s happy to drag everything out and continue to use the famous club as an international billboard for his brand.
He doesn’t attend the matches, especially not at home, and so he doesn’t have to hear or see the criticism from fans.
The toxic atmosphere brewing in Newcastle is at the other side of the country to him, and when he does surprise everyone and turn up at a match like at Palace, he’s only facing a small number of discontented voices from the away fans.
For a man who, even in his non-footballing ventures, has spurred plenty of controversy, he will be quite well accustomed to drowning out the negative voices.
The chants and protests at Palace will have made as much difference to him as they do most weeks, when he isn’t at the club.
It sounds bizarre – given there is so much criticism of Ashley for not attending games – but having turned up to watch his side against Palace, he honestly might as well not have done. It would have made no difference if he wasn’t in the stands, aside from maybe riled up the away support a little bit less.