This week saw the club, sold by Ashley in October for £305million, pull down the gaudy Sports Direct signage at St James’s Park.
The signs had been everywhere. Nothing was sacred.
St James’s Park was used as a giant billboard by Ashley. Even the huge roof of the Gallowgate end was once adorned with a giant advert when the stadium was rebranded as the “Sports Direct Arena” in 2011.
This was painted over when the name was changed back to St James’s Park following an agreement with Wonga, the club’s sponsor at the time.
The adverts, however, kept on appearing. When the previously-tiled tunnel got a makeover for the 2019/20 season, a tacky and weird-looking Sports Direct lightbox was installed at the pitch end. This was clearly visible behind Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi when they emerged from the tunnel with new head coach Eddie Howe last month.
Another sign adorned the glass atrium beneath the Milburn Stand, where Staveley made her first entrance following the takeover.
"The Sports Direct signs, I'm looking forward to coming down,” said co-owner Staveley. “It's a slight frustration when I go into the stadium and I try and take a picture which doesn't have Sports Direct in it."
That was hard until this week.
The club, which today celebrated its 129th birthday, posted a photograph on its social media channels yesterday showing the stadium without the adverts. The image didn’t have a caption, but no words were needed.
It showed the East Stand, for the first time in a long time, without a single Sports Direct advert.
That said, the outline of the old letters was still visible on the front of the roof. A lick of paint is needed to remove the last traces of those disliked signs.
Some fans also want the “Newcastle United” sign replaced too, as the font was italizied under Ashley, the majority owner of Sports Direct through Frasers Group, to match his signs.
And that’s the thing. Taking the signs down is the easy part. Wiping out 14 years of under-investment will prove harder – and more expensive.
The signs are gone, but Staveley and the rest of the ownership group bought a shell of a club. It had been streamlined and hollowed out under Ashley. St James’s Park was neglected, and the club spent a “feeble” £11million on infrastructure under Ashley up to last July.
When fans return for the next home game, the December 19 fixture against Premier League champions Manchester City, they’ll like what they see of the uncluttered stadium.
Hopefully, they’ll like what they see on the pitch too, but City, once rivals, are hundreds of millions of pounds, and numerous trophies, ahead of the club.
The club was left behind in the Ashley era, and it shouldn't be a surprise that avoiding relegation is, yet again, the overriding objective this season following a disastrous start under Steve Bruce, Howe’s predecessor.
Hopefully, the club can stay up this season. And, hopefully, Howe can build a team that can one day compete at the top end of the Premier League. In the meantime, supporters can take pride in their re-united team – and its stunning, and advert-less, home.