Newcastle refusing to supply Sports Direct over fans’ ‘strong dislike’ of Mike Ashley, lawyers claim

Mike Ashley
Mike Ashley has long been criticised by Newcastle fans who claim he failed to properly invest in the club during his ownership - Chris J. Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Newcastle United is refusing to supply Sports Direct with its football kit because of a “strong dislike” of club’s former owner Mike Ashley, the retailer’s lawyer has claimed.

As part of a dispute between Newcastle and Sports Direct, court papers show that the club’s chief commercial officer claimed it would be “commercial suicide” to supply the retailer because of fan hostility towards Mr Ashley.

The UK’s largest sportswear retailer is suing Newcastle for allegedly breaching competition law by refusing to provide the company with the team’s kit for the 2024/25 season.

It comes amid a separate legal row between Mr Ashey and Newcastle co-owner Amanda Staveley, who owns a 10pc stake in the club alongside other investors, including Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF).

Sports Direct has applied to the Competition Appeal Tribunal for an injunction to force Newcastle to provide next season’s kit.

In written arguments, the business claimed rival JD Sports had “paid handsomely” for the exclusive right to stock Newcastle’s kit, cutting out Sports Direct in the process.

Ms Staveley is said to have shared the club’s concerns about Sports Direct and its “aggressive approach to price competition”.

Newcastle United co-owner Amanda Staveley
Newcastle United co-owner Amanda Staveley is also reported to have harboured concerns about selling the kit in Sports Direct stores - Lucy North/PA Wire

Sports Direct also argued that the “apparent, strong dislike” of Mr Ashley, who owned Newcastle for 14 years, was clear from the club’s exclusive agreement with JD Sports.

The deal is said to have featured a break clause permitting the football club to terminate the deal should JD Sports ever become majority-owned by the retail businessman.

Peter Silverstone, Newcastle United’s chief commercial officer, said in his witness statement that fans would boycott Sports Direct stores if they could stock the club’s kit.

However, Sports Direct’s lawyer Tony Singla KC argued Mr Silverstone’s claim “lacks any reality” considering the retailer sold out of Newcastle kits last year.

Mr Ashley has long been criticised by Newcastle fans who claim he failed to properly invest in the football club during his ownership.

Mr Singla KC told the Competition Appeal Tribunal on Tuesday: “To say a small minority of fans dislike Mr Ashley, we’d argue the majority of fans want a cheaper replica kit.”

The retailer, which has 488 stores in the UK, said it has stocked Newcastle’s replica kit for decades alongside jerseys for other major Premier League clubs, including Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool.

Sports Direct has claimed that losing the Newcastle kit will result in losses and damage its reputation as the “home of football”.

Newcastle denies that the JD deal breaches competition law and has described Sports Direct’s case as “highly speculative”.

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