Keep your shirt on

One club owner is playing football a little bit differently

I'm a bit worried about Mike Ashley. And also worried about me worrying about him. The owner of Newcastle United was caught by TV cameras at Arsenal last Saturday, with sweaty Newcastle top, shaven head and beer belly, sitting among the Newcastle fans (not the directors) sinking a pint of beer from a plastic glass. All in one gulp, so it appeared, but you never know with these television johnnies - they can change the sequence of events and fiddle anything.

What a wally, I thought, then, What a poser, followed by, Ugh, imagine downing a pint in one go. But why should that bother me? Just because I don't drink beer, and certainly not out of a plastic glass (how gross), I shouldn't be against people who do. Am I becoming a snob? Or is it from still being up here in lovely Loweswater, cut off from nasty urban life?

I still associate football tops with kids, or at least youths, not grown men of 44 - despite all grown men of 44 today believing they're still kids. At every football ground, you see blokes and biddies of 70 in their horrible tops, thinking they are 44.

When Ashley eventually got up, clearly disgusted with Newcastle's performance, we could see that the back of his shirt read "King Kev". A hint perhaps that the king was about to be dead. Last time I noticed, it read 17 - Alan Smith's number, a player he said he had admired, but now can't get a game.

This ostentatious shirt-wearing is presumably to show he is one of the lads, but it also happens to be a clever advertising ploy. It was through selling repro shirts from his chain of sports shops that he made his fortune, enabling him to buy Newcastle for £135m.

He's a southerner, born in Bucks, with no known connections to Newcastle. So, what's his game? Still not clear. It could just be an investment, which he'll realise as soon as Newcastle have a half-decent team. Or it is because he's an obsessive collector of brands, having acquired good names like Lonsdale and Kangol? Newcastle United should, after all, be one of the top six football brands in England.

Or is he simply on an ego trip, seeking attention and status? That's very often the main reason why the newly wealthy buy into football. In building up his business, he was known as a recluse. Now, openly standing with the lads, wearing the top, supping his pint, he must know the cameras will catch him.

Perhaps all he's trying to do is take the piss out of the old-style football director. There still is a code that, in any director's box, at any level, you have to wear a suit and tie and the women their best frocks. Players themselves have to conform to a code, wearing the right clothes on match days. Even in Italy, known for its casualwear, players can be fined for not wearing the club blazer.

Is this silly and outdated, or a charming, long-established football tradition? I haven't worn a suit and tie for, oh, must be 20 years, and always type these pearls wearing really horrible tatty shorts. Yet I quite like the idea of clubs taking pride in their appearance, keeping up the dignities, despite what might be happening behind the scenes.

Then I remembered behind the scenes at Newcastle United, and the person Ashley took over from - Freddy Shepherd. Dear God, he might have worn a suit, but what a disgrace. Then I thought of that smart chancer recently of Man City, and other foreign owners with sparkling suits but murky histories.

At least Ashley is a Brit, who has built up his own business. Next time the cameras catch him, I'll say cheers. I think . . .

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.