Michael James Wallace AshleyÂ (born 9 September, 1964)Â is a British billionaire retail entrepreneur in the sporting goods market, and the chief executive ofÂ Sports Direct. He entered theÂ department storeÂ industry following the acquisition ofÂ House of FraserÂ following administration in 2018. He is also the owner ofÂ Newcastle UnitedÂ after paying around Â£135Â million to buy the club.
SinceÂ Sports Direct International PlcÂ went public, and his purchase of Newcastle United where he took to sitting in the stands with fans, Ashley took on a more public and accessible persona. However, after the departure ofÂ Kevin KeeganÂ as manager and the club’s relegation, he has only made low key appearances when attending Newcastle matches.
After leaving school at 16, he was a county-level squash player. But after injury, he became a county-level squash coach. In 1982, Ashley opened his first sport and ski shop inÂ MaidenheadÂ followed by others in and around London, starting with a Â£10,000 loan from his family (or Â£31,500 in 2014 inflation-adjusted terms).
The chain expanded quickly funded by private money, and by the late 1990s had rebranded the chain as Sports Soccer and opened over 100 stores across the United Kingdom. As aÂ sole traderÂ and not having to file accounts atÂ Companies House, little was known about him. The business became aÂ limited liabilityÂ company in 1999.
At present[when?]Â DerbyshireÂ based groupÂ Sports Direct International Plc, with headquarters inÂ Shirebrook, has over 400 UK stores including the chainsÂ Sports World,Â LillywhitesÂ (acquired in 2002) and Gilesports. The group employs more than 20,000 people in the UK and at stores inÂ Ireland,Â BelgiumÂ andÂ Slovenia. In 2006, it overtookÂ JJB SportsÂ as the UK’s largest sportswear retailer.Â In mid-2006, it was also revealed that Ashley had held talks withÂ John Hargreaves, founder ofÂ MatalanÂ on both taking a 25% stake in the retail business and installing mezzanine floors in larger Matalan stores, on which Sports World outlets could be operated.
Ashley has made his money by buying brands. The first major brand he bought wasÂ Donnay. In February 2003, Ashley bought theÂ Dunlop SlazengerÂ brand for Â£40Â million, followed up by acquiring outdoor gear manufacturerÂ KarrimorÂ in March 2003,Â KangolÂ for Â£10Â million,Â boxing brandÂ Lonsdale, most of these brands were bought from distressed sellers. After considering a takeover, Ashley took a Â£9Â million stake and signed a long-term deal withÂ Umbro.
Ashley has a 29.4% stake inÂ Blacks Leisure Group, the owner ofÂ MilletsÂ and Mambo,Â and is thought to hold stakes inÂ JJB SportsÂ and 19% ofÂ JD Sports.Â “He likes to park his tanks on peoples’ lawns”, said one banker.
In late November 2006, a number of business newspapers reported that Ashley was looking at anÂ IPOÂ of Sports World International. He hiredÂ Merrill Lynch,Â who initially valued the group at up to Â£2.5bn ahead of the flotation on theÂ London Stock Exchange.
On 31 January, 2010, theÂ BBCÂ North East and Cumbria produced a 30-minute documentary detailing Mike Ashley’s business successes and lows. Journalist Chris Jackson travelled to Thailand to visit the factories in which Ashley’s material for his brand ofÂ LonsdaleÂ is made. Upon the broadcast of the BBC documentary,Â Mike Ashley Uncovered, his dealings at Newcastle United were detailed, with it being announced that he only discovered upon purchase of the club how much debt the club were in, and that it cost him another Â£100m upon purchase to steady the club’s financial security, having not viewed the account books prior to purchase.Â Neither Ashley or his representatives showed interest in taking part in the film, declaring that the film was producing a majority of inaccuracies. They did, however, state that they would be reviewing the film closely. No further comment has been made.
On 26 July, 2017, Mr Justice Leggatt ruled that Ashley won a high court battle over investment banker Jeffrey Blue’s allegation that during a ‘night of heavy drinking’ at the Horse and Groom pub in London, Ashley agreed to pay Blue Â£15 million if Sport Direct’s shares doubled to Â£8. Mr Justice Leggatt ruled that no-one would have thought that what Ashley said was serious.Â 
In March 2020, Ashley and Sports Direct came under fire after an announcement that they would stay open despite increased government restrictions associated with theÂ COVID-19Â outbreak. Just a couple of days later, the company made a U-turn on this decision, announcing that they would be closing until given the green light to repoen by the government.
Ashley turned whistleblower on industry rivals in 2000, handing the Office of Fair Trading evidence of business meetings held by sports retailers to fix the price of football shirts. Ashley attended a meeting at the Cheshire home of David Hughes, the chairman of now bankrupt rival Allsports. At the meetingÂ Dave Whelan, the founder of JJB Sports, reportedly told Ashley:Â “There’s a club in the north, son, and you’re not part of it.”
On 23 May, 2007, in a surprise move, Ashley boughtÂ Sir John Hall‘s 41.6% stake inÂ Newcastle UnitedÂ at one pound per share, for a total cost of Â£55,342,223Â via his companyÂ St James HoldingsÂ Ltd. Under the terms of UK takeover law, having purchased more than 30% of a listed company, he was obliged to make an offer to buy the remaining shares at the same or a greater price.Â On 31 May, it was reported that the Newcastle board were considering Ashley’s offer.Â On 7 June, it was confirmed that chairmanÂ Freddy ShepherdÂ had agreed to sell his 28% share to Ashley, which left Ashley free to take control of the club.Â As of 15 June, 2007, Ashley owned a 77.06% stake in Newcastle United, on course to withdraw the club from the stock exchange having surpassed the 75% threshold required.Â 100% acquisition was achieved in July with Ashley paying a total of around Â£134Â million to buy the club. Ashley appeared to have saved the club from certain financial ruin by paying off large sums of debt inherited from the previous regime,Â although he was criticised for not doingÂ due diligenceÂ when buying the club, as he subsequently revealed he had been unaware of issues such as the upfront payment of club finances such as theÂ Northern RockÂ sponsorship, and the presence of outstanding liabilities for long past player transfers.
Ashley’s ownership of the club was initially popular with fans, despite press scorn for his unconventional approach, by installingÂ Chris MortÂ as chairman to run the club, while Ashley acted as one of the fans, drinking in local bars and clubs, and watched the team from the stands with the supporters wearing the team shirt. This caused fierce local rivalsÂ SunderlandÂ to publicly refuse to give Ashley permission to wear it in theÂ Stadium of LightÂ corporate box for theÂ Tyneâ€“Wear derbyÂ on 10 November. Instead of opting for a different attire, Ashley chose to take his usual place among the travelling fans for the game. An apparent anomaly with the fans was the choosing ‘Smith 17’ as the number of his shirt, after a squad playerÂ Alan SmithÂ he admired and 17 being a lucky number for him. Ashley’s popularity increased further with the return ofÂ Kevin KeeganÂ as manager on 16 January 2008,Â to replace the previous regime’s relatively unpopular choiceÂ Sam Allardyce.
On 30 August, 2008, Ashley was shown on live television drinking beer while with fans in the away stand during Newcastle’s game againstÂ ArsenalÂ in London, contravening Premier League licensing rules stating that alcohol may not be consumed in sight of the pitch.
Ashley subsequently “received words of advice” from the police during the game. A Newcastle United statement declared that Ashley had been given the beer and told that it was non-alcoholic despite the fact that Arsenal do not sell non-alcoholic beer at their stadium.Â 
As the transfer window closed at midnight on 2 September, rumours started to appear in the press stating that Keegan was extremely unhappy with Director of FootballÂ Dennis Wise‘s interference in team matters. The following morning Keegan had a meeting at St. James Park with Wise and managing directorÂ Derek Llambias, it is unknown what exactly was said in the meeting but witnesses saw Keegan storm out of the meeting claiming to be
sacked.Â Keegan drove to Manchester to consult with theÂ League Managers AssociationÂ chief-executive Richard Bevan, while in this meeting it is thought Ashley found out from Llambias of the row and attempted to contact Keegan. On 4 September, Keegan resigned from the club following days of talks with the board of Newcastle United headed by Llambias.Â This led to prolonged protests by fans directed chiefly against Ashley and Wise, being dubbed the “CockneyÂ Mafia.” The club was warned by the League Managers
Association the next day, to develop a structure which would satisfy the next manager to replace Keegan to avoid a similar situation repeating itself and damaging the club’s image.
On 14 September, Ashley made a statement announcing he had put the club up for sale, a day after the first home game since Keegan’s resignation, which Ashley did not attend, this was a 2â€“1 defeat to newly promotedÂ Hull City. In his statement, Ashley statedÂ “I have listened to you. You want me out. That is what I am now trying to do.”Â He also stated that while he had the utmost respect for Keegan, he no longer wanted to subsidise the club due to believing it would not be safe for him or his family to attend matches in future. Ashley appointedÂ Joe KinnearÂ to take temporary full-time charge of the squad as he began
his search for a new owner.Â In the following weeks, after an apparently unsuccessful trip to the Middle East to reportedly solicit potential buyers, Ashley later instructed a London law firm to handle the sale of the club. Ashley’s actions and subsequent media coverage of fan reaction saw the creation of a new organisation, theÂ Newcastle United Supporters Club, to properly represent fan’s views to any future board. Interest also
mounted around the feasibility of a fan buyout of the club, seeing the launch of the Newcastle Fans United group. On 28 December, Ashley announced that the club was no longer up for sale, after he had failed to find an acceptable buyer.
In January 2009, it was reported that interim manager Joe Kinnear had been offered a full-time position at the club by Ashley. Kinnear however suffered heart trouble the following month, given leave by the club to recover. On 1 April, Ashley appointedÂ Alan ShearerÂ to replace Kinnear as interim manager. Shearer however was unable to achieve more than 5 points from the 8 games he was in charge, and on 24 May, theÂ MagpiesÂ were relegated to theÂ Championship. The next day, Ashley apologised to Newcastle fans for the mistakes made throughout the season, but nonetheless praised all staff, including Shearer and Kinnear, for all their efforts throughout the season.
After the club’s relegation, Ashley struggled to find a buyer capable of providing proof of funds to purchase Newcastle United throughout August and September 2009, local businessman Barry Moat was reported to have opened negotiation talks with Ashley. On 2 October, 2009, a Premier League arbitration panel found the club guilty of “constructive dismissal” and Mike Ashley was made to pay Kevin Keegan Â£2,000,000 compensation plus interest for his mistreatment during the time at the club.
On 27 October, Ashley took Newcastle United off the market after again failing to find a suitable buyer for the club.Â A Newcastle statement confirmed,Â “Mike Ashley is totally committed to the future success of Newcastle United and will be focused on gaining promotion back to the Premier League. Mike will put a further Â£20m into the club this week.”Â The move to withdraw the sale proved questionable among many as he had
stated little more than a week before that he regretted the purchase of the club and felt he never had the required stance and knowledge to own a football club.Â The club released future plans in the same statement, announcing the club would attempt to sell the club’s stadium naming rights to raise funds to clear debts of the club, causing outrage among Newcastle fans across the world who felt the club would lose tremendous heritage with the name ofÂ St James’ ParkÂ changed.Â On 4 November, it was announced that Ashley’s own company would sponsor the stadium, rebranding it the “sportsdirect.com @ St James’ Park Stadium” until the end of the season.
On 6 December, Newcastle United sacked managerÂ Chris Hughton, in a controversial move that proved to be unpopular with many fans of the club,Â and led to Ashley being personally criticised for the decision.Â Alan PardewÂ was appointed three days later, before his first game in charge againstÂ Liverpool.
Following Derek Llambias’ resignation as managing dir
On the final day of theÂ 2014â€“15 season, Ashley gave his first televised interview toÂ Sky Sports, eight years after buying the club. He stated that he would sell up, but only when the club had won a trophy, quickly reiterating that qualifying for theÂ Champions LeagueÂ would also count.Â WithÂ Steve McClaren‘s appointment as head coach, Ashley stepped down from the Newcastle United board of directors.
Ten months later, and with the departure of McClaren and the arrival ofÂ Rafael BenÃtez, Ashley gave another interview. He stated that he regretted buying Newcastle United, but admitted that he was “wedded” to the club. He also felt that BenÃtez was the right man to keep the club in the Premier League.Â On 11 May 2016, Newcastle United were relegated for the second time under the ownership of Ashley, after local rivalsÂ SunderlandÂ beatÂ EvertonÂ 3â€“0.
As of October 2014, Ashley owned an 8.92% stake in Rangers International Football Club (RIFC), the parent company of Scottish football clubÂ Rangers.Â The Scottish Football Association has rejected Ashley’s request to raise his shareholding in RIFC to 29.9%, due to the fact he already owns a large amount of Newcastle United shares, which was seen as a conflict of interest.
In January 2015, Rangers fans protested against Mike Ashley’s plans to secure a Â£10Â million loan using theÂ club’s stadiumÂ as security.Â Some Rangers supporter groups have heavily criticised Ashley and expressed major concern and distrust about his nature and purpose of his intentions.
In 1988 aged 24, he married Linda Jerlmyr, aÂ Swedish-bornÂ economicsÂ graduate, and the couple have three children.Â The couple quietlyÂ divorcedÂ in 2003, culminating in one of the biggest settlements in British legal history, with Ashley reportedly handing over the family home, multiple properties and assets with a total worth of Â£50m.
Ashley is protective of his private life. He is known to prefer casual dress of shirt and chinos or a track suit rather than a suit, and often carries his essential business tool of a mobile phone in a plastic carrier bag rather than a briefcase.