On Monday, PM Boris Johnson announced a nationwide lockdown for three weeks to contain the spread of the highly-infectious coronavirus. About thirty minutes later, Frasers Group’s finance chief Chris Wootton issued the following statement:
“We stock a huge range of sports equipment designed for exercising at home… indeed home fitness is the number one trending topic on social media after coronavirus itself.
“Against the backdrop of the closure of gyms, the demand for these types of products has increased exponentially as the population looks to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
“Consequently, we are uniquely well placed to help keep the UK as fit, and healthy as possible during this crisis and thus our Sports Direct and Evans Cycles stores will remain open where possible to allow us to do this (in accordance with the Government’s current social distancing guidance).
“There is no one else that has the range of product and range of stores to make this reasonably accessible for the whole population.”
However, the government acted quickly to make sure that Mike Ashley would not keep his stores open and put his employees at risk. Ashley soon relented and closed all of his stores but not without further tarnishing his already tattered reputation.
In the latest Pod On The Tyne podcast, George Caulkin rightfully laid into Mike Ashley’s attempt to keep Sports Direct and Evans Cycles stores open during a government-mandated lockdown.
This is Caulkin’s response when asked about Ashley’s actions:
“I’m very glad that got shut down very quickly this morning. I would say it was staggering, but it’s not really, is it? – in the context of Newcastle’s owner and the various controversies that have come about from there and also Sports Direct in itself.
“Just shocking, disgusting, and disgraceful that the company should seek to take advantage of what’s happening at the moment to keep a sportswear store open. I’m very pleased about the reaction to it. But that reaction shouldn’t have been necessary.
“I suppose that we have to be careful about conflating that side of the business and the Newcastle side of the business. Perhaps except that this does very much fit in with how Newcastle fans have felt over the past decade or more.
“There’s a sort of carelessness, there’s a thoughtlessness about their football club when it comes to the owner.
“The reason why his ownership of the club has been so painful is that if a club is about a collection of people – which it is fundamentally or should be, that’s the whole idea about a sporting institution – then it has to be about showing care, diligence, and looking after those people.
“Trying to persuade them that they are part of something bigger and more important and better. Those sorts of things have been forgotten.
“When we say Newcastle feels like the work team of Sports Direct, that’s what we mean. Then we’ve seen this stuff today.
“I think it’s despicable. I’m glad it’s not happening, but it never should have been up there in the first place.”
Mike Ashley had some prominent figures, including Piers Morgan, condemn his actions. The rest of the country, if not the world, witnessed first hand what Newcastle fans have known for over the past decade.