Once football's most hated owner, how has Mike Ashley turned his Newcastle reign around? And what does the future hold for the Magpies?

Up in the Newcastle boardroom on a match day you will sometimes find random fans taking Mike Ashley's hospitality.

For instance, a group who drive the 700 mile round trip from Bournmouth for every home game who once bumped in to MD Derek Llambias and wanted to ask a few questions.

Or the lads Ashley and Llambias met in a Chinese restaurant on a night out and wanted to debate the state of the club. Both were summoned to the posh seats, and given an insight into the men, and thinking, being Newcastle United.

Barriers are slowly being broken down between a Newcastle regime, and a fan base who have had their loyalties tested over the past few years.

"Hopefully we are now being the custodians that we are meant to be. It would be lovely if we were all hand in hand - the club and the fans," Llambias told MirrorFootball last week in his first interview.

While past decisions still linger in the minds of many fans suspicious of the Ashley regime - the Kevin Keegan fiasco, Dennis Wise, relegation, and most recently the renaming of St James' Park means that will never completely disappear - the current healthy state of the club on and off the pitch, is opening eyes to a new narrative.

Where once Mike Ashley's regime stood for how not to do it in the eyes of those emotionally attached to Newcastle, a very strong case can be made that so much is now going in the right direction - after two years of solid decision making - that recognition of a job being well done is due.

Last week Llambias fielded question on the record for the first time as he explained Newcastle's healthy accounts for the year to June 2011.

I find that the majority of fans, nationwide, lap up the gritty detail about their club. They can't get enough facts and figures to gossip over and most have become savvy talking about turnover, wage bills and debt repayments.

Here was the boss of one of the best supported clubs in the land, talking for the first time in five years, giving context and reasons behind major decisions.

For instance, there was this significant olive branch to fans on the controversial decision to sell naming rights to St James's Park. "Do you think me and Mike call it the Sports Direct Arena?" Llambias asked. "We call it St James' Park, because it is St James' Park."

Then followed a detailed explanation of why Newcastle need to raise extra commercial revenue, by renaming the stadium, to compete. They bank £15.7million in sponsorships and retail, compared with Liverpool's £45million shirt deal, Spurs' £50million, and Manchester United £103million, yet fans still hope to battle with those clubs on the pitch.

The rest of Newcastle's healthy figures are explained here. But it is significant to highlight that Ashley has pumped in £140million of his own cash (on top of the £133million he paid to buy it), on an interest free basis, to keep it going.

That, for instance, allowed the club to "smash" their way out of the Championship with financial might. It also means Newcastle do not have to pay banks up around £10 million-plus per year in interest and charges on external loans.

For £17million less in wages compared to the squad that got relegated, Newcastle have a side competing in the top six, with a pledge from Llambias they will "never waste club or fan money, or return to the days of crazy money."

So what does it mean to the future?

Alan Pardew wants a smaller but higher quality squad - a bench full of real game changing options, and that is the way the transfer business will head in the next three windows.

Signing quality players become easier with success and a full 52,000 stadium (that's why they want to keep ticket prices low and have no scope in that column to raise extra cash). Llambias says: "We're not in a position of having to beg. People are saying 'ah Newcastle, of course we want to talk to you'. We do a brilliant video presentation, very sharp, it is great, and it opens eyes to what the club, the fans and the city is all about."

But will, for instance, Tiote be sold? He may stay because he thinks Newcastle are going places, and that is what everyone wants, but if a richer club come in with a bumper pay offer, Newcastle may be forced to trade.

Is Ashley wanting to sell up? Certainly not actively. "We've put the money in, done the work and now we may see the upside of what we're trying to grow," says Llambias. Adding: "The reality is that if someone comes up with a chunk of money, I'd have to put it to Mike and he would have to consider it. Would we sell it to someone who couldn't afford it? No. Would we sell it cheap? No. Why would we?"

I particularly enjoyed hearing the ruthlessness of Newcastle negotiating policy. "Players and agents now that our first offer is very close to the final offer. Once it's off the table, it's off the table and it only goes down. It's never up, it's always lower. There are more football players than there are clubs, the manager has his targets and we just move on."

During our interview, one important element emerged - in fact it was volunteered. No one expects hard-nosed businessmen like Ashley (a Chelsea fan from boyhood) and Llambias to go all misty-eyed about the Geordie nation, and North East pride. But they do say they understand the passion.

They say they understand the emotion on the terraces, because they are football lovers and emotional people themselves.

Never before during their five year reign have the people running Newcastle said such things. But they do matter, and it is a positive thing.

But what matters above all, I would think, to most fans is that Newcastle is on a sound financial footing for years to come. That St James' Park is a healthy vibrant place to go and watch football, with a team to be proud of.

At the moment Newcastle have got that and it is due in large measure to the people running the show.

Yes there will be gripes along the way (and the St James' issue will rumble on), and issues that the club bosses need to be held to account on and challenged about.

But as we stand, Newcastle is a club on the up. While many Premier League rivals gamble millions and risk their futures by chasing unsustainable success, Newcastle appear to be doing it the sustainable way.

A few years ago, during the misery before and during the relegation season, writing those words was impossible.

Back to inviting fans in the boardroom. "Sometimes they're still critical," says Llambias. "But we just say 'come on, just ask us'. At the end of the day, when they've met us it gets them thinking."

***

Read Simon Bird's Newcastle column exclusively on MirrorFootball.co.uk every Tuesday and follow @simonbirdmirror on Twitter

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