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The facts: Will Mike Ashley be forced to sell his Rangers shares if Newcastle are relegated?

Newcastle United look doomed in the Premier League, and Mike Ashley could be forced to end all of his interests in Rangers as a result.

Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

Newcastle United failed to beat Aston Villa, and as a result look certainties to be relegated from the Premier League for the second time under Mike Ashley's stewardship. A Sunderland victory over Everton would confirm it, and set the ball rolling on another period of instability for the club.

Why is this good news for Rangers?

Rangers fans will of course celebrate out of sheer schadenfreude, but there may be other reasons to crack the champagne out too. Since Newcastle will then be playing in the Football League, rather than the Premier League, they'll be playing under different rules. And some of them are a lot more strict on dual ownership of football clubs.

What do the rules say?

Section 10 of the Football League rulebook goes into quite a lot of detail about the matter, but here are some choice extracts:

98.1 Except with the prior written consent of the Board no Club may, either directly or indirectly:

98.1.1 hold or deal in (or make any application to hold or deal in or underwrite any issue of) the securities or shares of another football club; or

98.1.2 be a member of another football club; or

98.1.3 be involved in any capacity whatsoever in the management or administration of another football club; or

98.1.4 have any power whatsoever to influence the financial, commercial or business affairs or the management or administration of another football club; or

98.1.5 lend to, gift money to, purchase future receivables from or guarantee the debts or obligations of that football club (or any other arrangement of substantially similar effect).

OK, but what will happen? Will it just be a fine?

The league rules don't really say, but they certainly allow far stricter punishments:

105 Powers of The Board in Event of Default

105.2 Any breach of any of the foregoing Regulations 98 to 101 inclusive, including without limitation knowingly rendering incorrect or incomplete information pursuant to Regulations 101 and 103, shall constitute misconduct. Without prejudice to the range of other sanctions that may be imposed in respect of such breach, any Club in breach of any of the aforesaid Regulations may with the sanction of a special resolution passed at an Annual or Extraordinary General Meeting of The League, be expelled from The League. There shall be no right of appeal against such expulsion.

Now, how the league would react is unpredictable. Newcastle are obviously a big draw for the Football League. But it's hard to see Ashley getting preferential treatment from anyone after some of his recent shenanigans. By far the easier option for him would to simply end his weird interest in our club.

How did Watford get away with this? Aren't they owned by the same people who own Granada and Udinese?

Yes, they are, but the league rules don't include foreign clubs, and although Scotland is a different association, they're included in the rules:

98.3.1 ‘football club' means any football club which is in membership of any of the following:

(a) The League;

(b) The Premier League;

(c) The Football Conference;

(d) The Southern League;

(e) The Isthmian League;

(f) The Northern Premier League; or

(g) any League from time to time operated under the auspices of The Scottish Football League, Scottish Premier League or Irish Football League;

OK, but do the shares matter that much? Aren't the retail contracts a far bigger concern?

This is a little bit more of a grey area because of Rangers Retail comprising a separate company, but the way the rule is worded seems to leave no room for loopholes:

98.1.4 have any power whatsoever to influence the financial, commercial or business affairs or the management or administration of another football club;

In short, only naked corruption or overlooking the rules would allow Mike Ashley to not be punished in some form. How seriously the Football League are prepared to take this is up to them, but we'd expect the club to try and push this angle if/when Newcastle bite the dust. It might be our best (and certainly least expensive in terms of legal fees) chance of getting Ashley out of our club.