ITS FAIR to say that in recent months Newcastle United has been cast aside like an unwanted Christmas toy - both battered and broken by the spoilt child who once coveted it.

Much has been written about Mike Ashley's decision to buy his expensive new toy two years ago and how he managed to go about breaking it.

Yes, some may say a drunken goat could have done a better job, but it's pointless dwelling on his bumbling tenure at St James' Park - now ex chairman Freddy Shepherd has made it known he wants to repair the damage cruelly inflicted by the errant child.

The speculation circulating that the Magpies' former chief is leading a consortium to regain control of the club will be music to Newcastle supporters ears. After all, while the 67-year-old chief was at the bow of the good ship Magpies beforehand, he helped steer it through the choppy waters of Europe towards Champions League and UEFA Cup football - only four Premier League clubs have played more games in Europe than the Tynesiders. The European adventures culminated in a run to the second stage of Europe's premier competition, while the UEFA Cup travails saw the club reach a semi-final and quarter final berth. And lest we forget that the big Geordie was at the helm when the club made two successive FA Cup final appearances in 1998 and 1999.

Shepherd understands the city, the club and most important of all - its supporters. Furthermore, he has always backed his managers with cash in the transfer market, unlike his predecessor, and allowed his team bosses get on with the job in hand, while he ran the financial side of the business - despite one or two disputing this.

Sir Bobby Robson for instance, who is almost universally loved, admired and respected for his integrity and Corinthian ideals throughout the football world, was one.

In Robson's autobiography, published shortly after he was dismissed from his post at St James' Park, he makes it known that his chairman perpetually interfered with team affairs. According to the much loved ex England boss: "he tried to sell Lee Bowyer behind his back; sold Jonathan Woodgate, bought Patrick Kluivert and attempted an audacious bid to capture Wayne Rooney for £25m" - all without Robsons permission and/or knowledge.

Then there was Graeme Souness, the manager who replaced the footballing knight. The unpopular Scot, who hardly covered himself in glory on Tyneside, later made it known on Sky TV, shortly after Ashley took control of United, that he wanted neither expensive flops Albert Luque nor Michael Owen. Souness said he'd asked his boss to get him Nicolas Anelka and Luis Boa Morte at a fraction of the £26m it cost Shepherd to bring the two misfits to the club.

Shepherd of course denied he was involved in buying and selling players behind his manager's backs. But whose testimony would you believe - the one of Robson, Souness or Shepherd?

It is easy for a manager who has failed at his job to blame his chairman. The same could be said about Ashley, although Newcastle's new owner did not blame his managers, despite sacking two, he pointed the finger of blame at the former owner for the club's ills.

The sports shop tycoon pointed out that the former regime, headed by Shepherd, had run up huge debts that he had to pay off - believed to be in the region of £100m. He added that Shepherd had spent money the club didnt have, or borrowed money on the back forthcoming sponsorship deals.

But Ashley is hardly a reliable source given his fluctuating statements of how he was going to take the club forward, before several complete U-turns in trying to flog the club.

Shepherd, of course, contradicted these claims, revealing Newcastle's debt was under control and mortgaged and only a takeover would trigger the debts to be called in. Again which one would you believe - a flighty southerner or a Geordie born and bread who said he used to fight his way in to school at Byker, on the banks of the Tyne, and fight his way out again?

Well it's about time the flaky retail entrepreneur took his wares somewhere else and allowed the man from a solid scrap metal background on the banks of the Tyne by accepting the alleged £60m offer.

Shepherd's return, with former sparing partner Douglas Hall, Hall's sister and his former directors, would only serve to galvanise the Geordie Nation and take it forward.

Of course Shepherd made mistakes during his ten years in charge on Tyneside. Calling United legend Alan Shearer, Mary Poppins, and becoming embroiled in the News of the World Toongate scandal when he bragged about ripping off supporters with replica jerseys, was embarrassing for the club. But he was set up after all.

But he was worth every penny of the reported £500,000 and £750,000 he paid himself a year in wages - and indeed deserved the £34 million pay off from Ashley in the sell off - as he worked his socks off for the club.

He could justify his and his colleagues exuberant wages because they were Geordies and they cared for the club. The same could not be said about the Cockney Mafia of Ashley, Dennis Wise and Derek Llambias.

Surely it is time for Newcastle supporters to unite and back a Shepherd to return to the club? Better the devil you know - eh?