Selhurst Park.  2:45pm on Saturday 23 October 2021.  A man struggles through a turnstile wearing an inflatable camel costume.  Lusty chants of “Saudi Mags, We’re On The Piss!” pierce through the South London air.  That we, the Geordie diplomatic corps, wished to use the first away fixture post-takeover, as a chance to serenade those who had liberated us from Ashley’s misrule, was understandable: the terms in which we chose to do so, excusable.  There was even a cheerful innocence about it.

Five months on, that no longer holds.  The week before last, the ownership of Newcastle United (and our collective response to it) came under extensive journalistic and media focus.  That should not have surprised us, in a week when Roman Abramovich was sanctioned, Chelsea played Newcastle, and 81 people were executed in Saudi Arabia.  Nor should it surprise us if the six-month anniversary of the takeover (which is only a couple of weeks away) triggers further such focus.

For we struck a deal to become an ultimate subsidiary of Saudi Arabia.  We shall reap the rewards, so we must also acknowledge the brickbats.  Yes, the Saudi interest is held through PIF, and it can still be plausibly argued that PIF is distinct from the Saudi state (beware anyone who expresses certainty, either way, on this legal point – it was never resolved).  But this is a point of detail.  PIF is no plucky start-up.  A dandelion does not fall in Riyadh without a sheikh ordering it to do so, and Newcastle United is now – factually, even if not legally – a Saudi state concern.

This should not cause any of us to second-guess our support.  Only someone with zero concept of what a football club is to its supporters, could regard this as being up for debate.  Newcastle United is our birth-right.  None of the serious journalists who are covering this tricky area, and who have been the subject of much fan anger (Miguel Delaney, Jonathan Wilson, Barry Glendenning, Oliver Holt and Luke Edwards among them) has ever suggested that our continued support for our club deserves censure.  They know we are bound to our club by an umbilical cord that no scalpel could ever destroy.

We have a choice, as supporters.  We can choose not to care about who owns our club (or, perhaps more accurately, to care – but to avoid expressing views on the owners).  This is not my position, but it is, at least, coherent and respectable.  For this group, football is football.  Or we can choose not to feel neutral about who owns the club, to think that actually it does matter, and to regard debate about our ownership as welcome.  I am in this group.  Firstly, because I believe long-term – as opposed to fleeting – success depends on sustainable and responsible ownership (not the Chelsea model).  And, secondly, because a football club is also a vital civic institution (this being especially true in the case of Newcastle United – which is the city’s beating heart, and its identity).  We may still acknowledge a degree of powerlessness, to bemoan our inability to determine who owns our club, but it does not preclude us from decrying the plutocratic, morally bankrupt swamp that top-level football has become.  One is not a “hypocrite” (that damnable word: it won’t be the last time you read it in this article) to choose to care, but still support.

No.  The least credible position (apart from the idiotic minority – sadly visible and audible in the away end at Stamford Bridge – as to which I’d strongly recommend reading Dai Rees’ piece for TF: link here)  is to observe the debate about our ownership, but to do so in such a way which seeks to shut down all rational argument, by throwing the word “hypocrite” at those journalists or pundits who wish to make the (obviously correct) observation that, even by the standards of the rank cesspit that is modern Premier League ownership – where pornographers, professional gamblers, shady conglomerates and currency speculators are the height of respectability – the Saudi sovereign wealth fund is one of the less benign.

Accusations of hypocrisy tend to be based on the ownership of the publication or media outlet in question.  The UK is a safe haven for the ill-gotten gains of the world’s worst people, complete with impeccable Savile Row tailoring offering a veneer of respectability.  Accordingly, most newspapers and broadcast networks – like most top football clubs – have dubious owners.  The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun, Sky and Talk Sport are all owned by Murdoch.  The Telegraph is owned by professional tax-dodgers the Barclay Brothers.  The Evening Standard is owned by the Russian oligarch Evgeny Lebedev – who also happens to own 41% of The Independent (with another 30% held by a Saudi sultan).  The Express is owned by porn king and UKIP donor Richard Desmond.  Meanwhile, the less said about the Daily Mail’s moral compass – even before one gets to its ownership – the better.

Like individual supporters of football clubs, individual journalists and pundits do not control who owns their employer.  Yet, while getting extremely precious about any suggestion that the “hypocrite” tag should be attached to us, we seem remarkably willing to throw the word “hypocrite” around at will, when it comes to journalists and pundits saying things which cut close to the bone – so much so, the word has lost all of its intended force.   “Hypocrisy” is now a meaningless concept, its invocation the Godwin’s Law for the Twitter generation.  Let’s be honest with ourselves: Miguel Delaney is not Evgeny Lebedev, any more than I am Mohamed Bin Salman.  “Hypocrite” is a blunt epithet which allows little room for nuance, but – insofar as there can ever be shades and degrees of hypocrisy – some might consider it more excusable to be employed by a bad actor (employment being necessary in order to live), than to spend one’s disposable income on something – a match ticket, say – the proceeds of which will end up in nefarious hands.  Whether that is my view (or yours), or not, this is the kind of tangential, increasingly farcical pseudo-debate which results when we deliberately play the man and not the ball.

Are we seriously suggesting that the opinions of the overwhelming majority of the broadcast and print media should be disregarded simply because of who owns their newspaper or network?  If so, we will all be the poorer for it.  Shooting down those who do choose to raise their head above the parapet – and to address the thorny issues which Newcastle United’s status as an indirect subsidiary poses at the busy intersection of football, governance and geopolitics – is poor form.  Discrediting the journalists raising these issues is a sure-fire way to lose any argument before it has even been had, whether the charges of “hypocrisy” are warranted or not.  Trying to change the subject, as every husband knows to his peril, is another such way.  Yes, Wilson is from Sunderland.

Yes, Holt has covered boxing in Saudi Arabia.  Yes, Edwards has a blind spot when it comes to Steve Bruce.  Yes, these journalists and broadcasters will all be in Qatar.  Yes, the UK Government should be answering for its extremely cosy relationship with the House of Saud.  Yes, the Premier League and the FA require reform.  Yes, Chelsea have benefited from dodgy Russian money.  Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.  Is it not possible for all these things to be true, but not use them as excuses for such irascibility, such confected outrage, and such loss of our collective cool, whenever it is suggested that maybe, just maybe, the ownership of our club is a legitimate subject for discussion, and the manager and the fans may be part of that debate?

As well as using allegations of “hypocrisy” to shut down legitimate debate, we also seem to be stuck with a false victimhood, a sense that we are facing criticism that has not previously been levelled at other clubs who had (or still have) dubious owners.  It has no basis in reality.  We should not be affronted that that the ownership of Newcastle United is coming under the microscope.  And, quite apart from the question of whether the Saudis are, objectively, “worse” than what has gone before them elsewhere, the reality is that other takeovers have absolutely been subjected to journalistic and media scrutiny in the past.  We are not the first fanbase to grapple with these issues, nor is Eddie Howe the first manager to face questions which go beyond on-field matters.  We just weren’t paying the same amount of attention before, because we were too busy dealing with the day-to-day business of following Newcastle United.  Where has Gael Bigirimana gone? Is Siem de Jong still injured? And why does Jack Colback always go around in circles?  Our world was smaller then.  Takeovers only happened in faraway places, or in our dreams.

We are bankrolled by a state which hides its women from public view, and bombs its neighbours into submission, and we should not therefore be affronted when journalists (whoever they may be) ask questions of us, and our manager, which are a little deeper than whether Krafth should come in for Manquillo.  Eddie Howe is not just a football coach, and Newcastle United (particularly under this regime) is not Bournemouth.  Whether Howe likes it or not, he is the public face of a vast, and highly controversial, commercial enterprise.  I do not doubt that, with the right media training, he will get better at this part of the role.  Nobody is asking him to personally advocate for the abolition of the Saudi monarchy, but there is a balance to be struck, which he currently is not striking.

We must also get used to these questions.  While some may prefer to throw the blasted H-word around, in an attempt to censor debate, this is self-defeating: all we accomplish is surrendering our right of reply, leaving journalists and pundits to misrepresent us.  This is sad, as we have plenty of constructive things to say.  We have said them before, and we should say them again.  About how we, as a fanbase, have wrestled (and many of us continue to wrestle) with these moral questions.  About how 6,000 of us donated to the 1892 Pledge, which sought to acquire a meaningful stake in the club.  About how the PIF investment in Newcastle United amounts to less than 0.1% of its total asset portfolio (they manage over $500bn).  About how, having waited so long to see the smiles on the faces of our friends, we should not be castigated for smiling also.  Refusing to do so, hiding behind misplaced allegations of hypocrisy against those who wish to engage us?  It’s not a good look.

In a way, perhaps it is unsurprising that our default setting is to be outraged, to adopt a siege mentality.  That sense of victimhood, that inferiority complex, comes from somewhere.  14 years of managed decline under Ashley.  67 years since our last major domestic honour.  Centuries of neglect and condescension toward the city and region from anyone inside the M25 wearing a suit.  It is not easy to shake off a sense that the world is against you, and the past fortnight shows that – as a fanbase – we still haven’t, despite being the richest football club in the world.

This was always part of the deal.  We’d better get used to it.

Yousef Hatem – @yousef_1892