And so it comes to pass, the Saudi Arabian national team will be playing at St James’ Park. It’s not a surprise. It’s been in the mix for some months. There will be a range of opinions, many of which I’ll respect. Here is mine.
There is going to be an explosion of coverage about this and not much of it will be positive. From within football, the usual suspects in the media will be up on their hind-legs braying about sports-washing with their customary hand-wringing intensity as if it is the worst thing happening in the world right now.
It is trivial. It is so head-crushingly small it makes me want to weep at how much focus will be on it from a media on a mission to infantilise the country.
But it is another jarring example of how spectacularly fucked football has become and how powerless football fans are in the running of our clubs and our sport.
I know Newcastle United supporters. Big surprise eh? In fact, 90% of my mates support Newcastle United. Some of them are upset the Saudis are sending their national team to play at our stadium. The same Mags were cheering players bought and paid for by the Saudi PIF loud into the night on Saturday gone. Some of my mates bemoan teh Saudi ownership (as do I at heart) but all of us celebrate the skills and achievements of a team largely bankrolled by those we disapprove and click through the turnstile regardless.
Fans of other clubs will weaponise this in the tedious banter wars that go on between us. Perhaps it will mean horrific tragedy chanting gets a rest. The same fans will display a staggering cognitive dissonance to their own clubs selling players for enormous fees to Saudi clubs, taking payments from beIN (the Qatari broadcaster with human rights issues of its own) and football journalists of The S*n, The Independent, The Mail et al will ignore the poisonous ownerships of their publications and their sclerotic influence on public life to pontificate on ethics in sport and display more faces than the town hall clock.
The non-football media will seize upon the country’s obsession with its favourite sport in a rush to “create content”. There will be vox-pops that mean nothing and the wider context of football governance, the compromises of nation states and their economies and security largely ignored.
The sovereign head of Saudi Arabia is booked in for a state visit some time soon. Doubtless he will be transported up Pall Mall in a gold-coach to be met by fawning senior members of the UK government, our own royal family who will do plenty of bowing and scraping over banquets, fine speeches and sickly smiles.
Some preposterously self important football writers will write pointless blogs about sports-washing, having remained conspicuously detached from every fan-led campaign of the last thirty years. None of it will make a h’apporth of difference.
Local news will not blink in the region when an obsequious minister meets with “local leaders” (click here) to celebrate investments such as this one and others will ask why there hasn’t been more of the same to match this (click here) Pause while I connect to my inner Robert Wyatt (click here) and my own diminishing sensibilities.
Forgive me for puking at the back-slapping and boasts of “inward investment” and being “open for business”.
And what of the games themselves?
Go if you want … football operates as a moral x-ray on every single level. The lads turning out have done nothing wrong and on the list of horrors in this world this is pretty low down the list .
Michael Martin, @TFMick1892