Patronage and philanthropy are as much a part of Newcastle’s social history as the city’s legendary capacity for hospitality and hedonism.

Indeed, as Dan Jackson argues in his hugely enlightening history of The Northumbrians, charitable deeds are an expression of a close-knit communitarian spirit that has shaped the city for centuries – from the medieval piety that funded early church building to the parks, schools, and hospitals that (Lord) William Armstrong endowed with the money generated by his shipyards and armaments factories in Scotswood.

In this sense, the charitable foundations latterly set up in the names of Bobby Robson or Alan Shearer are only modern-day manifestations of a long-standing and deep-seated social tradition. And it’s entirely natural that the football club should become a focal point for these kinds of impulse.

As Jackson puts it, acts of charity have been as much “an opportunity for fellowship” as they have been for “doing good for the less fortunate”. In other words, they’re part of the same powerful sense of community and belonging that the shared rituals of football also enact.

Importantly, this is also a useful lens through which to view the remarkable success of the Newcastle United Foodbank, collections for which have become such an established part of the matchday landscape. They’re an understandable source of solidarity and pride for a city founded on the tight-knit co-operative spirit of colliery towns, trade guilds, and mutual societies. The impetus to come together with those who share our sense of belonging and give to those among us in need is irresistible and has provided vital help to countless individuals and families.

But there’s another side to the philanthropic tradition of the North East, and that’s the exercise of power associated with it. To properly understand life in the region you also have to understand a strand of feudalism that runs through it, where wealth and power have been concentrated in a narrow and extremely durable set of elites who have asserted a strong sense of obligation on those dependent on them.

Walk through the city and you’ll see the lasting legacy of that feudalist patronage written clearly into the physical fabric of its buildings, monuments, and street names. These bear witness to the centuries long influence of medieval aristocratic families like the Percys, the oligarchs of the 18th century such as the Claytons and the Fenwicks, and the patrician industrialists of the 19th and 20th centuries epitomised by Armstrong.

And what of their 21st-century successors, the Reubens? In a week when Jamie Reuben’s uncle Simon put his name to a public letter of support for Boris Johnson alongside 20 other Tory donors who have together given the party more than £18m, there’s a bitter irony in the unquestioning acclaim that recently greeted the renewal of family’s pledge to match foodbank donations through their charitable foundation. Sports-washing has its benefits closer to home as well, it would seem.

After all, while the heat and noise of the media has understandably focused on the altogether more substantial problems raised by our majority owners, the Reubens have seemingly escaped without scrutiny. In a city without a single Tory councillor and subject to the compound miseries of Thatcherite neglect and post-Crash austerity, one might expect at least some questioning of the opaque role and motivations of multi-billionaire, non-domiciled property developers who have so generously funded the same government that has made foodbanks necessary in the first place – not to mention campaigning personally for the most morally bankrupt, narcissistic, and incompetent Prime Minister in living memory.

If you think this sounds like a question of party politics, then you would be mistaken. It’s a question of the essential function of our football club as a civic institution and a community asset, a role that was self-consciously hollowed out under the previous regime until it was the emptiest of empty husks.

Perhaps that explains the absurd gratitude that has greeted the Reubens’ foodbank gesture. Anything is better than nothing, and encouraging steps are certainly being taken more broadly to revive the civic role of the club. But the co-option of the foodbank feels like a comically superficial gesture for a family with a total wealth of more than £22bn. Be grateful for what you’re given, enjoy the spectacle we put on for you, and don’t question the vested interests that sustain it. Classic ideological misdirection.

It doesn’t have to be this way. It was striking this week, for example, to see volunteers at the Liverpool and Everton foodbanks publicly campaigning to bring about their own demise. After all, that’s the stated vision of the Trussell Trust itself, namely “a UK without the need for foodbanks”. And so it should be. A country where the opening of a foodbank has become a cause for self-congratulatory ceremony has drastically lost its way.

Returning to our historical perspective, perhaps the sense of feudal loyalty and obligation is a more enduring mindset in the North East than many of us might care to admit. Certainly, there is in many quarters a worryingly uncritical embrace of our new owners and a fierce defensiveness against the questions asked of them by outsiders.

The instinct to close ranks and loyally pay homage to our new lords and their generous patronage is understandable. But this is no longer the 18th century, and to redefine a dynamic new civic role for our club will depend on more than that ingrained sense of gratitude.  Starting with the matchday foodbank, let’s demand more of our owners and more of our club – above all, more of ourselves.

Matthew Philpotts @mjp19731

For more information on Liverpool and Everton fans fight to end reliance on Foodbanks click here