In successive matches at Anfield, stewards have approached home fans holding Palestinian flags and requested they desist from displaying them. That has been under instruction from Liverpool FC’s owners, namely, the US Fenway Sports Group.
At Celtic, the board of directors, mindful of their support’s political inclinations made it clear to fans they should not participate in overt shows of support (knowing that to be in support of the Palestinian people, particularly those in terrible circumstances in Gaza). They were widely ignored when Celtic played their Champions League game v Atletico Madrid and I expect that will continue and the club will be braced for UEFA fine(s).
They aren’t alone with Chelsea making a public statement that Palestinian flags should not be displayed at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea like Liverpool has US owners.
On the continent we have seen massive tifo in the colours of the Palestinian cause and at Atheltic Bilbao there was a mass display of the Palestinian flag at the Basque club’s match at home last weekend. Again, mindful of the political history of Athletic that’s not likely to be the last time! There will be many others of this type across Europe though broadcasters seem uneasy about showing this stuff to viewers.
As you might half expect in a debate becoming polarised on tribal grounds, some Spurs fans were moved to display the Israeli flag of St David and there are some (namely the UK government) who expressed regret the FA declined to light up the Wembley arch in blue as a show of solidarity for Israel (the UK’s allies) after the recent atrocities committed by Hamas.
Those who wish to show solidarity for the besieged people of Gaza in the form of displays of Palestinian flags but who are instructed not to do so, point to the inconsistencies in how clubs and the authorities responded to the horrific situation unfolding in the Middle East and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Following Putin’s military incursion into the territory of a peaceful neighbouring country, the sight of the Ukraine flag became a common symbol around football stadia (and indeed wider society). It is significantly different with Palestinian symbols it seems.
The Palestinian flag does not represent Hamas or any terrorist organisation in the same way neither was the Irish tricolour owned by armed Irish Republicans during The Troubles and nor is the Flag of St George or union flag the property of right-wing racist groups or any political party.
So far at Newcastle United (before the Palace game) we have had just a minute’s silence for the dead and suffering on both sides of the conflict and I can imagine how sensitive a subject this is for our ownership. Did I hear someone shout Free Palestine from the East Stand at the end of the minute’s silence?
The Saudis are so important to this tinder-box situation, their sovereign Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has received a host of dignitaries not least Presidents Biden (USA) and Macron (France) and PM Sunak. I could sense the relief around the world when Saudi Foreign Ministers labelled Hamas terrorists though there may have been sharp intakes of breath regarding sentiments about Israel returning to 1968 borders.
The wider strategy of a normalisation of Saudi-Israel relations has so far survived though those who own 80% of Newcastle United may not have an unlimited tolerance for what is going on in Gaza, regardless of their view of Hamas.
There is of course the Reuben Family, represented within United by a 10% shareholding and who are prominent members of the British-Jewish community.
Thus far the only statement made from Jamie Reuben was via his twitter account which was well-measured and considered, not altogether far removed from the neutral tone adopted by the club in its minute’s silence v Palace – click here
It would be foolish to suggest background determines political and religious views but I’ll flag Mehrdad Ghodoussi, husband of Amanda Staveley of course is of Iranian heritage with Iran known for its hostility towards Israel and support for Hamas and Hezbollah as well as Islamic Jihad. The Iranians also support the Houthi rebels in Yemen, and a range of Iraqi Shiite militias groups known as Hashd al-Sha’bi is currently at war with the Yemeni government and Saudi in the neighbouring country and armed to the teeth by amongst others, the UK.
Those conflicts appear not to have acted as any barrier to the multi-faith-ethnic consortium that owns Newcastle United but it is striking how the range of our club’s ownership has shifted in the last two decades from McKeag to Hall & Shepherd to Ashley and now the current arrangements.
So far our support (including via Wor Flags) has shown no inclination to undertake any displays of support displaying any kind of flag – and it’s inconceivable they would to be honest (despite participating within the Ukrainian solidarity display shortly after Putin’s invasion). I think we’d mainly agree displays to support LGBT+ (United With Pride) and Show Racism The Red Card is at the more vanilla end of politicised gestures relative to the horrors of Gaza and Israel.
We know Newcastle and the wider city-region is home to many who are politically active. We know there will be those who have strong views on the situation in Gaza-Israel with most public protests in support of the Palestinian people and being amongst the biggest the city has witnessed in recent years – click here and here and here.
It follows then that there are those with those views in the stands on match-day as Newcastle United supporters.
As a rule our support is historically docile in issues of politics as an overt collective force (which is different to the support for progressive causes such as anti-racism, homophobia supporters have provided consistently). Many see that as a good thing, being keen to separate sport from football (good luck with that).
It will be interesting to see if this continues in respect of what is going on in Gaza-Israel and how the club and the support respond. ` ` `
Keep On, Keepin’ On …
Michael Martin, @TFMick1892