Support the team, not the regime.

It became a constant refrain during the Ashley years.

Thankfully, we are under new administration.  I am delighted.  I celebrated the takeover by driving around with Local Hero on full blast, and even altered my usual running route around North London to take in Ashley’s house just so I could make obscene, triumphalist gestures at it.  I’m excited by what we could become.  Indeed, I’m excited about what we’ve already become – that is, a club with aspiration and hope, however lowly our (current) league position.

But, while it is fine to have goodwill towards the new administration, it will always be right to “support the team, not the regime”, unless we ever reach a promised land of fan ownership, and football clubs held as community assets.

This isn’t a diatribe against our new regime, nor is it yet another thought-piece about the morality of Saudi ownership.  It’s about self-respect.  I personally believe that we should avoid being cheerleaders for those who have far more money and power than we do, and who are responsible for the club we cherish.  In fairness to Staveley, she has not sought popularity, nor has she courted publicity.  She has, in fact, been commendable in describing herself and Ghodoussi as being merely “custodians”.  We were here before her, and we will be here after her.  So will Newcastle United.  We should scrutinise and criticise our new leaders, and hold them to account.  It is what they have asked us to do.

We could start by not calling them Amanda and Mehrdad.  The use of their first names is over-familiar.  They’re not our friends.  It is little wonder that our Prime Minister keeps getting away with scandal after scandal, when his peccadilloes and misdeeds are regularly laughed off because “it’s just Boris”.  (In the interests of political balance, I should say that I felt similarly uncomforable about the childish indulgence of “Jeremy” by certain members of his inner circle).  If you want a sporting equivalent, look no further than “Zlatan” – a caricature of a footballer, which somehow existed apart from the man himself.  Johnson, Corbyn and Ibrahimovic can be scrutinised.  Boris, Jeremy and Zlatan never could.  So for me it will always be Staveley and Ghodoussi, not Amanda and Mehrdad.

They’re not here to be love-bombed, charming and polished though they are, and however refreshing it may be to have them at the helm after 14 years of not-so-Magic Mike and his XXL budget sweatpants.  Please, save the obsequious sycophancy for those unhinged specimens who camp in Windsor Great Park about three days before the wedding of any minor royal, sipping from a Thermos and waiting for the BBC’s roving reporter to tug on their guy-ropes (Jermaine Jenas is perfect for this, by the way).

The consortium deserves our best wishes.  PIF, the Reubens, and PCP (which includes Staveley and Ghodoussi) appear to want a successful Newcastle United, as do we.  Moreover, our new regime actually has the means to deliver it – unlike Ashley, who was too rich to care, but not rich enough to compete.  I do not suggest disrespecting them – the old trade union motto “servility never, but civility always” is apposite here – but we should remember whose bidding Staveley and Ghodoussi are doing.

They have said a lot of good things, and they’ve given assurances that they’re fully invested in the project and will be here for the long haul.  But they are answerable – ultimately – to Saudi royalty.  We were bought for a combination of business and political purposes.  If we no longer serve those purposes, then all bets are off.  This is why relegation (for all Staveley’s talk about the importance of appointing a manager who is “not afraid of relegation”) would be potentially disastrous.  The Saudis’ ownership of Newcastle would cease to satisfy their political objectives.  If you take the view that the political objective is prestige (or vanity), then relegation would turn the Saudis’ ownership of Newcastle into a national embarrassment: Qatari laughter would be deafening.

If you take the view that the political objective is sportswashing, then owning a second-tier club similarly fails to cut the mustard.  Yes, it might well be argued that the club’s stay in the Championship would only be temporary, if there is sufficient investment in the playing staff.  But can it be guaranteed that PIF would actually want to make that investment in order to secure an immediate return?  We might like to think so – and the money is certainly there – but PIF’s considerable wealth does not mean that they would necessarily be prepared to pump it into this particular investment.  It has proper governance, a Board, and investment objectives.  Rich owners and lavish spending do not necessarily go hand in hand.

One way that the rich stay rich (and always have done) is by not throwing money – even if they have it in abundance – at things they don’t consider to be worth it.  I think Newcastle United is worth it.  I know it’s a special club with unique potential.  Staveley’s passion  for the club – in fairness – also comes across as genuine.  But the question of whether the Saudis, who ultimately control the purse-strings, would feel the same about Newcastle United if we were to slip through the relegation trapdoor, is a more vexed one.

I should say, at this point, that I am keeping the faith.  I happen to think we will stay up (just), and I do not have any concrete evidence to suggest that the Saudis would actually attempt to offload us if we do slip through the relegation trapdoor.  They’ve already shown admirable patience when it would have been easy to have lost interest following the Premier League’s initial resistance to the deal.  I am tired of cynicism when it comes to Newcastle United.  I want to believe in our new owners and, for now, I do.

There are, however, certain things which already give rise to questioning.  We may never know why the consortium was prepared to pay significantly above market value for the club.  We were almost certainly worth less in October 2021 than we had been in March 2020 (not least because of the higher relegation risk, the neglect of the squad, and the deteriorating condition of the stadium), but there was no attempt to renegotiate the deal.  Ashley was ridiculed for having failed to look at the books when he bought the club.

The consortium did look at the books but essentially ignored what they saw.  Is that any better?  Is it, in fact, worse?  We may well feel grateful – the takeover went ahead, after all – but the fact that it did go ahead, does call the consortium’s judgment into question.  Also, there have been some early mis-steps by the new administration.  While we are now united behind Eddie Howe, the process of appointing him was far from smooth.  He knew, because Emery’s name had been carelessly leaked, that he was not first choice.

It is to Howe’s credit that he took the job anyway: had he been possessed of a bigger ego, he might justifiably have refused to be anyone’s second choice.  There are also questions to be asked about the time being taken to make decisions regarding a director of football, and the seeming lack of clarity about where responsibility for recruitment, at such a critical time for investment in the squad.  Yes, Staveley and Ghodoussi are running a football club for the first time.  We are behind them and we desperately want them to succeed.

But the humility (“if we do make mistakes, we will quickly own up to them”) is inappropriate.  They should not expect forgiveness, or even very much tolerance, of poor decision-making.  This is not a tombola at a village fete.  It is Newcastle United, it needs to be run with professionalism, and as supporters, our job is to remind our custodians of that, not to shrug off their shortcomings and place blind faith in them, and certainly not their paymasters in Riyadh.  Again, this is what they asked us for.  We should hold them to it.  The picture so far is, in truth, a mixed one.

Support the team, not the regime.

Always and forever.

True faith isn’t blind faith.

Howay the lads.

YOUSEF HATEM – @yousef_1892