As it stands, it looks almost certain that Newcastle United will shortly be owned, at least in the majority, by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund (PIF). The excitement in the North East is tangible and the media reaching fever pitch. We are regaled with videos of joyous Newcastle fans turning up at St James’ to try and find out the latest, interviewed fans expressing their overwhelming delight with the regime change and social media is abuzz with fans cheering the news.
But someone has to say it. Someone has to point to the elephant in the room here right? The big fucking bonesaw wielding, journalist murdering, homosexual stoning, woman hating elephant standing there dripping blood on the carpet? Because amongst all the palpable delight at the end of the Ashley regime, all Newcastle fans now sit faced with a moral dilemma about what the new owners mean for how we, as individuals, support the club.
— True Faith: Newcastle United Fanzine and Podcast (@tfNUFC) October 9, 2021
I will start with some caveats. All of this is my own opinion, reflecting my own thought process as I work through moral maze. It is not intended as an expectation towards others to follow my thinking and it most certainly isn’t intended as a criticism of others who hold a different opinion. Each and every one of us will just need to work through this individually and there shouldn’t be any judgement between fans about where other land.
Apols for content updates in the last couple of days – we've been shaking with excitement –
— True Faith: Newcastle United Fanzine and Podcast (@tfNUFC) October 9, 2021
There can be no denying that it appears an overwhelming majority of Newcastle fans are in favour. The NUST survey showed that 94% of surveyed members are in favour of the takeover by the PIF, not just any takeover, but specifically this one. Social media, whilst not ever a true indicator of public sentiment, shows Newcastle fans overwhelmingly in favour of it happening. As someone who is delighted that Ashley is going but has deep concerns about the potential new ownership, I find the overwhelming level of support to be surprising so let’s dig a little deeper into thinking.
- Firstly, I think we can safely discount the idea that fans are not aware of the nature of the Saudi Regime. Their crimes and abuse of human rights is well documented and covered in the press.
- Secondly there are those who say the domestic affairs of Saudi Arabia are not the concern of Newcastle fans, we have no interest in geopolitics and just want to watch the football. Our own government deals with Saudi, so why can’t we support a club owned by them? I have some sympathy for this argument, but the reality is that with this takeover you can no longer separate the two. The club is being bought precisely as a tool to mitigate attention about the domestic actions of Saudi Arabia. Sticking our fingers in our ears doesn’t make it goes away or change the reality of what our club will become.
- Thirdly, we have the “whatabout” defence, essentially the theory that because there are other owners of football clubs who are loosely or directly tied to bad things then that makes it ok for Newcastle fans to be ok with the Saudis. Examples of the ownership of Man City, PSG, Chelsea, Wolves are, rightly or wrongly, held up as proof that anything should be allowed to go. Personally, I just can’t buy this thinking. It is ok to highlight double standards in terms of accusations levelled at Newcastle fans, but it doesn’t refute the fact that the Saudi Arabian regime is still abhorrent. Just because other bad things happen doesn’t mean we should be ok with this bad thing happening.
- Finally, we have some who will point out that the PIF has its fingers in many pies. Whether we are using Disney or Uber etc, we are all essentially dropping out money into the coffers of the Saudi state and therefore tacitly supporting that regime. I can get my head round that argument, but still don’t buy it. The intention with the purchase of Newcastle is different to their investments in those other businesses. They aren’t held up as shiny examples of Saudi acceptability. Newcastle will be. We will be the acceptable face of their regime and the link between them and our club will be shouted from the rooftops. It’s sportswashing, pure and simple.
So what is it, precisely, that Newcastle fans should do? This is the bit I personally am finding the most difficult. For some in the press, Glendenning for example, tell us that we need to simply immediately stop supporting the club and walk away. But how in reality does that work? I still remember my first game back in 92 vividly. My old man and my grandad took me. My memory is probably rose tinted glasses, but in my head it was just as Sir Bobby describes it: a young lad holding his dad’s hand and climbing the steps at St James’ park, coming out from the dark of the stands and seeing the flash of green of the pitch, and wham, hooked for life. Since then, I’ve had a season ticket most of my life and followed the club a bit away from home as well.
I have a long, emotional tie to the club. I’ve known it longer than I have my wife, my children and many of my friends and I’ve spent more time watching it than I have with many of them. So the idea of just switching off my support like a switch due to the new owners just doesn’t seem possible and is counterintuitive to how human feelings work.
The next idea is that Newcastle fans should withdraw our direct, and particularly, financial support. Don’t go to games, buy merchandise (not hard) etc. Ok, I can see the logic behind this and I know of at least two people of my wider matching going friends who have already said they won’t be going to any more games after the takeover. But it isn’t easy though, going to the game is a ritual many of us have had in our lives for a long time, breaking it isn’t something done lightly and the truth is that it’ll be even harder if Newcastle start being successful on the pitch.
Everyone is going to have to figure that out for themselves. But what about watching on TV? Is that still ok or only if I don’t cheer? The club gets far more money from TV than it does from tickets or merchandise so perhaps that shouldn’t be allowed. But then that should apply to all football fans, including opposition ones. You can’t single out Newcastle fans and tell them not to watch Newcastle in any form but be ok with others doing so.
‘The podcast we never thought we’d record’
Full reaction from the night of the takeover – thank you for all of the kind feedback so far
I can’t remember recording most of this but I think it turned out okay https://t.co/I74hZGqOxf
— Alex Hurst (@tfalex1892) October 9, 2021
I really don’t know personally how this will affect how I support the club. I suspect it is something which evolves over time. Will my love of the club be diminished with the knowledge of those who control it? Will any long awaited any success be tinted by the nature of how it comes about? I was already fairly depressed about the state of the modern game, will this be thing that finally pushes me away from the game? Each of us, as fans, need to ask the question of ourselves as to whether we are still comfortable supporting this club in the same way knowing who now owns it. I don’t have any answers, because the answer for each of us might be different.
I’ll finish with two wishes:
- That all of us, not matter our opinion on the takeover, accept and respect the fact that there will be others who do not share than opinion. A united support is a great thing, an important thing, but we also need diversity in thinking. There is no right and wrong answer here and fellow fans are never the enemy.
- Even for those who are able and happy to separate their support for the club and the moral and political actions of the owners, please don’t become apologists or cheerleaders for what is undeniably an abhorrent regime. Don’t let success on the pitch hide or distract from that and remember the values which make this support, this city and this region so great.
Right. Tin hat on. Let’s hear your thoughts?