It is now coming onto ten days since the bid to buy Newcastle United was withdrawn by the Staveley-led consortium. There has been no comment from the Premier League and they remain, so far at least completely unmoved by the outraged response amongst Newcastle United supporters and a NE cross party political block expressing dismay at how they have handled this takeover, which offers so much to a region consistently betrayed by successive Westminster governments.
But whilst the last week has witnessed the breakthrough of the Newcastle United Supporters Trust as the kind of organisation we can rely upon to pull together the anger at the PL’s conduct towards us and our club, I did think I’d refer to something else going on in the media.
My cards on the table here – my idea of how football clubs should be operated isn’t as a sports-washing venture for a Middle Eastern oil state. Nor as PR cover for a Russian oligarch to protect him from Putin’s murderous mood-swings. I’m not particularly impressed at clubs being run as US Franchises or any of that shite. That obviously stretches to a club being used as a billboard for a shit sports retailer as well.
I would much prefer the model of football club ownership was more like the Bundesliga. That is an altogether more socially acceptable way for football to operate rather than as it does now. That’s my long-held view and probably won’t change on an idealistic level.
However, that is romanticism. Clubs within the PL and Championship are by and large completely out of the financial reach of those communities who own them in every moral sense. To have any chance of competing and progressing, clubs need to be weighed in with serious backing – for whatever purpose – and we know we don’t have that. The future of our club without a good takeover is bleak.
This bid, now apparently withdrawn, is the one which promised to change the game for Newcastle United – provide our club with the necessary resources to challenge – and to fulfil the enormous potential it somehow retains. There is a reason why Amanda Staveley has assembled a bid of partners to purchase our club – they, like Rafa Benitez previously, recognised its huge potential.
So, along comes the Staveley bid, Ashley accepts the offer, off it goes to the PL to conduct some checks and for last 17 weeks we have waited before the crushing disappointment of a week last Thursday night.
Within that interval and I note even now … serious questions with regard to the Owners & Directors Test and its scope have been raised within the context of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. I note Amnesty International continues to press for a greater test of ethics in would-be club ownership with the subject covered in detail by both The Guardian and The Independent. These are worthy and interesting areas of debate but in terms of how they play into football, Newcastle United and sport in general they are by and large completely impractical.
These demands – and I have to say I’d support them – were they evenly applied – are wholly unworkable and hopelessly doomed.
A society simply cannot have a government which approves arms sales to states, most of us would seriously disapprove, enjoy strategic and diplomatic alliances with the same across a deeply unstable region but simultaneously refuse to allow purchase a football club on the grounds of ethics. That does not make any sense. Let’s be absolutely clear the worst owning a football club can do in terms of Saudi interest is improve their PR. No-one dies. Is image making so terrifyingly critical for some people?
I can imagine the fans of Wigan Athletic rueing the disastrous owners of their club had been subject to anything like the scrutiny Amanda Staveley & Co have faced.
Within the world of football and the Premier League, new rules cannot be introduced which disadvantage one competitor against another as a result of an ethical epiphany. You cannot say for example within the context of the Premier League that Manchester City can be owned by Abu Dhabi (and they are owned by Abu Dhabi) which carries many of the human rights abuses record of Saudi Arabia. Similarly, you cannot have an oligarch connected to Putin through a spider’s web of corruption owning a PL club given we have Russian agents poisoning British citizens in Salisbury and running operations to undermine UK and western democracy. Within the PL you cannot have one club owned by a Saudi Prince – with his fortune coming from much the same source – but not another. None of this is fair.
You cannot have a major club, Manchester United, taking large sums of money in sponsorships from countries which by some imagined ethical measure you would not allow to buy one of its competitor clubs.
Similarly, if you are the FA, you cannot allow sponsorship of the national stadium (Wembley) and the oldest cup competition in the world (the FAC) sponsored by a nation state via its Emirates airline if that same country cannot buy one of its football clubs.
Additionally, if you are the Premier League you cannot amend your Owners & Directors Test to carry a sub-section to ban those from countries who do not cut the mustard in your new ethical measure – if, for example, that same country (Qatar) can buy up your TV rights and pay £500m for the privilege. None of that works.
Similarly, the Premier League cannot handicap itself commercially by imposing a set of regulations which would not apply to its competitors say in Serie A, La Liga etc. Or within other sports … for example … boxing … watch out those major bouts in Riyadh.
The further question is then who gets to set the scope of those ethics? How would they stand up to a legal challenge? How would that work within the context of English football and a UK government which is increasingly showing it’s frustrations with a league answerable only to the vested interests of 6 clubs? Those same clubs carry a destructive interest in turning themselves into global brands and compromising the PL’s competitiveness by operating as a de-facto cartel.
But to change the Owners & Directors Test as it currently exists would require the votes of the current members of the Premier League … or rather the existing clubs voting for a change which might compromise the integrity of their own ownership – and sabotage their club’s saleable value.
That, we all know isn’t going to happen, because the Premier League was set up to make money for club owners and has done so handsomely since 1992. Those clubs, especially those within the top 6 fix, will do everything possible to make sure that continues.
So, we have this weird, irrelevant and abstract debate going on amongst some within the liberal media under the painfully naive belief the hand-wringing discussions they are having in their own echo chamber, matters in any way to PL clubs. At times I feel like telling them Santa doesn’t really exist.
Then again, there is a suspicion they are aware of these hard realities but choose to ignore them. They choose to ignore them to parade their cost-nowt beliefs in an exercise of virtue signalling to provide copy and instigate hollow debate in the chattering class media. Woke-bait if you will.
But what do I know? I’m only a life-long Newcastle United supporter and native of the North East who has a quaint belief we might just know what is best for us – as opposed to a grand-standing football hack with no skin in the game, a half-baked flair for patronising Geordies but who gets the lip on when told to shove it.
Keep On, Keepin’ On ….