Lots of you are in WatsApp groups with your mates. Lots of us woke yesterday to 31-page PDF documents submitted to Companies House and the rest of that bright Tuesday day went by in something of a blur. The thick end of two days later and things are moving on, a consensus forming around what is happening though there are many with lots of questions.
Gentle reader, we could soon be shot of Mike Ashley, the golem who has been squatting in our world malignantly sucking the joy from our club. He is the source of everything bad at Newcastle United. We have longed for the day he leaves and takes his joyless troupe of lickspittles and shills with him.
But apparently ready to walk through that big glass atrium on Barrack Road (COVID-19 lockdowns permitting) is Amanda Staveley followed by the Reuben Bros and thereafter Yasir al-Ramayyan, the governor of the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund.
At the risk of repeating something you’ve read and heard dozens of times over the last 36 hours – the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund will take 80% ownership of Newcastle United. Amanda Staveley and the Reubens will share the remaining 20% equally. We are told the Premier League is undergoing its Fit and Proper Persons Tests. It is inconceivable the PL will hold this takeover up because that test will not have any of the parties in this purchase in breach of its rules. £300m is the price. In perhaps in an episode of supreme parody, Ashley is selling at a discount. He’ll make a fortune in profit.
Media reports variously calculate the deal could be concluded within weeks. We’re told a formal announcement is imminent. I’d guess that announcement will likely be made in Saudi Arabia and quite possibly as part of a sequence with other major strategic purchases. I don’t know, I’m guessing.
The response has been electrifying – even within Lockdown. You’ve all worn your fingers away sending text messages and talked yourselves hoarse debating the whole thing. The number of financial and legal analysts knocking around your mates and mine is only equalled by the human rights lawyers who have apparently been working unnoticed on Wearside all this time.
We are told there are approaches being made for a manager, sporting director and other executives. There is talk of “significant investment” both within the infrastructure of Newcastle United but in wider urban regeneration projects. In these strange and uncertain times, there is an optimism that when we get through to the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic then Geordie might have something to look forward to.
Various names for the manager’s job have been thrown around. Most frequently mentioned is Rafa Benitez but there are others – ex-Juve man Allegri and Pochettino. The attraction of Rafa’s return is obvious. The Spaniard has a huge bond with the supporters, knows the club from top to bottom and understands what is required. Many of the players are his signings and know him well. He knows the Premier League in forensic detail. He is a top class coach who knows what is required to win trophies. The attraction is obvious. How his contract with Dalian Pro would allow him to return to United remains to be seen. If offered a route back to St James’ Park at a club transformed into everything his heart desires it is impossible not to see him back in the dug-out, tickling us with his specs in the top pocket routine after another job done. Allegri is also a tantalising prospect – unquestionably the real deal following a trophy laden period in Serie A with the dominant Juventus. Both men are trophy winning machines. My preference would be Rafa – I think he is the man to build the club and who knows, put that first trophy on the mantelpiece. I’m growing giddy.
I’m ahead of myself. I should listen to wiser heads who counsel caution, wearied and wary of more disappointment. But I can’t help it, I’m knacker deep into it, relishing the prospect of going to SJP with mates, excited, filled with hope our team has a chance, becoming a source of pride and a unifying force across Tyneside and beyond. I’m yearning for the division caused by Ashley based bickering within our ranks to be at an end and for us to rally around the B&W flag and for the draining, pointless bitching to be over. On that I’m likely over-optimistic.
Not that the takeover won’t attract some negative commentary. Indeed it has already but frankly that boat has sailed when Sheikh Mansour bought Manchester City, Abramovich took over Chelsea, PSG became the property of the Qataris and FIFA awarded (cough) the World Cup to the same country that ethical jig was up. There are many more clubs in this country and elsewhere with owners not everyone would approve but public and sporting life made that leap some years ago.
Not that the takeover won’t provide some supporters with an ethical dilemma and I respect and understand that where it is sincere and genuine. There are others who will parade their hand-wringing consciences to gain attention and personal capital. We know the difference.
Perhaps I could be accused of constructing a conceptual platform for this which fits with my life-long desire to see a successful Newcastle United. Maybe I am but there is much to applaud in the motives of this deal. The Saudis could have just bought another London club … West Ham … or Arsenal perhaps. But they didn’t. They have bought (or are buying) Newcastle United, a club in a criminally neglected region of the UK, with its storied hard luck narrative. There is talk of urban regeneration and investment where its impact will be greatly felt but where local morale will go soaring in pride at hopefully the success of its football club. It will be a beacon of hope and a tribune of the latent potential of the entire NE region, let alone its best supported and most prominent football club.
I had it put to me as recently as last week that it was preposterous British Jews, an Englishwomen with an Iranian husband could work so closely with the Saudi Arabian state. That was then, this is now. That coalescence of interests around our football club with an agenda of Saudi modernisation can be viewed as a step into a new world. Or I could be inventing a version of the truth to suit my desire to see a Newcastle United captain hoist a piece of silverware above his head and send the Black & White world spinning off its axis.
But whilst I’ll listen to those with sincerely held views and concerns at what they refer to Sportswashing, I think many of us will turn a tin ear to those with transparent, nauseous expressions of their faux-conscience which have hitherto remained well hidden. Those who bray pointlessly into social media are worth only the attention anyone gives them. They’ll get none from me.
There are questions to be asked, analysis to be made of what this means for Newcastle United. The club under any new owners should receive the same scrutiny and questioning – that is the job of this fanzine and others – but after thirteen airless, stale years of Mike Ashley we may have a reason to believe again.
Keep On, Keepin’ On …