Newcastle United, the only club I’ve ever supported, are on the brink of a huge turning point in their history. As with every twist and turn since I was six years old, I’ll be there enduring and celebrating just as I always have.
A lot has been written about Mohammad Bin Salman and the Saudi Arabian regime and atrocities committed in the name of human rights, and rightly so. There’s no way I’m going to flippantly dismiss these issues or pretend they don’t exist. But equally, I’m not going to spend the next few years vehemently protesting the Saudi state. I’m just being honest.
Many Newcastle fans will feel discomfort with this deal, I do count myself in that number, but emotional responses to the takeover show a very broad spectrum across our fanbase.
Some will feel so disgusted that they either abandon the club or take a prominent role in political activism. They should be heard and their opinions respected. Others will only be focusing on football, and that is their absolute right as football fans. They shouldn’t be called out or be told how to feel about their club.
I lean closer, but not absolutely, towards the latter.
What I will caveat, is that some of the fanbase will claim fuss over nothing with regards to Saudi’s human rights records. That’s not a stance I understand or can agree with.
I learned a few things from taking an active part in protests against Mike Ashley for a short time.
Firstly it takes up a lot of time, and on a few occasions I felt it took my focus away from the actual football. It made me realise that the sport is ultimately why I’m here, and if I want to spend my limited leisure time on Newcastle-related activities, it would be watching and talking about the match.
Secondly, it is exhausting to be constantly outraged and most of the action I was involved with was largely futile. The feeling of desperation drove me to get involved and a desire to see the club progressing year on year with an identifiable vision. Media gave the protests coverage, but I don’t believe this did more than simply irk the selling owner.
He was rattled a few times, notably when parliament waded in, but it was a lot of exhausting effort for little, if any, payoff. But there simply wasn’t an appetite for mass fan protestations, and I’d be surprised to see that change if owners are actually investing in the club.
Thirdly, and this is probably the point which speaks to me most, is that I simply miss enjoying football. There have been some amazing moments over the last few years, home and away, but bleak times have usually overridden any dreams of ambition for Newcastle United.
It’s an unconditional love, which in recent years has bordered on sadism. I want to be able to fully enjoy a match day, this time with real hope of what we can achieve on the pitch.
I want the noise to return to St James’ Park and I want Wor Flags to resume their spectacular displays. I want to take my seat at St James’ Park or my place in an away stand knowing that there is a uniform desire to make the club the very best it can be. We’ve been starved that feeling for so long and I’m weary, as are many fans.
A simple change of ownership has seemed such a pipe dream over the years that apathy has set in. This new era can reignite the passion in fans that sifted away with a whimper. The voice of the north east will be heard once more. And the level of potential investment being touted could really mean our wait for major silverware might finally be over before the ‘20s are out.
Inevitably, there is a lot of outrage across the media and social platforms.
Some of this outrage is legitimate and we should listen to and engage with those knowledgeable on the topics. Some of the outrage is designed to drive traffic and clicks, and remember that many newspapers are struggling financially. Temporary or faux outrage boosts views and therefore advertising revenue, it’s not difficult to see the agenda of some, especially when those views aren’t historically consistent.
Some of the outrage is most certainly jealousy. I know I was devastated when I heard of Man City’s takeover some 12 years ago. They were a mediocre Premier League outfit at the time who hadn’t long been down in League 1. “That could’ve been us!”, I would lament.
Little did I realise just how accurate that was, when I heard reports that Mike Ashley refused to meet with the eventual buyers of Man City to sound out Newcastle’s availability.
There is no way fans of other clubs won’t be wishing their club was also on the brink of an historical turning point. For these people, outrage is too easy, but they are also easier to ignore.
The great indie philosopher Julian Casablancas of The Strokes once sung some words that feel poignant in this moment:
When roles are reversed;
Opinions are too.
Many people will tell you how to feel about this takeover, but only you as a fan get to choose how you feel. After all, we don’t get to choose who owns Newcastle United, and we shouldn’t be vilified for what is a transaction out of our control between very rich people. This is the Premier League, an institution driven by wealth and greed, and it’s been this way for a long time.
To reiterate, I’m more than happy to engage in debate and learn from those who have sincere concerns about the incoming owners and their agenda. Those conversations are incredibly important. But I’m also not going to pretend that Middle Eastern politics takes a more prominent part in my day-to-day life than football does because it simply wouldn’t be true.
But when I’m watching a Newcastle game in future, my mind, as ever, will be fully focused on the game, those 90 minutes and the eleven men on the pitch with Newcastle crests on their tops.
When Sergio Aguero scored that goal to clinch the title in the last minute against QPR, not one Man City supporter in that moment contemplated the origin of the money used to purchase the Argentine. They simply went fucking crackers with visceral screams of joy and limbs flailing in all directions. And understandably.
My attention will similarly be focused on where the new owners can take us within the footballing landscape, what they will do for the club facilities and infrastructure, the stadium and the wider city.
If anybody preaches that you must be up-to-date with humanitarian issues in order to support Newcastle anymore, you’d be well within your rights to ignore or block, and move along. That’s your choice. Don’t scrutinise fellow Newcastle supporters for passively taking a different view, that’s also their choice. Live and let live, there has been enough in-fighting already.
But remember, don’t feel guilty for supporting Newcastle United. Not now or ever. It’s part of our identity, always has, always will be. And don’t feel guilty for enjoying the incredibly exciting times ahead for the club. Like everyone else, I want to remember what that actually feels like again.
When the club thrives, the city thrives. I shamelessly yearn to feel that again.