I’m one of the thousands, probably tens of thousands, of absent fans of NUFC. Not absent in the boycott sense, but geographically absent. I first left the NE for work in 2002 and after a couple of years back in NE1 I’ve been away from the country since 2010. This has its pros and cons: during the good times (errr… 2012?) you yearn to be on the Gallowgate, but during the bad you can distance yourself and ease the pain. So over the past few days I have dipped in and out of Twitter and kept up with the news and theories as and when I’ve felt able to face them.
I am also grounding myself by keeping the implications of having a regime as horrendous as the House of Saud involved in my club, and I’m sure I’m amongst good company. Don’t get me wrong, I was in favour of the takeover happening and was one of the near 97% NUST respondents to back it.
Despite my doubts there were two reasons why I backed the takeover. Firstly, I miss my club being on the footballing map. When I first left Newcastle back in ’02 Newcastle United were a force in football. Everywhere I went my club was a source of pride. If I was in Europe, the U.S. or the Caribbean it didn’t matter: as soon as I told a local where I was from their face lit up. “ALAN SHEARER!” We were still a nut job club, every week we were lurching from crisis to crisis (if the tabloids were to be believed), but we had star players, a legendary manager and owners who, despite all of their many faults, tried their best to deliver on the pitch.
That was a team that beat Barcelona, PSV and Juventus. We went to the San Siro and gave Inter a bloody nose. And when I met an Italian he knew my club, which meant he knew my city, and because our region defines us so much he already, kind of, knew me, Stavely, the Reubens and PIF offered the opportunity to be that club again and I make no apologies for getting giddy at the thought of those exciting times coming back to Barrack Rd.
But yes, there are voices out there, voices that I listen to and respect, who see it differently. The door is now open for perhaps a less extravagant investor to come in. To put moderate amounts of cash into the club, improve the infrastructure, make shrewd appointments in key areas, develop the academy and bring through our own starlets. Build the club back up from the very foundations. It certainly wouldn’t be easy, butthat route would in all probability bring far more satisfaction. It might inspire far more pride in the club. Far less exciting, mind you, but definitely a fantastic achievement if it could be done. A huge ‘If’.
But this is not what I will be mourning over the coming days and weeks. What I am properly furious about, what really feels like a dagger in the chest, is the investment that our city and wider region has had pulled away from it. The North East has been criminally neglected for a decade. The city region is on its arse and with the London-centric elites in charge we can be sure the rot will continue.
Yet here we had a group of wealthy individuals who had made it clear they were ready and willing to invest in us and our region. Jamie Reuben was thanked for his contributions by the NUFC Food Bank, and he replied in kind, thanking them for their continued work in the community. It turns out he had been contributing regularly. A PR exercise? Likely, but it showed an acute understanding of the dire straits the region is in.
Thanks to decades of being overlooked in favour of the South, and South East in particular, our region comes bottom of all economic charts. We enjoy the lowest amount of disposable income per household in the country. The only table we constantly head, which we runaway with, is unemployment. Unsurprisingly, lack of opportunity and prospects, along with a myriad of housing problems, has filtered into our future, our children perform on average worse than their peers across the country.*
The reality is grim, and the future doesn’t look much rosier. And that is what really cuts about this. NUST representatives have rightly been across national media arguing for the fans to be heard in all this. Isn’t it fair that just as we were being held to account for the atrocities of the House of Saud, we should also be heard arguing the case for the positives we could have benefited from?
And honestly, the most meaningful benefits that could have come from this takeover was not going to have been enjoyed in the stands, but on the streets, businesses, schools and economy of a region that has had to fight, tooth and nail, going back to the Jarrow Marchers and beyond, for an inkling of recognition and some scraps from London’s bounteous table.
I have been asked, “What if it was West Ham, with Newham Borough getting Saudi investment?” I think we’re way past Mag paranoia to accept it would have been waved through without a day’s delay. Once again faceless suits from the South have failed, willingly or otherwise, to acknowledge the people of a region desperate for hope.
What happens next is anyone’s guess, but I would like to think that as we challenge the national (mis)perception of us we can remind the smug click-bait ‘press’ that, for us, there was far more on the line than signing Mbappe. That we are the ones who will have to live without the transformative investment that has been cruelly and seemingly pointlessly snatched away.