by Michael Martin | 07/06/2020

If this takeover saga has proven one thing it is that there are unlimited numbers of bull-shitters and willing, gullible dupes in the football press. I’d extend that to social media but it is just too much of a statement of the bleedin’ obvious to waste any more time on it.

It is now a week after we were guaranteed by a huge swathe of the media that the takeover buttons would have all been pressed. By now we should have been in various stages of hangover recovery and those #CANS nicely crumpled and in the recycling bins. Yet here we are …. waiting.

For weeks, if not months, almost every part of the football press, with some notable exceptions, have parroted the briefings they have received from the buyers side … “no red flags”. Yet here we are contemplating  a huge red flag which has been there all along – TV rights piracy.

Another massive red flag is the diplomatic tension which exists between Saudi Arabia with other Middle Eastern states and Qatar. The Saudis and others have accused the Qataris of supporting terrorism, which is denied. The Qataris have bribed their way to hosting a World Cup (2022) and stadiums have been built on the back of what’s not a million miles away from medieval levels of slavery and a loss of life that should be unconscionable for FIFA. And the Premier League. Qatar has been allowed to purchase PSG and of course via their company BeIN won the rights to stream PL football for which they weigh in PL clubs with £500m over three years.

If you want to know more about the background of the dispute between Saudi Arabia plus other Middle Eastern States and Qatar – just click here  

It would appear Qatar has some serious questions to answer and perhaps so does the PL for doing so much business with them if morality is to be so central to the business of football.

Every club in the PL is being paid money by a despotic country which has questions to answer about terrorism. That country, Qatar via BeIN appears to have a disproportionate influence on the progress of Newcastle United’s takeover.

It has barely been covered by the press but the lack of scrutiny on the Premier League’s handling of the takeover warrants some comment – even if it is just on a blog-post on a fanzine website.

Could I have been the only one to have rubbed my eyes at the piece in the Financial Times detailing a meeting between the PL and BeIN:

“Richard Masters, Premier League chief executive, has had meetings with beIN executives in recent weeks, according to two people familiar with the discussions, who argued the Saudi state should be blocked from acquiring Newcastle because of alleged involvement in beoutQ, a pirate network that has unlawfully streamed content from beIN including English football matches. Saudi Arabia denies involvement.”á

Hang on a minute … are we being told the Qataris have been discussing Newcastle United’s takeover directly with the people with responsibility for deciding if it passes the Owners & Directors Test? People who beyond any concerns about TV piracy (which I believe is simply being weaponised as part of the dispute between Qatar and Saudi Arabia) have further agendas, not least the forthcoming tendering of TV rights and of course as a rival European club (PSG). Vested interests doesn’t cover it as a description.

Miguel Delaney (The Independent) may be about to make the move from kick-a-ball correspondent to anti-Saudi Arabia/NUFC campaigner but there’s no question he is a decent journalist. He’s worth reading. He would appear to have good contacts.

Last week he was quoting Premier League sources who he claims told him:

“This is the biggest decision the Premier League will have to make, and will affect its future,”

“It’s one of the most valuable leagues in the world because they protect their content so well. “The takeover would be a big blow to the future of intellectual property and commercial rights.”

“I don’t think it would sit well, and could really impact future relationships,” the source says. “It affects trust. Rights holders invest millions in content protection, and if the end result is a body behind it owns a club, it’s hard to justify.

“You’ll already see anti-piracy clauses, and it could bring the value of deals down. What happens in the next weeks could well determine the next few years.”

Here Delaney is apparently quoting people within the Premier League. I have a pretty good idea as to the identity of the PL executive briefing the press.

We have been told the process is confidential but as Delaney (The Independent) and Sean Ingle (The Guardian) have demonstrated, the PL is doing plenty briefing of the press – directly and indirectly (via BeIN). This may tell us the PL has a certain position in its approach to the takeover and an attitude we may have cause to be concerned about. That admittedly is only my speculation.

That Masters, the PL Chief Executive is potentially discussing a Saudi-backed United takeover with the Qataris further questions whether the PL is breaking its own rules or not.

It is indeed a sensitive subject and a tricky one to navigate without words becoming bent out of shape and misrepresented but there are questions to be asked about the activities of Jamal Khashoggi’s reported fiancé Hatice Cengiz.who is taking a wholly disproportionate interest in the Saudi-backed takeover of Newcastle United. She appears to have little campaigning interest in any of the other major acquisitions being undertaken by the Saudi Arabian PIF.

Why is that? Who is supporting her? Who is using her grief as ordnance in the soft-war between Qatar and Saudi Arabia? I’d suggest the answers are in Doha.

I can’t verify the provenance of the source enclosed but some of the points raised here are perhaps worth checking out, refuting or confirming:

You might also wonder why Masters would write to Cengiz in response to her plea to block the Saudi takeover expressing a view that he was “extremely sympathetic to your client’s position” while the takeover is yet to be decided and he is under no obligation to do so. Masters would have known his response would have been used as PR capital. Yet he went ahead anyway. 

But the presumption within the Telegraph article “Premier League has acknowledged it is examining allegations of murder and human rights abuses as part of the owners’ and directors’ test” just can’t be accurate. Unless of course, the Premier League was preparing to break its own rules.

I’ve long passed the point of no-return with this country’s political class. I’m not alone – the venality, hypocrisy and selfishness have turned many of us cynical.

But the story click here about sixteen MPs and Peers writing to government to demand a more stringent test to prevent sports clubs being used for sports-washing to distract from human rights abuses was something else.

Interesting that former Labour leader, Neil Kinnock should be amongst the leading signatories of this letter. I can’t believe Kinnock cares more about PR than he does about bombs being dropped on Yemeni children. If so, he should make plain his position on the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, largely manufactured by defence contractor BAE Systems. Kinnock can explain his position to the workers at BAE in Wales click here 

Just as a footnote to The Independent’s story and for context – there are 650 MPs in the House of Commons and there are 661 life peers in the House of Lords. From a total of 1311 British politicians, the letter drew 15 signatories. You work out the percentage.    

In terms of what is really going on within our takeover – and I remain hugely cynical about the independence of the PL – perhaps the enclosed gives a wider context to the relationships Qatar has with its Middle Eastern neighbours – click here 

I’d seriously submit that human rights, TV piracy and all of that is irrelevant to this. No-one other than BeIN (Qatar) is bringing this dispute to the table and that it is by and large part of a wider piece in the dispute between them and Saudi Arabia.

I’m always sceptical when I see geo-political matters being discussed on the kick-a-ball pages of low-brow newspapers and this brought a laugh – click here As if the purchase of Newcastle United could lead to the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between two nation states with fundamental areas of dispute.

Peace in the Middle East – built on the Gallowgate End. We are definitely through the looking glass now.

But we’re 9 weeks in now. This is taking far too long. We can speculate that the PL is deferring its decision until Project Restart kicks off and the media is distracted by actual football to make its decision. The delay is part of a news management strategy. There is a view the PL is awaiting the publication of a report by the WTO which may be used to support their decision on the Owners & Directors Test.

The PL must know the delay is having a damaging impact upon the running of Newcastle United and the club is essentially in limbo.

As the piece enclosed – click here – comments it will be very difficult or impossible to prove the directors named as being linked to the takeover have any relationships with TV piracy.

The decision to rubber stamp this takeover is no longer about what is the criteria of the Owners & Directors Test – it is politics and too close a relationship with a state known for its corruption and the Premier League. Something isn’t right. 

Keep On, Keepin’ On …

MICHAEL MARTIN

With thanks to: Marc Corby, Jack McLane, Chris Betts, David Paull, Wallace Wilson, Steve Wallwork