Another week and still no confirmation of the Staveley-led takeover of Newcastle United. 

It has been a rum old week and although I’d like to think of myself as a relatively stable person and not one for rolling eyed conspiracy theories and hold a sceptic’s desire for evidence upon which to draw conclusions, over the last eight days I have been seriously at risk of being accused of joining the ranks of the tin-foil hat wearing fraternity. I’ll allow you, gentle reader to decide if my membership should be confirmed if you can be arsed to read to the end of this meandering prose. 

Firstly, a bit of context. No-one reading this doesn’t largely believe that TV runs football. TV companies pay astronomical sums of money to stream PL matches and as such occupy a place of strength in the game that is commensurate with their commercial power. In the UK we’re familiar with the transformative power SKY has had on the game and along with BT act as the game’s de-facto power-brokers. He who pays the piper calls the tune and all of that. 

What is largely unknown to us as home-based fans in the UK is the amount of money Be-IN pay for the rights to stream live PL football across a vast territory referred to as MENA – Middle East and North Africa. In fact, Be-IN paid the Premier League £500m for the rights to stream PL football for three years in those dominions. You might understand then Be-IN’s sensitivity about TV piracy. But also their power. 

We do also need to place at the front of our thinking that Be-IN is a company largely owned by the Qatari government. As another point to bring forward from the back of our heads is the Qataris have made significant moves into football over the last decade which has involved them purchasing French club PSG, getting their name on the hitherto unsullied FC Barcelona shirt and of course roll of the drums winning the right to host the 2022 World Cup. You will also be aware of the charges brought against FIFA of corruption in confirming Qatar as the hosts of the World Cup and how the investigations into that wrapped itself around FIFA and entangled Sepp Blatter et al. 

We can say, largely without fear of contradiction that the World Cup is going to Qatar on the back of one of the most notorious acts of corruption ever known in global sport. 

The Qataris via Be-IN won the rights to stream PL football across a vast territory. And they paid £500m for the privilege. Let’s just pause there for a second. A country behind one of football’s greatest scandals in getting the World Cup to be played in a wholly unsuitable environment, with infrastructure built on the back of what many claim to be slave labour in a country with human rights abuses not dissimilar to those of which the Saudis are accused, own the rights to stream Premier League football within that vast MENA territory. 

Take a deep breath. There is nothing to see here. Cough. 

Now I don’t suppose we would deny that the Premier League has close ties and relationships with all of the satellite broadcasters who plough so much money into the game and have transformed it into the most lucrative in the world. Who can tell how close the relationships are between those working within the Premier League and Be-IN but it would be quite a leap to suggest they weren’t close. 

Here are some questions I have. 

Are the people who had oversight of awarding the TV rights to Be-IN (Qatar) the same people who are supervising the Owners & Directors Test in relation to the takeover of Newcastle United (Saudi Arabia)? 

Has the Premier League initiated any investigation into what appear to be stage-managed leaks to the media of the type that were published by Sean Ingle in The Guardian last Monday evening? Similarly, will the Premier League investigate how it is known by The Mirror that “ten clubs” (very specific) are opposed to the Saudi-backed takeover of Newcastle United? 

In the case of Sean Ingle’s piece we can say that this would not have found its way into the pages of The Guardian lightly. Ingle is a respected, credible journalist. Not for him the cut and paste, click-bait bollocks of much of his profession. That piece can only have been published by The Guardian if Ingle was 100% convinced of its veracity and I would say that could only have come from inside the Premier League. Further to push forward with the article, I’d expect Ingle to have shared his source for the story with his editor. That information can only have been leaked from the PL but the big question is why? 

A further bit of context. Although I regard myself as a reasonably intelligent person, though far from the genius level, I am no expert in Middle Eastern politics. I make no claim to be what I’m not.  I am essentially writing this piece as a highly partisan Newcastle United supporter and ageing, awkward fanzine gobshite. 

However, even the most cursory research, largely yet to be undertaken by any of the sports-pages,will see there is a significant hostility between Qatar and Saudi Arabia which has led to the breaking off of diplomatic relationships. Saudi has accused Qatar of supporting terrorism and having links to Iran, with whom this country and its allies has its er, ahem issues. Again, even the smallest amount of research will confirm Qatar giving refuge to such charmers as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Just a pause – Qatar-Be-IN own the TV rights to stream Premier League football and have paid PL clubs £500m for the privilege. A country alleged to have links to enemies of this country and its allies not to mention appear on Amnesty International’s watch list for human rights abuses. On you go, have our TV rights, just leave the dough on the step there. Bish-bosh, UK PLC at its best. 

I may have missed the brouhaha around that. 

This is where we as Mags are pulled onto territory we never imagined we would when we started leaping around on terraces at goals scored by Supermac in the 70s in my case taking me to the post-carbon futures being imagined by the world’s largest oil producing nations, not least amongst which are …. roll of the drums …. Qatar and Saudi Arabia. 

Qatar like Saudi is looking to that post-oil world where economic dependency switches from carbons to renewable energy. The narrative around these Middle Eastern manouveres has so far largely been around sportswashing and image management. That will inevitably be a product of moves into football and the entertainment industry generally. But its about more. It is driven by economic strategy. 

Football has become a scene for a proxy-war between the competing interests of Qatar and Saudi Arabia and it is being played out around the takeover of Newcastle United. 

That is why the grief of Jamal Khasshoggi’s fiance is being weaponised in relation to the Newcastle United takeover but not in the Saudi accumulation of cruise liners, great works of art and Warner. Who is exploiting this woman is your guess but I don’t think it would be impossible to join the dots back to … well, who can say? 

The question that should be being placed by proper journalists of the calibre of Sean Ingle at The Guardian is … why am I being given this information? Why is it this person making me privvy to this? What are they standing to benefit from it being published – personally, directly or indirectly? Am I being used? Who are their allies and what relationships do they have around this entire piece etc? Where are their vested interests? What are their checks and balances to ensure an unimpeachable level of probity? 

There’s a bottom line here and it is this – has a country, known to have used complex networks to gain no less than the FIFA crown jewel, show-piece of football, the World Cup in 2022, through industrial-scale bribery, had a corrupting influence on the Premier League to the degree it is manipulating people within it, to protect its own interests by working to block the Saudis from gaining an entry point into football, from which they would compete for TV rights in the next bidding round? Thus presenting a significant challenge to the hegemony Qatar has established with live sport in the MENA territories. 

I don’t know the answers to that in honesty but at the very least I’m asking the question and calling for some scrutiny on how the Premier League operates and the individuals within it, who sit within the cross-hairs of massive amounts of money and nation-state economic aspiration are monitored and who has oversight of them? 

This should have been settled by now. Throughout the process there has been a repetition of “no red flags” but on Monday it all changed. And then it was followed by a series of news breaks which carry all of the whiff of a coordinated effort to derail the takeover. 

Who is behind this? I would suggest it is unquestionably the Qataris working to protect their interests.

The more salient question is who are their friends and allies within the Premier League and what interests do they share? 

We might have to wait for answers. Just keep following the money to at kleast understand the questions. 

Keep On, Keepin’ On …

MICHAEL MARTIN