The most publicly recognised member of the consortium which attempted to buy Newcastle United from Mike Ashley last year, Amanda Staveley has written an open letter to the Rt Hon Tracey Crouch MP.

Crouch is chair of the fan-led review of football governance and recently held a dedicated meeting with the Newcastle United Supporters Trust to discuss their grievances with Ashley’s running of our club as well as the conduct of the Premier League in relation to the aborted takeover and the Pledge 1892 scheme to enable supporters to buy a stake in NUFC.

The review was initiated in response to the aborted attempt by six Premier League clubs to join a European Super League, a move roundly condemned by supporters, players, coaches, managers, broadcasters and which has brought under scrutiny how football governance operates in English football. Full details regards the review can be found here on Gov.UK – click here

The letter from Staveley comes days after Newcastle United published an earlier demand that the Premier League agree to the upcoming arbitration to decide if they handled the Owners & Directors Test correctly should be held in public. Currently, the arbitration will be heard in private. Ashley is attempting for competition litigation he is bringing against the Premier League which may be held in public. There is no date set for that action. The demand from United was underlined by United’s counsel Nick De Marco.

That request was supported by the Newcastle United Supporters Trust who have referred to the Premier League telling NUST it wished for supporters to be updated with the facts of the case. NUST had a meeting with the Premier League to express unhappiness at the PL’s handling of the takeover bid. Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah has also called for the arbitration to be held in public.

This would now seem to be a choreographed action between Ashley (the seller) and Staveley (the buyer) to have the arbitration heard in public. So far, the Premier League has declined to comment and it is unlikely they will agree. The implication from these requests is Ashley (seller) and Staveley (buyer) believe there is information which will be discussed within the arbitration which will be at least embarrassing to the Premier League and possibly damaging to its reputation and credibility.

That information may be linked to the relationships between the Premier League and Qatari broadcaster, beIN who own PL TV rights for the Middle-East and North Africa region. Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been engaged in an acrimonious economic and diplomatic dispute for several years. Some believe this dispute and Qatar’s beIN broadcasting leverage has been exercised to prevent the Saudi-backed takeover of Newcastle United.

Some supporters have initiated a petition  for the arbitration to be heard in public but as yet it is unclear who is being petitioned and what power they have to direct that. Certainly, Chair of the Fan-led Review of football governance, Tracey Crouch MP will have no power to instruct the arbitration to be heard in public. Only the Premier League can agree to that within the terms of the arbitration.

These public calls for the arbitration to be heard in public can be viewed as attempts to place pressure on the Premier League and create the impression (real or imagined) that the Premier League has something to hide.

However, as has been stated previously by this fanzine and others, whether the arbitration is heard in public or otherwise will have no bearing on its outcome. Embarrassing or damaging the Premier League will be a pyrrhic victory were the arbitration panel not to agree the Premier League mishandled the Owners & Directors Test or failed to follow its own rules.

The key element is whether the arbitration panel agrees the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia is a separate entity from the Saudi government of which Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is the head of state. If it does agree it is a separate entity then there is a possibility the takeover bid may be revived. The opposite is true if it decides there is no separation.

How you interpret these very public calls for transparency in the arbitration is largely your choice. Some might view it as a clever manoeuvre to heap more bad publicity and thus pressure on the Premier League so that they fold and agree a settlement with the Ashley-Staveley which will allow PIF to come back to the table. Others might believe there is something desperate in all of this that might belie the weakness of Ashley’s case. Others might believe this is unrelated and may be related to the terms of the takeover bid and non-refundable deposits. All views are entirely speculative.

Everything else in that regard is noise, though it would be better for football governance generally for this arbitration to be held in public. That would treat Newcastle United supporters with a degree of respect that has been lacking from all parties thus far. But that is a sub-plot within this interminable drama.

The key element will be for Nick De Marco acting on behalf of Ashley to demonstrate there is separation between PIF and the Saudi state.. If he’s unable to do that then any thoughts of a takeover is largely dead in the water.

Let’s not forget the main subject in all of this – is PIF separate from the Saudi state?

Here is the letter Staveley wrote to the Rt Hon Tracey Crouch:

“Dear Ms Crouch,

“I am writing to you, given PCP Capital Partners’ well-publicised interest in acquiring Newcastle United Football Club.

“In order to demonstrate our commitment to keeping the Newcastle fans as informed as we can, I write this to you as an open letter.

“We were very pleased to see the Government’s announcement a few months ago that there is going to be a detailed review into the governance of football, led by you. Fans across the country will be hugely grateful that the issues should finally be addressed.

“A closely guarded lack of transparency from those responsible for the regulation of football does not generally promote good governance. In particular the use of arbitration to resolve disputes within football raises an effective shield against public scrutiny – and one might justifiably ask why that model is so favoured by those responsible for regulating the sport if they have nothing to hide.

“You have may seen NUFC’s press announcement from Thursday. Fans surely deserve absolute transparency from the regulators across all their processes to best ensure that they act responsibly. They are performing a function like that of a Government regulator – but without the same systems for accountability.

“This is very much a chance for those involved to be seen to take a robust stance – just as the Government so decisively and effectively stepped into the European Super League debacle. But there is real urgency given the NUFC arbitration hearing is due to take place this month. We need intervention immediately to force the issue out into the open. It is my view that it is likely that that would be enough to make those involved behave more responsibly and signal the Government’s intention to take effective action in the interests of the country.

“I look forward to hearing from you.

“Yours sincerely,

“Amanda Staveley.”

MICHAEL MARTIN