Having made two trips to the concourse, first for some sweets (and a sneaky bottle of rank lager), and then a trip to the toilets with the kids I finally got to sit down in my seat in anticipation for what I thought was going to be a monumental win for Newcastle United. The game in question was our FA Cup tie against Oxford United on 25th January. I pulled my i-Phone out of my pocket as the kids tucked into their exorbitantly priced Starbursts (note to self for the 150th time, buy them outside the ground you muppet) and had a scrawl through Twitter. “Saudi’s close in on £340m takeover of Newcastle United”. I shook my head, put my phone in my pocket and got back to looking forward to watching the debut of loan signing Nabil Bentleb. It was an instantly forgettable fixture, but the fallout from that Wall Street Journal piece continues to this day.
I stewed on the news over the weekend as we have heard it all before. As far back as September 2008, less than 15 months after buying Sir John Hall’s shares, Ashley has been trying to sell the club. If we are to believe Ashley, and many don’t, then the club has been on and off sale more times than a three-piece in DFS. We’ve had tyre kickers and time wasters, Mexican’s and Indians and yet the man at the helm is still Michael James Wallace Ashley. I was sceptical to say the least, however the media seemed sure that this was it, it was the end game. I dropped North East journalist a message and I asked him if he thought it was credible and his response was “I do…noises are that Ashley is ready to talk (properly) about T&Cs and price but the Saudi’s are the gamechanger”. Well that was it for me. I was properly hooked in. On the same day that we exchanged messages it was announced that two people had tested positive for Covid19 in York.
— True Faith: Newcastle United Fanzine and Podcast (@tfNUFC) April 6, 2021
As ever with Newcastle United there was “no comment”. There were details leaked about who the three parties were, PCP, The Reubens and of course PIF and then it went quiet. Which is the way Ashley likes it, unless it’s his side doing the leaking to benefit him. By early March there was a flurry of strange news stories about other potential offers incoming, Floyd Mayweather possibly being the strangest. On the pitch we had failed to win in the Premier League since we shit-housed a win against Chelsea on January 18th. At that point we went to Southampton for what would be our last taste of Premier League Football until June, as the Covid epidemic would grasp the country by its knackers.
As we entered lockdown things really took off as there was little else to take the mind away from watching Boris and his lackeys totally screwing the NHS, the care system and the elderly – well actually pretty much everyone truth be told. The rolling 24-hour news of deaths increasing, infection rate rising and daily news conferences with ministers bumbling their lines and making it up as they went along. Go to work, don’t go to work; shake hands, don’t shake hands and finally, stay at home. Suddenly everyone was an epidemiologist.
One North East journalist, who had been ‘close’ to the first (or was it the second, I’m losing count) Staveley led bid, had pretty much kept his cards close to his chest. Then, on March 30th, George Caulkin, still fresh from writing about inflatable penises at The Hawthorns, shot his takeover load all over the Newcastle United fanbase and all hell broke loose. “The Mike Ashley era at St James’ Park has never been closer to ending” he said.
I’d kept the kids in the dark up to this point as I couldn’t bare to go through the heartbreak of it falling through. I spilled the beans. Actually, we were a week in to lockdown and the only way I could think of to get them to come out and walk the dog was for us to play “who should we sign?” which gave them the options to sign three ‘marquee’ signings to add to our existing squad. It was a great plan for about three days. Kids are very, very impatient. Within 3 days they were asking me “has the takeover gone through yet?” every twenty minutes and I instantly began regretting the decision to tell them.
Soon after George Caulkin’s Athletic piece everyone became an expert on the Middle East geopolitical situation, international TV piracy, human rights and the Premier League owners and directors’ tests as well as infection control and epidemiology. It was fascinating at first, I mean what else was there to do. By the end of April, we’d watched everything on Netflix, even the club had given up trying to recreate a matchday experience by showing games ‘As Live’ on a Saturday afternoon as they ran out of ‘wins’ to broadcast. On Twitter, the ‘George Cross brigade’ had swapped out their beloved England flag emoji’s for Saudi ones and had replaced their avatar picture with images of Mohamed Bin Salman. It was at this point I felt things may have gone a bit too far.
New Online – bit of a heavy read – what happens ot the takeover deal and various tests if #NUFC is relegated – @yousef_1892 puts some answers for TF – a v good piece of informed analysis – https://t.co/wufhv3rd4v
— True Faith: Newcastle United Fanzine and Podcast (@tfNUFC) April 6, 2021
We were now fully in to summer, the infection rates had fallen, people were allowed back to eat scotch eggs in pubs and all was looking great in the world, people were going on holiday and football was back, we couldn’t go, but it was back.
There were more leaks coming out of the Premier League than sieve with bullet holes in it. More stories got written, more podcasts released and still we wait for something concrete from someone – from just about anyone. Week after week the Premier League remained silent, as did the club. There were ‘no red flags’ until there was a fucking massive red flag when PIF announced that they were pulling out on July 30th. They must have had second thoughts having watched Steve Bruce’s team fall apart after the lockdown as they failed to win any of the last 8 games of the season.
So that was that then, if the money has gone then it’s off. But wait, out of the shadows crawls Ashley and says that he was “100% committed” to the deal that is no longer on the table. Eh?
When I look back at what happened next I still can’t get my head around it. Somehow, Amanda Stavely managed to unite what seemed like the entire fanbase together to round on the Premier League and demand that the takeover should happen. 14 years of fan led protests including coffins, walk outs, walk ins, boycotts, meetings, letters, flags and season ticket throwing and we had never managed to have this kind of impact. The Trust played a huge part in ‘rallying’ the troops and thousands of letters were sent to MP’s. Impressive stuff, and to some extent it worked. The PL talked. A few statements were released by the Premier League stating that there were red flags all the way through. They suggested arbitration to resolve the issue and at that point PIF took their ball home and didn’t want to play anymore. Staveley has now retreated into the long grass.
The next couple of months were really shit. The second wave started to take hold. People who had braved going on holiday were cutting their holidays short, then having to self-isolate. Lessons were not learned by the government and we went into a lockdown too late and yet again this indecision cost people their lives.
If you're after a good read you can dip and out of and you love your #NUFC history – then get on this – LOOK BACK IN ANGER, THE ROCK & DOLE YEARS – 1946 TO 1960 – Ken Brown – Free fully illustrated PDF download – reads brilliant on i-Pad or Tablet – https://t.co/ph5Apdddrs #NUFC
— True Faith: Newcastle United Fanzine and Podcast (@tfNUFC) April 5, 2021
“Newcastle have confirmed they have taken ‘arbitration proceedings’ against the Premier League”. What. The. Fuck? This was the first communication to come out of the club for months. Once again, everyone became a legal expert, and this is around the time that Twitter became an absolute cesspit. Everyone seemed to be at everyone else’s throat. Blocking, counter blocking, muting and pile-ons. Meanwhile, Newcastle United had Covid 19.
This had all been going on for almost a year. The team had been absolutely woeful for the vast majority of that time. Fans were kicking off about the state of play, the manager and ownership. In the real-world close family, relatives and friends had been getting ill, and in some cases dying. We had been unable to see anyone, do anything, Christmas was on – then it was off. Then we got locked down – again. But there was some good news, a vaccine, there is light at the end of this tunnel. The bad news was on the pitch as we were midway through a losing streak which surely must see the end of Bruce.
Just as we were about to send the kids back to school “Newcastle United lose bid to remove head of panel considering legal battle with Premier League”. To be honest by this stage I wasn’t interested, apart from the Chronicle and The Gazette running stories more often than my kids asking, “Has it gone through yet?” most journalists had parked it, and for good reason.
It’s now 14 months since the WSJ ran the piece stating that the deal was close and could be done within weeks. We are no closer to a sale happening than we were when I took my seat in the East Stand and watched a limp Newcastle United scramble a draw against League 1’s Oxford United in the FA Cup 4th round.
What next? Nobody knows. Relegation looking like a real possibility, which will hardly lift our spirits, on the flip side if we stay up Bruce will reportedly get a new contract and a pay rise. Half the country has been jacked up on Oxford/Astra Zenica and there is talk of returning for the final two games of the season. There is light at the end of this pandemic tunnel, finally. And the takeover? Well that’s the £300m question, even if the arbitration goes in Ashley’s favour it doesn’t end the process, it just starts begins again. I was sucked into it all a year ago, and it’s just tedious now.
My kids have returned to their grass root football now and that is where the joy is for me after this torrid 14 months. I am desperate to see the back of the pandemic, and this takeover, which seem to have dovetailed perfectly in to sucking life and hope out of me and many others for far too long.
TIM WOOD – @WoodyLad8