Unless any journalist or wannabe ITK merchant on social media has a direct line to a tiny circle of main actors, then it is fair to say, very few people in the media can claim to have a clear understanding of where any transfer of Newcastle United from Mike Ashley to AN OTHER is currently at.

I’d suggest the key people in all of this are Mike Ashley, Justin Barnes, the firm of solicitors representing the seller’s side (Denton’s I believe) and on the potential buyer’s side, Amanda Staveley, someone senior in the Saudi Public Investment Fund, the Reuben Bros and Chris Mort at Freshfields representing the buyers. If a journalist doesn’t have any of those in contact then they are the same as the rest of us, relying on nods and winks and interpreting stuff to fit whichever narrative they want to believe. As many have said, we’re all fatigued by the emotional drain of takeover speculation and few of us will go tonto until we can see that hated S****S D****T signage being crowbarred from every nook and cranny of St James’ Park. In fact, having just watched Sunderland Til I Die Pt.2 on yon Netflix and Mackems replacing weathered, sun-damaged pink seats with shiny new red ones, I’d suggest a community effort in ripping those awful red and blue logos from our stadium would be something we’d all buy into. I’ll bring my own crow-bar.

But steady on …. nothing has happened as yet to set pulses racing … though it is notable the naysayers in the media have dialled down their cynicism or those who hold that the takeover is a chimera can’t convince their own editors to allow them to express that opinion.

One thing is certain and even COVID-19 considerations permitting, this deal will not be done within the environs of St James’ Park or involve any of the so-called big players (cough) at Newcastle United.

Those in the local press building coverage around what Lee Charnley tells them on the quiet, are on a fool’s errand and need to understand the world of big football has passed them by. In a very short space of time, perhaps in only 15 years, the local football press has become practically irrelevant. The days when Alan Oliver was anointed media puppet-master for Freddie Shepherd and ran reporters from NE-based press as a troupe of forelock tugging courtesans are over and never to return.

But for one moment let us speculate on life in the immediate aftermath of a takeover of the type we have had put in front of us in various media reports.

Without question, the first one clearing his desk at St James’ Park would be the club’s faux-MD, Lee Charnley. Charnley has most to lose from a takeover because it is inconceivable he would ever occupy such a position in football ever again. Charnley’s remuneration package was increased significantly over the last couple of years but he remains one of the lowest paid of his type in the top two divisions and there’s a reason for that – he isn’t really a Chief Executive or Managing Director with corporate power – all of that rests at S****S D****T with Barnes and Ashley making the key decisions. We know Charnley is barely consulted on big ticket items and his place in the pecking order is likely to be akin to a local manager for S****S D***T – if that, given I expect his shops across the region have a higher turnover than Newcastle United. The £30m cash grab back to Ashley in 2018 which did much to push Rafa eventually out of the door was done without Charnley’s knowledge and he had little to do with the appointment of Bruce last summer. 

Charnley has also turned himself into a completely toxic figure. I can’t recall him being at all publicly communicative and he has slavishly followed Ashley’s line, apparently offering no counsel to his boss on the damage his strategy does to the club and relations with its supporters. He offers no check and balance. His latest readiness to furlough non-playing staff – extending to the club’s scouting team (an absolutely baffling move of potentially huge self-sabotaging proportions), his initial tin ear to the entreaties of the Newcastle United Supporters Trust regards direct debit payments for NEXT season’s season tickets marks him down as someone who has no place in the post-Ashley era (if and when it arrives). The charge-sheet for Charnley is a long one and many of us want to be there when he is handed his coat and given a hard kick up the arse outside The Milburn.

Not that it stops with Charnley. Kate Bradley, Head of Business Development at United replaced Nicole Aitken (who left the club abruptly – snigger) having quietly headed up the Newcastle United Foundation for a decade. Bradley has only been in her current post a short while relatively speaking to form any judgement of her performance, but there is little in her background to suggest she has anything like the corporate heft to lift Newcastle United to where any new owners hopefully want it to be. Whether Bradley’s role is little more than helping Charnley understand the difference between his arse and his elbow is a moot point but I’d rate her future prospects as highly limited under any new properly run football club.

There are others too. Lee Marshall appears to have a knack for collecting roles within a club that has a phobia for investing in its infrastructure. Variously Fans Liaison Officer, Head of Media and whatever else, it is highly likely new owners would be looking to completely reinvigorate the club’s media operation and let’s be honest currently it is all a bit what you’d expect from a bloke that sells ropey sports merchandise to people who don’t do sport. Marshall would do well to be looking over his shoulder if a takeover happens and wonder if he has a place in it for a club that will have far greater ambitions than treading water in the PL and treating its supporters like shit.

How Newcastle United gets away without having a full time Supporters Liaison Officer as per Article 35 of the 2010 UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations escapes me. As ever there is virtually no scrutiny of this by the local press. Click here for how this should work – and ask yourself if it does at our club.

We know the club does the absolute bare minimum to comply with FA and UEFA regulations around community and supporter engagement, chronically fails to punch its eight in the social, economic and political life of the region and there is huge potential to do more. Is there anyone currently at Newcastle United who has the credibility, ability and determination to achieve that currently? Of course not.

Again, Newcastle United is way behind the curve in meeting the Premier League Equality Standard – for more information on what it should be doing – click here

United appointed Lucy Oliver to a newly created role Head of Inclusion in late 2018 but she has largely been playing catch up when clubs of far less resource and profile have gone far further and faster than Newcastle United since 2015. The risk now for Oliver is that her work is little more than damage limitation and a box ticking exercise – which let’s be honest is what can be expected from Mike Ashley’s bargain bin Newcastle United. New owners will doubtless want to take this work far more seriously than Ashley and his lap-dog Charnley so we should expect a full review of how that work has been progressed. That’s potentially unfair on Oliver who works at a club with an appalling record on supporter engagement, has demonstrated recently by furloughing its non-playing staff and refused to even talk about season ticket payments, what is at its core. 

For those underneath this tranche of er, club (cough) executives I’d hope terms and conditions improve quickly and significantly. Ashley has pied off dozens and dozens of staff and their pay is often below the Living Wage. The club has ignored pleas to provide a good example by paying better salaries but the recent furloughing escapade tells us everything about the prevailing club philosophy.

But then of course there is the question of the manager, or sorry Head Coach. I read United being linked to ex-Juventus manager Max Allegri in the event of a takeover going through. I think we all take this stuff with a pinch of salt now. However, if a takeover did go through as reported, it is highly unlikely that Steve Bruce, a largely mediocre, journeyman second tier operator, would be the man the Staveley team would entrust to take them to where they would want to go. The same would obviously apply to his coaching team and the club’s scouting network would similarly require a complete reboot.

In short, we’d be looking at a whole new set up I’d hope. Not many of us would shed a tear for those who have collaborated with Ashley for thirteen soul destroying years being handed their arses.

Not that the losers would be limited to those on the United payroll. There are members of the press who have formed relationships with Charnley and indeed Bruce which has significantly influenced how they have reported on the club. A new hierarchy on Barrack Road would require a significant reset in terms of media-club relations and that would provide for a fascinating spectator sport of its own.

But the real winners in the thing would be us, the emotionally wrecked members of the Black & White congregation.

We’d have hope – and it’s a long time since we had any of that. Pray we can have some soon and have a light in the tunnel of this current national emergency. 

KEEP ON, KEEPIN’ ON …

MICHAEL MARTIN