There’s no question the Saudi backed takeover of Newcastle United presents a challenge in a variety of different ways. After almost 8-9 months the issues that came with it aren’t going away.

The manner in which Newcastle United is vilified by parts of the media has polarised discussion and that is where we have drifted over these last 7-8 months post-takeover. The way some football journalists have approached the subject of Saudi ownership has alienated us and we’re at risk of becoming tin-eared to the issues related to the operation of our club. I’m describing myself here as much as anyone.

Clearly, when a cabal of journalists attempts to monster Eddie Howe in a post-match press conference at Chelsea and has the arrogance to sneer at NE-based journalists for the offence of asking the United manager about the game we’ve all just watched, then supporters will react in defence of the club and those employed by it .

Similarly, when supporters are labelled Saudi propagandists, useful idiots and apologists complicit within the sports-washing of Saudi Arabia we will point out the iniquity of that abuse. Place that alongside so-called journalists in the main-stream media making macabre references to Newcastle United supporters and the horror of public beheadings then we’ve entered a dimension none of us thought we’d end up in for the sin of following The Mags.

We’ve all seen the double-standards in relation to the vitriolic coverage of our club. The volte-face from some journalists’ sentiments expressed about money coming into football generally including other clubs, the vanilla treatment of Saudi involvement in F1, Golf, Boxing and horse-racing have raised discussion amongst us as supporters and widely high-lighted via independent fan media.

It isn’t irrational to wonder at disproportionate criticism of Newcastle United which stretches to supporters. The bile has been something else at times. “The most hated club in the world”  description as a dangerous incitement. It isn’t irrational of us to suspect a regional class-based prejudice against the NE and a sneering metropolitan bias towards us. We’ve had plenty of that down the years.

But we need to park that. Anyone with an interest in foreign affairs understands the UK has a close economic and diplomatic relationship with Saudi Arabia. If the UK’s head of state sends a gold carriage to transport a Saudi monarch up Pall Mall to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen with full diplomatic works can’t be said to be anything other than highly valued. It has been that way for decades and given concerns regards energy security as a result of the war in Ukraine it is likely to continue for many years to come.

No-one is going to tell the workers at BAE (including those at Sunderland) to stop making ordnance to sell to Saudi Arabia any time soon and nor should they. No-one in the British security services is going to decline intelligence passed to it from its Saudi contemporaries when that information can help keep us safe.

However, none of this absolves us from discomfort at the nature of the regime which holds 80% of a stake in Newcastle United! We’re not really going to argue the separation case between the Saudi state and PIF are we?

It is not difficult to express how abhorrent the Saudi state is right now. It is repressive, wholly undemocratic and its treatment of women and homosexuality can only be described as barbaric.

I’m not making it up. I would encourage any supporter to have a read of Amnesty International’s online section dealing with Saudi Arabia – click here

There’s a specific section dealing with Sports-washing in connection to Newcastle United – click here

Amnesty’s measured words are sober, reflective and worthy of respect. There is none of the hysterical and absolutist denunciation we see from those who’ve spent most of their professional lives in a football bubble.

Similarly, when David Conn of The Guardian raises questions how the UK government has acted and what the PM has said about the takeover, perhaps (ahem) being different to his actions, then these are legitimate points to raise by a real investigative journalist in a functioning democracy – click here

Additionally, it is right questions are raised regards the conduct of the Premier League in handling the take-over, the Owners & Directors Test, nation-states owning football clubs – we can’t say we haven’t done plenty of that ourselves, led doughtily by the Newcastle United Supporters Trust.

In my heart, I don’t think it is right that 80% of Newcastle United is owned by the Saudi Arabia PIF. I will always believe supporters should own their clubs and a Bundesliga model is superior to ownership models in the PL. When I express distaste for the Saudi-backed ownership of Newcastle United, it is no different to how I feel about those that own Arsenal, Chelsea, Spurs, West Ham, Man Utd, Everton, Liverpool et al.

But that model of fan ownership is not going to be viable for a successful Premier League football club. I’ve reluctantly come to accept that. I’ll also point out the Pledge 1892 scheme led by NUST and designed to move partial ownership of the club towards supporters received zero interest or support from those who lead the criticism of the current ownership.

Perhaps the metropolitan media were happiest with Newcastle United as Mike Ashley’s Zombie club, a basket-case and source of news-lines for a couldn’t-give-a-fuck national readership?

In the real world, in the game created by 30-odd years of the Premier League, where money has been concentrated at the top end and where inequality between clubs is hard-wired then the only way a club such as Newcastle United can compete, can develop as a football club is a takeover such as the one that was completed on 7/Oct/21.

The Newcastle United takeover doesn’t signal the start of a new trend in football, it is another milestone in a journey characterised by unfettered capitalism, TV deals with Qatar, Russian oligarchs and Abu Dhabi, US Hedge-fund and sports franchises owning our clubs. I don’t celebrate that but just record it as fact.

That’s why I simultaneously bemoan and celebrate Newcastle United being owned by a consortium controlled by the Saudi PIF. It is so far from my idealism of how football should work but in the grasping, football snake-pit created by the Premier League and others, it offers the only option for our club to thrive, grow and succeed.

But this logic doesn’t take us into a moral cul-de-sac and supine acceptance at everything the Saudis will do with United. I don’t think there is a chance of us ever viewing Newcastle United as an extension of the Saudi state. We didn’t accept our allotted role as the Sports Direct works team so the same riles apply.  Our club will always be about us, the people of Newcastle and the wider region. It will always be the cap badge of our Geordie identity, regardless of how the Saudis intend to use it.

For what it’s worth, it is my contention the long game with Newcastle United is the nurturing of an asset linked to PIF’s strategic intention to grow the value of its fund. The club is but a very small part of that over-arching direction. Sports-washing may be part of the plan but there is a hard fiscal dimension and it does us well to remember no-one is here to squander money and there will be a return one day.

We should remember what enraged us so much when Ashley was here – the lack of investment in key facilities (training ground, stadium) and the squad. The lack of vision and commitment to the academy not to mention lack of attention to the Foundation as the key driver of engagement with the wider community and the isolation from wider regional civic society, not to mention its treatment of its own non-playing staff.

There was dissatisfaction with the investment in the Newcastle United Women’s team as well as to the Equality agenda more widely. On this latter point, United dragged its heels despite PL pressure to implement measurable actions which would speak of the developing values of our sport. Ashley’s club had to be dragged screaming and kicking into that world.

We bemoaned the conduct of the club in its treatment of certain individuals – Keegan, Shearer and Gutierrez most sickeningly.  We were unhappy about Ashley’s businesses receiving coverage that provided nothing for the club, the cheapening of everything around United with Wonga, Sports Direct Arena and the distance between supporters and those running United could never have been wider.

The club had a fundamental lack of class, ambition, respect and direction.

In my opinion, these latter points are what concern us most as Newcastle United supporters.

There are other elements that are completely beyond our gift. I don’t see how a group of football supporters can shape the UK government’s foreign, trade, security policies. It is almost ridiculous to write that down and speak it out loud. It is a laughable proposition.

That doesn’t mean we should be deliberately ignorant of where the money is coming from to take Newcastle United forward. But nor should that knowledge make us needlessly hostile to those running United either.

Our responsibility as supporters is to be consistent in the things we complained bitterly were absent in Ashley’s Newcastle United.

It is too obvious to say we want to see monies investment in the practical business of improving the club as a sporting institution. It goes beyond that.

It is the type of club we want to support that should exercise us and for me that is one that is centred in our community, is progressive, engaged and a beacon for all of us and an exemplar to the rest of the game.

I hope we want a club that is engaged with its support and which views the passion of the best fans in football as an asset rather than as a threat as Ashley did.

We’ll have to do that in part by recognising some of the opposition to how we run as a club is merited (see Amnesty International and David Conn, The Guardian) is wholly legitimate whilst others is fake, gratuitous, misconceived and pointless – see treatment of Howe and the juvenile insults we have faced as supporters as evidence of the latter.

There are some who of course will question a flawed dichotomy of a club ultimately owned by a nation-state with a horrendous a human rights record with one extolling the modern values we aspire to via Newcastle United.

But that is moot because we will hopefully put pressure on our club to behave correctly not because it might have a vague impact upon an incoherent definition of Saudi sports-washing but more for what it means to Newcastle United and its place in our regional life.

The new owners have made a good start. There are commitments to physical infrastructure at the training ground and at St James’ Park. That extends to long overdue recruitment in players and the appointment of the much coveted Dan Ashworth as Technical Director – his expertise critical to building a re-energised football club.

I’m pleased at the clear intention to invest in the Newcastle United Women’s Team. There have been sensitive responses to the club’s culture with the renaming of Shearer’s Bar and the relocation of his statue. Whatever the position is regards treatment of the LGBT+ community is in Saudi, all I can see is positivity towards that community around United here in the NE.

There is a long way to go but Staveley and Ghodoussi have met with the Newcastle United Supporters Trust and I’d hope that is sincere and followed up with the implementation of the correct arrangements and appointments to make fan engagement meaningful.

We are at the start of a journey and one I hope is one of the most successful eras in the history of our club. But I really hope we can concentrate on what is in our gift to push the club to achieve, mindful of where the money is coming from to deliver it and be able to differentiate where there is legitimate criticism from the empty white noise.

It will be difficult, I’m sure we’ll need to revisit what we think about the club’s ownership but we’re here for Newcastle United. We hope to witness the development of a club that makes us proud and it is irrelevant what anyone in Saudi Arabia thinks about that.

Keep On, Keepin’ On …

 Michael Martin, @TFMick1892

NB – I hope I’ve achieved what I wanted to with this piece – but grateful for questions, points and observations because it is incredibly complex and if I’ve missed the target, help me out – comments welcomed in boxes below!