The anxiety that we were going down this season despite the takeover has eased massively in the last month. It is barely credible we are unbeaten this calendar year but here we are 28 points on the board and up to 14th. Relegation seems a definite for Norwich and Watford and perhaps also Burnley. It offers a real threat also to Leeds, Everton and Brentford. Less so Newcastle United now.

But we aren’t out of it, until we’re out of it. The Premier League is incredibly competitive, the teams benefit from extremely high standards of fitness, analysis and preparation. There are fine margins on many occasions between the sides.

Brighton at SJP was a case in point. Not for the first time Brighton used the ball better, had great possession and looked a constant threat. Potter’s team is in a sticky patch at the moment but overall, they are a fine example of professionalism, intelligence, ambition and investment. They are a club to admire in many ways.

I felt our goals came against the run of play and the football gods were smiling on us in a first half I largely spent willing us to get to half-time 2-0 up but cursing that Murphy hadn’t punished the visitors for a horrendous error just as we approached the end of the first 45.

Even with that 2-0 cushion, I was never comfortable because of Brighton’s movement, possession and passing which showed us up. I’m also convinced that at the start of the season under Bruce we’d have thrown that good fortune away and lost the game.

That we didn’t and remained steadfast is down to the work of the manager and his staff on the training ground. Howe has the players fitter, faster, better organised and focused. Yes, new players have arrived but really we’ve been without Trippier for West Ham, Brentford and Brighton (as well as seeing out the win over Villa).

We’ve also been without ASM and Wilson. Throw injuries into the mix of Manquillo and Dummett. Our big money signing Bruno Guimarães has only posted cameo performances so the renaissance has been on the back of Wood, Burn and Targett (on loan) coming into the club.

As has been said many times by plenty of others, the transformation in Fraser, Joelinton, Schär, Willock and Shelvey has been phenomenal. They all look fitter, faster and understand their jobs better than they did under the fraud at West Brom. Howe has done a brilliant job.

But there are big tests to come.

I watched Southampton be over-run by Villa but I think we all know they are a good side and getting points on the south-coast will be something of a challenge. But if we take the two away games this week then between St Mary’s and Stamford Bridge, the former looks the place where we might get more success.

Chelsea travelled to Turf Moor and put Burnley to the sword, punishing the smallest of misjudgements to give Dyche’s side a good hiding.

Tuchel has a supremely talented side as befits the reigning Champions League and World Club winners. They have great players all over the pitch and it’s difficult to point at one or two as being their stand out performers. But I will. Reece James and Kante are magnificent players but they are surrounded by quality all over the park.

We are seriously going to have our work cut out but you didn’t need me to tell you that did you?

For all of that, I do think it is possible for us to hit 40 points at the end of the season.

There are some very challenging games on that run-in – Man City (a), Liverpool (h), Tottenham (a) are the stand-out ones that might bring trepidation. I also fancy Everton (a) to be a really big test as Goodison can be an intimidating arena and they will have us down as a must-win in their own fight.

There are others but let’s leave it at that for the moment.

I read this article in the Guardian last week – click here

It focuses on the Premier League’s Owners & Directors Test and obviously given the real debate regarding human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia and the links to the Public Investment Fund, Newcastle United is at the centre of this.

It’s not just us of course, this being the week Roman Abramovich has decided to sell up at Chelsea because of the horrific actions of Russia in their invasion of Ukraine.

Let’s try and think this all through.

The insertion of a Human Rights element to the Owners & Directors Test is completely the wrong means of approach here.

Football or indeed any sport cannot establish itself as a moral entity outside the law of the land.

You could not, for example, have the Premier League applying a moral code to the ownership of a football club by entities from a certain state which is legally allowed to do business in the UK.

So, for example, we all know there are serious concerns regarding human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. These are well articulated by Amnesty International amongst others. Amnesty also has serious concerns about Abu Dhabi and Qatar who are more than prominent in world football as we know.

It is also a fact that those countries are regarded by government as key strategic economic and security allies with whom the UK does billions of pounds worth of business.

We also know that in the world of government and international diplomacy, no country gets a longer red carpet and reception than the Saudi state and its royal family. Indeed following our club chairman (and the PIF Chairman) Yasir Al-Rumayyan attending his first ever match at St James’ Park following the takeover (v Spurs), only days later he was at a lavish reception at Buckingham Palace and presented to the Queen.

The UK does an incredible amount of trade with Saudi including the export of billions in weaponry, some of which is made down the road in BAE Sunderland (click here)  for all the faux-self-righteous lemon-sucking from the newly human rights conscious virtue signallers of a R&W persuasion.

So, the PL would very likely be acting illegally and extremely subjectively by adopting Human Rights as part of its Owners & Directors Test. It would likely be acting alone as well because I cannot imagine other countries within UEFA/FIFA adopting such provisions.

The argument is coming from completely the wrong way.

Should we have Saudis, Abu Dhabi, Russians et al owning British football clubs?

Ideally, at the heart of me I don’t think we should. Nor should we have US Hedge-fund, Sports Direct billionaires or the likes of Owen Oyston, Stewart Donald, Vincent Tan or any number of egregious wankers who take control of our clubs.

Nor should we have leveraged buy-outs, mountainous debts, eye-watering dividends and salaries or clubs stretched beyond their means.

The idea of human rights within the Owners & Directors Test is an entirely negative, self-defeating and limited step.

The answer of course is supporter ownership of football clubs something akin to the Bundesliga model.

It is impossible for a sporting body to apply a criterion it is likely would be illegal or which would result in litigation as well as jar with government policy. Sporting bodies must work within the prevailing national political and economic model, sad to say.

But all is not lost. Were football clubs to be changed fundamentally and be treated as community assets with mechanisms for supporter control then you are putting the direction of a football club – be it business-wise, ethical and everything else – squarely in the hands of a football club’s support.

It is barely believable that the debate about human rights being part of the Owners & Directors Test features no part of the narrative about Tracey Crouch’s charter, which to absolutely no-one’s surprise has largely been snubbed by the PL so-called “big 6”.

These are separate but causally linked issues but the premise remains the same – supporters should own in full or in part, the football clubs they sustain.

Until that is delivered then the Premier League will operate much the same as every other part of the British economy.

 

I had the good fortune of participating within a TF podcast last week. You can get it on it here.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and I hope you think it is worth a listen.

I think we covered a lot of the areas in question but we missed out a few items and I hope Charlotte and Adam forgive me for going back over that ground.

Areas we didn’t cover remain the financial model which keeps Staveley and Ghodoussi with the club despite the vast financial differences between themselves and PIF and the Reubens.

We didn’t cover the arrangements between Staveley and Ghodoussi and Mike Ashley which remains opaque at present. I’ll not even pretend to have any theory or understanding about what that is all about.

There will need to be answers to those questions at some point.

As for Ashley’s litigation with Staveley and Ghodoussi (and it is them as opposed to Newcastle United, curiously enough) I tend to see this through the prism of our former owner’s appetite to take people to court as part of his business operations.

Damage Mike Ashley’s reputation? How is that even possible?

I thought my TF compadre Matthew Philpotts had another very interesting take on the Staveley and Ghodoussi interview in The Athletic and you can get that here.

With over a week gone since George Caulkin’s interview with Staveley and Ghodoussi I have a lot more questions. We know they want success at United and we all love that searing ambition.

But we still have no idea about what kind of club they wish to create beyond the PR.

Will Staveley and Ghodoussi engage meaningfully with the Newcastle United Supporters Trust? What is their approach to key issues such as the European Super League, which I saw twitching on the mortuary slab last week?

Time will tell of course and it probably bring opprobrium from some to even raise the questions given the feel-good factor around the place right now.

But we as supporters, more than most, should not be the clapping seals being fed fish for the entertainment of anyone. We’re not Mackems and their easy acceptance of the latest snake-oil salesman in an FTM pin-badge.

Things look good but let’s always retain a heavy level of scepticism.

Keep On, Keepin’ On …  

MICHAEL MARTIN – @TFMick1892