After 14 years of neglect, Newcastle United are entering a new era. On Thursday, it was confirmed that Mike Ashley had sold the football club to a consortium headed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. The Public Investment Fund are taking an 80% share of the club. The other 20% will be split between Amanda Staveley’s PCP partners and the Reuben Brothers, the second wealthiest family in UK.
The last decade has been a joyless existence for Newcastle supporters, myself included. All I’ve known throughout my teenage and adult life is Mike Ashley’s Newcastle United. There were small glimmers of sunshine, such as the 5th placed finish in the 2011/12 season and Rafa Benitez’s period in charge. However, the majority of the 14 years has been devoid of hope.
This deal marks the return of hope. We can now dream of competing for something other than Premier League survival. The talk of winning Premier League titles comes far too soon for the fan base. That isn’t what the majority want, at least in the short term.
The scenes of celebration at St James’ Park yesterday were to mark the end of Mike Ashley’s ownership, rather than celebrating the arrival of the Saudis. At least for the majority, that was the case.
There was some criticism from a wide range of groups. Journalists, human rights activists and fans of other clubs were all hugely critical of the supporters for the way they were seen celebrating their new owners. It is a very difficult subject to approach for football fans.
The majority of Newcastle United supporters will not be experts of geopolitics or the human rights record of the Saudi Arabian regime. Nor should they be. After all, they are merely people that want the best for their football club. Huge investment has been promised into the club and for the majority, that will be an exciting proposition.
There is also the added positive that the region will receive great investment. The North East is neglected by the British government and the area will likely have economic growth in some sectors due to Saudi investment.
For the last 24 hours, I have been battling these concerns about being owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. Every supporter is going to have to tackle this issue in their own mind. There are obvious benefits, but there are strings attached.
Those strings are having the club linked to a state with an abysmal Human Rights record. While they are steering the ship, every success that the club has will be tainted by their involvement. In an ideal world, Newcastle would have been bought by an ethical billionaire or the Newcastle United Supporters Trust. However, neither is realistic in the current footballing climate.
For Newcastle to compete, they need to have the backing of a state. That is the reality of where football now is. The real questions need to be asked of the Premier League about what is involved in the Owners and Directors test, rather than the supporters.
I would hope that fans do educate themselves on who now owns the club and accept that those criticising PIF have very valid reasons for doing so. However, you can continue to support a club you have loved for your whole life, while feeling uncomfortable about certain aspects of it.
It isn’t a black and white issue. Every fan will have different feelings about it.
For now, I will celebrate the end of a dreadful era in the history of my football club.