News broke yesterday that Newcastle are on the verge of a takeover that would finally see an end to Mike Ashley’s reign at St James’ Park. The Cockney businessman has owned NUFC for 13 years, and made himself a major villain in that time.
Mike Ashley’s reign of tyranny at Newcastle
Mike Ashley is, and this is not even a slight exaggeration, the most hated man on Tyneside by a country mile. His handling of the club, which presents the heart and soul of the city, has been horrendous.
Outsiders often look in and say things such as “he’s cleared your debts, why are you moaning” or “well you’re still in the Premier League aren’t you – stop whining.”
While those things are true to a certain extent, the issues stem more from what Ashley hasn’t done rather than what he has.
Before he arrived, Newcastle United had been one of the top clubs in the country for a lot of years. Yes, the club had gone through something of a rough patch, bouncing around managers after the departure of Sir Bobby Robson, but the fact remained – United were a massive club begging for some proper investment.
Fast forward 13 years and very little has changed. Mike Ashley promised a lot when he took this club over but delivered very little. In his first year as owner, he alienated the entire fan base, falling out very publicly with Kevin Keegan – who is an icon at this club.
Then came the relegation – the first time United had ever been relegated from the Premier League. They bounced back, but less than seven years later, NUFC were back in the Championship following a series of poor decisions and a lack of investment.
Add to that his decision to change the stadium name to The Sports Direct Arena, as well as the fall-out with another club legend in Alan Shearer and severe lack of f**ks given for the fans or the club over the years.
Ashley has ripped the soul from this football club. Supporting NUFC and going to matches on a Saturday is what the Geordie nation live for, but the Ashley era has seen that become something of a chore rather than something the fans enjoy doing.
For the last 5-10 years, fans have been attending matches through sheer habit – despite being furious with the way the club is run. It took until this season, and the departure of Rafael Benitez, for the fans to declare that is enough is enough and stop going to games.
The reality is, Mike Ashley has never shown any ambition to turn Newcastle United into a club that can compete. He once famously stated he “cannot compete with clubs who are run by countries” – but the fans never asked him to.
They asked him to compete with teams such as Bournemouth, Wolves and Sheffield United – but even that was too much to ask for it seems. Ashley has always been happy to sit in mid-table, collecting £100m from the Premier League every season – that wasn’t good enough for Rafa, and it certainly isn’t good enough for the fans.
While it’s true that there are a thousand clubs way worse off than NUFC, that does not change the fact that the soul has been ripped from this club. This takeover might just be the spark to reignite that.
The takeover will bring the soul of NUFC back
As it stands, the takeover should be complete within a matter of weeks. The reports this morning suggest that the takeover has entered the vital Premier League owners and directors test.
If and when the takeover is ratified, the fans will celebrate for weeks and weeks. This is the beginning of a new era – one that brings with it a lot of excitement due to the sheer financial weight to the new consortium.
While talk of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar may be a little premature, it shows that the Geordie nation are incredibly excited at the prospect of having an owner with some ambition.
Reports from Saudi Arabia say that the PIF want to bring Newcastle to the next level, both on and off the pitch. For years now, the training centre in Benton has been significantly under-funded and is quite clearly unfit for purpose.
A new training centre is an absolutely essential first step in the right direction. Fans also want to see St James’ Park expanded, meaning the PIF would need to buy back the land on Strawberry Place – which Mike Ashley sold.
NUFC fans want to see their team show some ambition to progress on and off the pitch. It’s the only thing they’ve asked for from their owner for years.
While trophies and Champions League football would be amazing, it’s not the primary concern for the Geordies. NUFC have always been a club that aim big, but the Ashley era has changed that and thus removed the club from its identity.
Now, with a cash injection and a new-found sense of optimism, United fans might be able to get their club back. There’s a famous saying on Tyneside when it comes to the club: We don’t demand a team that wins, we demand a club that tries.
That line tells you more about Newcastle fans than I ever could in a thousand articles. That’s all they want. They want the club to be the best they can be. Hopefully, this new era will bring that.
A new era brings new challenges
The Saudi Public Investment Fund are set to own a controlling 80% stake in NUFC should this takeover be ratified by the Premier League. That, while very exciting from a purely footballing perspective, presents a lot of challenges for fans to deal with.
The PIF is headed up by the Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman – the future king of Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, he’s not a man who has covered himself in glory when it comes to political conduct over the years.
He was a key name mentioned in the Jamal Kashoggi murder inside the Saudi consulate in Instanbul back in 2018. Add to that the shockingly poor human rights record in Saudi Arabia and you’ve got a serious ethical dilemma for the Geordie nation to consider.
Do the fans bury their heads in the sand and refuse to think about it? Do they establish some sort of resistance to the takeover? Well, I can tell you right now that there are very few Newcastle United fans thinking about the human rights record of the Saudi royal family right now.
What they are doing is looking at the worth of the PIF, which is said to be somewhere in the region of £250bn, and thinking about all the players they’d like the club to sign.
It’s not something fans will be able to ignore forever, and it is something that will be brought up regularly. At the moment though, fans are thinking about football and football alone – but the challenges that these ethical issues present will surely become an issue further down the line.
NUFC journalist Mark Douglas of the Newcastle Chronicle asked fans whether or not the ethical issues bother them on Twitter this morning. At the time of writing, 73.9% of voters answered “no”.
Given that one of the criticisms of Mike Ashley over the years has been his ethical practices with regards to his retail businesses, it’s interesting to see the very same fans disregard the far worse ethical issues that the Saudis present.
It’s certainly going to be a thorny issue for some time to come. It’s important to note that football fans will of course prioritise the sporting implications before anything else with things like this.
At this point in time, there is a lot of excitement on Tyneside as the fans prepare for a new era. When it comes to the ethical issues, I think the term ‘Ostrich’ can be used universally to describe NUFC fans…
For now though, the time for #Cans is drawing nearer and nearer. It’s time for the Geordie nation to get excited for the future. Surely a statement from the club is due in the very near future.