Investment in the club will not cause Newcastle to lose our identity, like a Manchester City or Chelsea.
Amanda Staveley’s recent interest in Newcastle has quite rightly provoked a lot of excitement among fans, especially after the miserly stewardship of Mike Ashley.
Ashley has refused to invest properly in the squad for many years, as we all know. It is staggering to think, for instance, that Newcastle’s record transfer fee is still the £16 million we paid for Michael Owen 12 years ago. These days that would only buy you a third of Kyle Walker.
Staveley was instrumental in the Abu Dhabi takeover of Manchester City and is still backed by eye-wateringly rich men in the Middle East who, we are led to believe, would be only too happy to spend some of their billions at St James Park.
If Staveley and her friends got their way, however, would Newcastle United go the way of Manchester City or Chelsea and other clubs who have been bought out by foreign billionaires?
These sides may be trading Premier League titles and going toe to toe with the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich in Europe, but if you speak to many Manchester City or Chelsea fans, they will struggle to identify with many of the highly paid mercenaries who wear their team’s shirts these days. It is without doubt that for all their scintillating football, City have lost something since becoming one of the richest clubs on earth and as for Chelsea, one only has to see the way their players downed tools under Jose Mourinho to see that something has gone from the soul of the club.
This may be blind optimism but I don’t think the same thing will happen to Newcastle United if we join the rich list. For starters, St James Park is already a 52,000 seater stadium with one of the best atmospheres in the country. There will be no need for us to leave it for a modern soulless bowl to accommodate new fans. Admittedly, City left Maine Road before the current owners took ownership, but it has to be admitted that the Etihad does not have the same atmosphere.
Secondly, and the importance of this cannot be overstated, we are a one club city in one of the most passionate football centres in the country. It is difficult to lose the soul of a club whose stadium and team is rooted in the identity and heart of the city. Perhaps in cosmopolitan London, with so many different teams to choose from, the identity of a club can become blurred as Chelsea’s has been. Even Manchester, one of the greatest hotbeds of football in the country, is not a one club city.
Newcastle lives and breathes football and always will. Success or riches will not change that.
Finally, there is Rafa Benitez.
Surely no one in the club’s recent history has understood Newcastle United, its fans and its city as much as our current manager does. Rafa “gets” Newcastle, in a way that many previous managers and players never did, especially Alan Pardew. He certainly gets it in a way Mike Ashley has never even tried to.
He is also a regular fixture in the city, getting involved with everything from five a side tournaments to the local foodbank, and he ensures his players do the same.
With this man in charge, it is almost inconceivable that the club and its players could ever lose touch with their fan base and become a soulless corporate entity.
Nothing ever runs smoothly at Newcastle United, but if Mike Ashley finally leaves the club we can be optimistic that life under new owners, especially with the calming influence of Benitez, will be better not worse.