For years I said I would take anybody at Newcastle United instead of Mike Ashley but…
For years, me and my friends have promised that we would get drunk for a week if Mike Ashley ever upped and left our club.
The entirety of my Toon supporting years have been under the Sports Direct owner.
Although I was weaned on tales of the Fairs Cup winners and Keegan’s Entertainers, the first game that I ever went to was the first game following Kev’s second resignation in 2008.
The end of any honeymoon period that the Cockney had, which was met by large scale protests. Protests that have continued to this day, including the 69th minute walkout against Cardiff in 2014 and the boycott of games this season. It seems more than fitting that he would choose this time to wring his hands clean when supporters are confined to their homes. Somehow ending up having the last laugh.
However, this isn’t the key reason why I feel uneasy celebrating.
For years I have said I would take anyone at Newcastle over the FCB but now it’s finally happening, I sit questioning my morals. I should be dreaming of Kylian Mbappe slotting home an inch perfect Sean Longstaff through ball to win us the Champions League; instead I sit thinking that I am complicit in a barbaric regime.
The purchase of the club by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund is a clear example of sports washing. A quick browse through the Amnesty international website shows the scale of their crimes. They are a country who have sentenced peaceful women’s rights activists to lengthy jail sentences, allegedly covered up the assassination of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi and accused of war crimes in Yemen.
Sports washing may be a relatively new phrase but the concept has been around for millennia.
Inhumane governments have always used sports to provide a mask for their more illicit practices.
The Romans claimed that it was ‘bread and circus’ that were required to stop the people from rebelling.
Mussolini used the 1938 World Cup to promote his ugly fascist agenda, as of course Hitler did with the 1936 Olympics.
Journalists from all sides of the political spectrum have been quick to point out that this is what is going on with Newcastle.
Many of our supporters have pointed to the lack of scrutiny for other clubs in similar circumstances. The most obvious ones are Manchester City and PSG. Both nouveau-riche super clubs have been taken over by gulf states with equally questionable human rights records, including the criminalisation of homosexuality.
Other premier league clubs also have owners with questionable backgrounds. Both Southampton and Wolves have links with China, a country which has imprisoned thousands of ethnic Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province. Sheffield United are also owned by a Saudi Prince and have avoided a similar examination in the press.
Many of us feel that there is an anti-Newcastle (or even Northern) bias in the national press and again feel we are a victim to this.
Another argument being made is pointing to Mike Ashely’s poor business practices. And yes, some of his policies such as docking pay to criminally low levels from workers who are a minute late, exploiting zero hours contracts and attempting to profit from the pandemic are abhorrent. He may have brought my Dad close to tears with his destruction of an ancient community institution however he hasn’t directly caused as many deaths as the Saudi regime.
Also, how many Newcastle fans would have turned a blind eye to his business practices if he had delivered us success on the pitch. I refuse to shop at Sports Direct due to my dislike of the man. However, I will happily see off pints at the Five Swans despite my distaste of Tim Martin. The protests aimed at Ashley are based solely on his neglect of NUFC and his shoddy public persona is simply another stick to, deservedly, beat him with.
For all the criticism that we have been getting from the mainstream press, the points raised are fair, but unfair to blame the fans for it. We couldn’t get rid of Ashley and now we cannot get rid of our imminent new owners.
What seems to have been left out of the conversation is complicity from other bodies. Our government sold arms to the Saudis during their creation of a humanitarian crisis in Yemen, UEFA hosted last season’s Europa League final in Azerbaijan, a country with one of the worst press freedom rankings in the world, whilst the Premier League’s fit and proper person test seems to be non-existent.
All of this puts us in a tricky situation, if we are forward thinking liberal Newcastle fans. There is little we can do. Few of us are going to turn our back on the club we love.
However, if we see a massive regional economic boom due to the new investments, success on the pitch and local legends past and present becoming more involved in the club, then our owners are going to be at the front of it.
Admittedly, all of us would much prefer local ethical business people to propel us up the league and restore dignity. However, in today’s cesspit of football finances this is seriously unlikely.
Any success is going to have to come at a cost. Us as fans need to be aware of who we are dealing with and speak out, hold them to account and hopefully the Crown Prince’s promise of bringing his country into the 21st century may actually hold some truth.
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