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Opinion

Reconnecting with Newcastle United

3 weeks ago
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On 7 October 2021, Newcastle United changed forever.

An investment group, led by the Saudi Arabian investment fund (PIF) and brokered by Ripon-born financier Amanda Staveley, bought out 100% of the shares in the football club in a deal worth around £305m.

With that, the emotions of Newcastle United fans have been thrown in what feels like a thousand different directions, though mainly an overwhelming sense of hope and excitement about the future.

However, let’s be honest, there’s baggage that comes with it. I’m mincing my words there. We would be inhuman if the human rights abuses of Saudi Arabian State, who are inextricably linked to the PIF who now own a majority stake in the club despite what the Premier League statement might say, did not concern us.

We can’t lose sight of it. It is sports washing in action and Newcastle United IS the latest piece of that Jigsaw.

I’m only pointing this out because I think we should all be bearing that in mind as Newcastle United goes into what will undoubtedly be, in the long run, a bright sporting future. I’m not here to tell fans what to think or to stop supporting the football club. Or they should not be reconnecting with the club. That would be hypocritical…because I have absolutely no intention of stopping.

I have no intention of stopping talking about the club in football terms as time goes on.

I have no intention of stopping talking about football matters (or political human rights matters).

I have no intention of stopping living and breathing each win loss or draw that comes our way. Or each signing or managerial change, or each change in the club’s infrastructure or investment into the surrounding community. I could do but it’s not just about the football for me. It’s been an obsession of mine since as far back as 1991. It sounds horribly cliched but it’s a part of me.

Famously in my family, I wasn’t a supporter of Newcastle United, to begin with. I kind of just fell into this thing called football and I didn’t really know what it was all about (One might argue I still don’t but let’s not go there…).

Really, I was no supporter back in the early part of the 90s. I think my earliest yardstick of football memory is watching Brian Clough advertise the World Cup 90 sticker album on old days ITV. My brother would put on Ceefax page 302 for the Football headlines and I would wonder what it was all about. The truth of the matter is, I didn’t really have a club originally. I was a child shouting for and sticking for the club that happened to be on the telly and won, so I’d obviously taken an interest in the game.

What swung it for me with Newcastle United was not the exuberance and swagger of Kevin Keegan, or the magical run to the first division title win in 92/93. It was that by the time I’d switched infant schools I realised all my mates were Newcastle fans, so I kind of just bought into it all that way and before I knew it, Newcastle United was embedded into my bloodstream and I started to bleed black and white. And I would never have it any other way.

The club has been an obsession of mine ever since. Mike Ashley had a right good go at killing that obsession since then, but he’s gone now and while I never gave up hope that one day things would change, I gave up all hope of competing under the ownership of a man who had no respect for the institution of Newcastle United and its supporters.

As fans, most of us are aware of the “what is a club in any case” quote attributed to the late Sir Bobby Robson so I won’t repeat it. But I will go a little bit further and ask what is a “proper football club”. Because Newcastle United doesn’t always feel like one and that annoys me at times. Sometimes it doesn’t, but there’s almost always a drama or a “circus” going on about the club; it is never dull.

Sometimes, I just want the club to be respected and most certainly not continually misrepresented. Yes we all want our teams to he high achieving but that is impossible for every club. Some clubs have higher ambitions, history and stature than others and I get that. Sometimes our fanbase are treated as one that doesn’t understand that and that brush is tarred with everybody. And that matters. All of it, everything I’ve spoken about so far, matters.

However, over the last month, it’s just been really nice to feel like I’m supporting a club that has fans at the centre again. That communicates with its fanbase; that promises engagement and investment, but not necessarily success. A club that does things properly. A club that will own up to and take accountability for its mistakes. That is a base that all high thinking clubs should start from and Newcastle United fans have every right to be excited about that.

Over the last month, I’ve had a knot in my stomach for both the good and the bad. And while I maintain the bad is important than any one football club this is still our life obsession and I remain excited for what the future will bring.

So please bear in mind, it’s okay to remain obsessed about football and not condone the actions of our owners, be it foreign or domestic.

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