Newcastle takeover: a view from Wearside

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The ‘Sob on the Tyne’ banner at Villa Park. John Carver claiming he was the best coach ever and then accusing Mike Williamson of getting intentionally sent off. The forcing out of Kevin Keegan. The SportsDirect Arena. Having Alan Pardew on an eight year contract. Relegated by a Sam Allardyce Sunderland on a night Newcastle weren’t even playing. A marquee signing of Jeff Hendrick. Losing Rafa. 0-3, 2-1, 0-3 again, 0-1, 1-0 and 3-0 again – 6 derby defeats in a row. It’s all over.

For now at least, the supporters of Newcastle United can finally rejoice in the removal of the ever-present cloud which hung above and governed their football club. Mike Ashley has left, and this era – one almost exclusively of pain – is at an end that has been sought since almost the day it began.

To the brave, and somewhat controversial, new world they go, and they do so with the grudging acceptance of this Sunderland supporter. Football, like so many things, goes in cycles.

This has the potential to be a high like no other and could very well transform everything they think they know about their football club. If they are ready for that, then they should be allowed to enjoy it. The outcry which has greeted the takeover from portions of the media and wider society is unfair.

Yes, lads from Wallsend dancing around with cans of Fosters and Saudi flags has a certain uncomfortable irony to it, but at the end of the day, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has a pretty deep relationship with our daily lives already.

Now that it has brought a wave of joy, relief and most importantly excitement to a city so often betrodden and beaten in football, it should not be the moment when we all become expert human rights lawyers.

Rather than framing this moral issue of international politics through football, address it through the lens of international politics first.

Saudi Prince Al Waleed owns more of Twitter than its founder does; BP, Shell, BT (not-so-British Telecommunications), Uber, HSBC, Jaguar Land Rover, Snapchat, The Evening Standard – all subject to heavy Saudi investment and all fundamental parts of millions of lives; and lastly Oxford and Cambridge – an academic beacon for integrity, unconfined thoughts and knowledge and long a dream of so many British parents and students – take significant donations from Saudi Arabia.

Oh, and if this country had such an issue with Saudi Arabia’s records on human rights, war in Yemen and treatment of dissidents, then maybe we could start by not selling weapons and spyware to them (just short of a couple of billion pounds worth in 2020).

That politics and football should be mutually exclusive spheres is the claim of politicians who cannot handle intelligent criticism from footballers they think should be beneath them and football fans who refuse to accept that the world has changed and continues to do so.

Pride flags at St James’, supporters criticising the way the hand that feeds them decides to feed its own back home and a general increase in scrutiny because of the profile of the football club are all absolutely valid and should be encouraged.

But on this one, rather than framing this moral issue of international politics through football, address it through the lens of international politics first.

So here I am, a Sunderland fan, a turkey advocating Christmas, grudgingly accepting that the PIF should be allowed to pour cash into Newcastle United so they can buy every player, manager and trophy on planet football while we are condemned to forever live in their shadow.

The Espanyol to their Barcelona, the Schalke to their Dortmund, the Everton to their Liverpool. Or worse, perhaps. Fading to relative irrelevance while they look to take over the world. The Arsenal and Tottenham to their Chelsea, if you like.

But that doesn’t really matter. True, those six derby wins were about as good as it has got for any Sunderland fan of my age and I’m sure their 1-1 win which ended that run is remembered with similar fondness by my Geordie equivalents, but we can exist without them.

We have our own recently new owner, our own project and our own feeling that we have our club back. That should help us be the quiet neighbours we should be.

Never keen to see them succeed, but quite miserably content for them to have their day in the Saudi sunshine, after so many years of gloom.

For now, we must all sit back and let the Gallowgate revel in its moment.

At the end of the day, Newcastle United’s faithful are much like our own: long-suffering and quickly reactionary, but utterly in love with football and undyingly loyal, to the point of addiction, to our clubs. Through everything. Right now, their loyalty is being repaid with a feeling only loyalty can get you.

That is not to say buy into the much-spouted media take on the whole thing, that the Toon Army are in some way more deserving than any other football supporter of this opportunity for unimaginable success.

Coventry, Bolton, Sheffield Wednesday, Wigan, Sunderland, Bury (remember them?), Nottingham Forest, Portsmouth and right now, Derby County. Among them are clubs who have been pushed to the brink, clubs who have sustained huge followings through year upon year of misery and some who have done both of those things.

They may have lower numbers than Newcastle, but that does not make the people that are there any less deserving. It just so happened to be Tyneside’s turn.

Just what it will look like remains to be seen. Currently, the media, with despairing contributions from the supposedly credible BBC, are linking Newcastle with literally any player who is on a garish wage and isn’t playing much football.

That would seem a somewhat daft transfer policy – and anyone with the cash available the PIF supposedly have certainly won’t be that. 

For now, though, we must all sit back and let the Gallowgate revel in its moment. A moment when, for the first time in many of their memory’s, anything at all is possible.

At the Stadium of Light, we must focus on our own business, for it is more important than concerning ourselves with them.

The wider football community should do the same. Because whatever it ends up looking like, we will still be there, grins wider than either river, if it all goes horribly, hilariously wrong. Just as they would be, and might one day be, for us, if and when our turn comes around.

Image: Neil Southern via flickr

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