On the 25th of January, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, joined the illustrious ranks of financiers Amanda Staverly and Peter Kenyon, Sheikh Khaled bin Zayed Al Nahyan and WWE’s chairman Vince McMahon as a potential purchaser of Newcastle United football club.
The bid, rumoured to be in the realm of £350 million, would end the turbulent 11-year reign of Mike Ashley. The sportswear tycoon, and self-proclaimed ‘power drinker’, has had an adversarial relationship with the fans ever since 2008, when club legend Kevin Keegan resigned from the club claiming lack of support from the ownership. With only one top half finish and two relegations since then and the relationship between fans at an all time low, it was announced in 2018 that the club was up for sale.
The following years have seen multiple rumours and leaks of sales to the previously mentioned parties, however little actual evidence of a sale has been seen. This has led fans of the club to suspect that the takeover news has been used as a smokescreen for a lack of spending by the club during the transfer windows. The coincidental timing of every takeover rumour just as the transfer window opens has fuelled the suspicions.
The rumoured bid raises questions around the ethics of football ownership and the suggested ‘sports washing’ of human rights abuses by the Saudi government. The worry for many is that the club could be used to improve the reputation of a regime that is linked with torture and other human rights abuses on its own citizens, through investment in players and staff, as well as through the positive media coverage that accompanies successful football teams.
As of the time of writing there has been no official communication from the club on the state of any potential takeover, however leaks to newspapers suggest that the deal could be as close to 90% complete, which has raised pressure on the premier leagues governing body to make a stand over the suitability of ownership of the club by the Saudi regime. The ‘Fit-and-proper-person test’ that is in place in the premier league is pointed to as the potential method for the halting of any takeover event, however this only governs the financials around a takeover, no mention of anything concerning the ethics of an owner.
In fact, putting to one side the potential that Mike Ashley simply refuses to sell, the biggest stumbling block to a potential takeover could be TV piracy. The Saudi’s have been linked with the distribution of pirated streams of premier league games, an offence that could cause the premier league to move to block a takeover.
This has left the fans of Newcastle United in a difficult position, with the best chance to see the removal of an unpopular owner being in the hands of a group that many fans find to be contrary to their beliefs. A situation that could not be described in any way other than just incredibly Newcastle United