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Newcastle United: What did the takeover ever do for us?

As I write, it’s been almost a year since our beloved Newcastle United was taken over by the Saudi PIF group, Amanda Staveley, Mehrdad Ghodoussi and the Reubens brothers. Almost a year since #cans became a reality. So naturally, and I imagine like many, many others, I found myself sitting reflecting.

I think we’d all share the view that it’s been an incredible year. And while there have been some nay sayers and doom merchants, I’d prefer to just file them under the headings of either ‘Idiots’ or ‘Attention Seekers’. So, if you’re sitting there still quietly seething at the fact that we haven’t bought Haaland, Mbappe or Neymar or even that we didn’t just fund the invention of robot footballers so we could win the league by Christmas, this isn’t the blog for you. Maybe shout down and tell your mam to get a wriggle on with your tea or do something else that you class as productive. Anything that makes you feel right, I suppose.

So, what did this takeover ever do for us then?

Well, I think the first thing we got was hope. As the saying went, ‘we don’t demand a team that wins, just a club that tries’. It was never all that much to ask really, was it? Surely the whole point of any sporting club is that it tries to compete? And yet, for 14 years we clearly didn’t have that. Cup competitions were deemed a waste of time and the stock line that came – infrequently – out of the club was that our season was about survival and that we couldn’t compete.

The takeover changed all that. And while the talk is quite rightly of evolution, not revolution, it would be easy to argue that after so long without hope and belief, to now have it once again is pretty bloody revolutionary! A year ago, the majority had decided that this was the year we’d be relegated again and almost all hope had gone. In fact, all we had left was the hope that it would all be over quickly. Now, by contrast, we simply hope it will never end! Many of us have rediscovered our love of the club, having had that feeling numbed by a bored owner who had more interest in balance sheets than anything positive like entertainment, love or glory.

The arrival of the new owners basically booted the club awake. Changes were made more or less immediately and the owners showed that they knew the value of easy wins. So surfaces were re-painted and what felt like 15,000 gaudy Sports Direct signs were consigned to the skip. A smart move; as a fanbase we were now even more onside with the owners.

No one can describe us as sleepwalking anymore. We are very much alive and one of the benefits of the last year has been that all of us can dare to dream again. However, it’s better than that just being something for the fanbase. The management have bought into the dream, the players sense incoming success and the owners are backing these dreams on what feels like a daily basis, while also living the very same dream and backing the team regularly, in person. Our owners are no longer reminiscent of the Ghost of Football Past.

Suddenly, there is a renewed professionalism about the club, a drive and a desire from everyone connected to it and these ingredients have built up over the past year, leaving even the most hardened cynics having some sort of tangible sense of belief. I’ve experienced too much Newcastle United flavoured heartache over the years to get too carried away, but even I’m beginning to think that given time we could be a trophy winning football club once more.

The past year has witnessed the addition of a certain level of quality and class that had been absent – or at least only ever seen fleetingly – over the previous 14 years. The most blatantly obvious sign of that has been the players that we’ve signed, with seasoned internationals like Kieran Trippier being joined by the likes of Bruno and Alexander Isaak; the like of which we all probably thought we’d perhaps never see again in black and white. But class comes in different forms too and so while we’ve signed some excellent players, Eddie Howe has brought in some excellent people too. Think of players like Dan Burn and Matt Targett and I can’t be the only one who thinks they seem like great blokes too?

This idea of class and professionalism extends to the bench and the backroom too where sometimes it can feel like we’ve appointed someone new on a weekly basis. Dan Ashworth was the classic example. A man at the absolute top of his game, in a great job who we decided we wanted and went after patiently but with focus, until we got him. The biggest compliment I can pay that particular appointment is that it’s a whole world away from the likes of Kinnear, Jiminez and Wise. And then you think about the owners. I mean, can you imagine them taking the players out for cut price pizza and then giving fans the sly Vs as they leave in the back of a car?

The coaching team seems big too. Only this week I read an article where Craig Bellamy pointed this out – there’s just more staff, which, when you think about it, makes perfect sense given the size of the squads involved in football these days. Then behind the scenes. the medical team has grown as well as areas like the Sports Science team and while I have very little idea of how it all works, the impression that I get is that it’s a whole lot more professional these days. Again, you get the feeling that the club is being run properly once more. And when you think about what the future might hold in terms of the playing squad and staff involved in helping them out, the mind might just boggle!

Those of us of a certain age might remember The Fast Show and a character played by Paul Whitehouse called ‘Brilliant’. His thing was to walk across varying landscapes extoling the brilliance of anything and everything, usually beginning with a line like, “Aren’t *insert brilliant thing here* brilliant?” And then he’d be off on an enthusiastic riff about said thing being brilliant and the many, usually inaccurate, reasons why it was brilliant. He’d end by simple shouting, “Briiiiiiilllliiiiaaaaaaannnnttt!” Funnier than I’ve made it sound, I assure you! Well, supporting Newcastle United for the last year has been just like being ‘Brilliant’.

Aren’t Newcastle United brilliant?

Imagine you’re ‘Brilliant’ and then just have a think about what you could shout about. It could be an endless sketch, couldn’t it?

“Aren’t Newcastle United brilliant? Black and white stripes like zebras, brilliant! Kieran Trippier over the wall, Amanda Staveley, Wor Flags, Jason Tindall’s tan, brilliant. Team photos, laps of appreciation where they walk around the pitch…appreciating. Bruno’s f***ing magic, Alexander Isaak, so many As in his name, it’s brilliant! Full stadiums, Maxi’s volley against Wolves, mackems fewmin’, who’s that team we call United? Brilllliiiiiiiaaaaaannntt!”

The takeover has also managed to bridge a gap that was embarrassing, but could have got to shameful levels. The womens’ team was left to their own devices under Mike Ashley and as a result it looked under-funded and it under-performed. There seemed to be a general lack of interest in the whole thing. In fact though, it was a team that had been going for ages and been ignored and neglected by the club for most of that time.

It’s to the owners’ credit that they have now brought the womens’ team under the wing of the club. It’s something that could easily be viewed as a PR exercise, but you get the impression that our owners are actually fully behind the team and want it to work.

It brings back memories of Sir John Hall’s ideas about Newcastle United Sporting Club and I personally see it as a good thing. It’s certainly managed to add to the general good feeling about the place and earlier this year the Lady Magpies, as they’re known, smashed their own attendance record when playing at St. James’ Park. The interest is clearly there so it’s just another good thing that we’re all operating under the same roof, so to speak and also another sign that the penny-pinching of the previous regime, has gone.

Speaking of penny pinching, the arrival of Matt Targett got me thinking about the benefits of the takeover in a slightly more subtle way. Matt is not the star name that some would have wanted. You’ve only got to cast your mind back to the summer speculation about Renan Lodi to see that, with social media pundits going mad for a man that probably 80% of them had never heard of. However, we signed Matt Targett. Now, some of us will remember that Targett was meant to sign for us when he was a Southampton player, but we missed out on him and he ended up on loan at Fulham. A familiar tale, sadly and no doubt another last day of the window rumour put out as a smokescreen for our usual level of inactivity. Once again, this was down to the owner’s unwillingness to spend money and we’d have been fed the usual line about ‘just not being able to get it over the line’, so it’s a subtle reminder of the changes that we eventually got him after all, regardless of what some may have made of the signing!

I’d find it hard to believe that anyone could have any real problems with how things have changed in the last year. We may feel conflicted by moral issues connected to the owners, but looking at what they’ve done for the club in the last year, any complaining would be churlish. Where a storm had been raging over Newcastle for years, these new owners have been a breeze that cleared the clouds and brought sunshine where there had been rain. It’s safe to say that it’s been a hell of a year, but it’s almost as much of a sure thing that the next 5 or 10 years promise much, much more.

So, after a year of living the dream, it’s definitely time to look forward, but also to say thank you, because we’ve got a hell of a lot to be grateful for. So far, it’s been an amazing ride – here’s to the future and whatever treats it might bring!

The NUFC Takeover: Spare me the guilt trip, there’s no shame in celebrating.

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Why do we follow our football clubs? The answer is that there are loads of answers. For me, primarily it’s a regional thing. I support my club because it’s where I’m from. Born a Geordie, it was always going to be black and white for me.

Family comes into it too. Sometimes this is believable and acceptable and at others it’s clearly just an excuse for something else. Supporting Manchester United because your gran was from Ireland and that connected to George Best is utter rubbish (but one that I’ve actually heard). The same goes for following the same team as your glory hunting dad who, despite living in Essex/Castleford/Luton/Devon/York or any other far flung location, supports Liverpool, Man City, Man Utd and the like. In my case family came into my thinking. My dad was a loyal follower of Newcastle and he was never going to let me get away with supporting anyone else. I would have to follow in his footsteps whether I liked it or not. Fortunately, I liked it having looked on forlornly every Saturday as my dad set off for the match without me, home or away.

And then we have reasons like glory hunting – see family stories above – , love of a particular player (again, not good enough), love of a kit and other miscellaneous reasons such as just picking a team, regardless of success or location.

We stick with a team largely because of success or blind loyalty. Since I started supporting Newcastle United I’ve seen us win the Intertoto Cup. Now defunct and even in its heyday a bit of a joke, we didn’t even really win it. We were awarded it because we were the surviving Intertoto entrant left in the UEFA Cup. Bizarre. But I’ll never forget Scott Parker’s not quite smiling face as he held the trophy – more of a big wall tile – in front of home fans. It’s safe to say I don’t follow the Toon for trophies. Mine, as with countless others at my club and many others throughout the country, is a tale of ridiculously blind loyalty.

With this in mind, I don’t want to be told by people that I can’t celebrate this potential takeover. I’ve spent days worrying that it might not go through, mostly because of other people’s problems with it. I’ve spent the same amount of time trying to quell my excitement. So don’t tell me not to do so – I’ve earned this.

Since I started following Newcastle United twenty seven teams have won at least one trophy in England. That’s either the title, the FA Cup or the League Cup. Several in the list have won all three, as well as European trophies. Some have won two, three, four in a season. None are clinging on to Intertoto Cup memories. West Ham, Villa and Fulham have won it, however. The list also includes the likes of Ipswich, Southampton, Coventry, Wimbledon, Portsmouth, Wigan, Forest, Blackburn, Leicester, Wolves, Norwich, Oxford, Luton, Sheffield Wednesday, Middlesborough, Birmingham and Swansea. Even a Welsh club have won an English trophy since I started supporting my team. We haven’t.

My point? My point is that no one has the right to deny us at least bit of excitement at this takeover and what it might well bring. We’ll deal with human rights issues at another time, although why it’s the job of football fans to highlight these type of things, I will never know. Stopping this takeover won’t represent a victory for human rights activists. It’ll just move the problem somewhere else. But still still be a problem and Newcastle United will still be left with an owner who doesn’t give a damn about human rights.

Let me list for you, off the top of my head, the five highlights of following Newcastle United for over 40 years. I’ll put them in no particular order, because I’m genuinely remembering them as I write.

Newcastle United 5 Manchester United 0. I wasn’t even at the game! I was living in Stoke at the time, earning a paltry wage. I couldn’t get a ticket and didn’t have the money for one. We didn’t have Sky, so we drove to my wife’s brother’s house in Bradford to watch it on the telly. Without any real detail it was other worldly. It was bizarre to see my team make Manchester United look so poor. It didn’t win us a trophy.

Newcastle United 5 Swindon Town 0 (FA Cup 4th Round 1988). Amazing result, brilliant game, we were crushed getting in as there were so many people outside the Gallowgate, we got separated and ended up in different parts of the ground and a mate who managed to stay with me had this as his first game. I was 16 and had been going for years. The whole thing was unforgettable. We didn’t get a trophy for this.

Newcastle 0 Sunderland 0 (Play-Off Semi Final 1st leg). I wasn’t at this one. I went to the ill-fated second leg at St. James’ Park and had skived school in order to queue up to get a ticket for the first leg at Roker Park. Having failed to get one I stayed in the queue and purchased a ticket for the live beam back of the game at Whitley Bay Ice Rink of all places. It was an eventful game – John Burridge saved a Sunderland penalty and was then kicked in the face by a Sunderland player. I was there with my two best mates and as the penalty was taken we sat with our hands on a picture of Uri Geller’s hand chanting ‘We Three Are One’. Because that’s what Newcastle United will do to you – reduce you to a ridiculous shell of a human who grabs on to the slightest hope that might help us out. We saved that penalty, not Budgie. Nothing had ever seemed so important. History shows we lost the home leg and didn’t get promoted, but I’ve rarely had so much fun watching football as I did at the ice rink that morning. We didn’t get a trophy for this.

Leicester 1 Newcastle 3. This was in the Premier League in August 1994. Leicester were newly promoted while we were fairly attuned to life in the big league. This was at the old Filbert Street ground and we dodged stones and bricks being thrown trying to get into the ground. The place was jumping by kick-off. We completely outplayed Leicester that day. I’d never witnessed a centre half that played like Philippe Albert. Andy Cole and Peter Beardsley played up front. Scott Sellars had a wand in the place where his left foot should have been. Three goals was kind to Leicester and it felt amazing to be supporting this Newcastle United side. We didn’t get a trophy for this.

Liverpool 1 Newcastle 0 (Ronnie Whelan Testimonial game) This was a pre-season game and another brilliant memory. I went with my best mate, travelling by train on the day of the game and being guided up to the ground by friendly Liverpool supporters. The main things I remember are Peter Beardsley getting a fractured cheekbone in the first few minutes and Mike Hooper – who had been savagely abused by us travelling fans – saving a penalty for Liverpool. Strangely, it felt like the result really mattered, although clearly it didn’t. We didn’t get a trophy for this.

My five, random favourite memories of following Newcastle. Inevitably if anyone asked me for my five favourites another time I’d list five more. And five more the time after that. I probably wouldn’t remember a great deal about any of them, but enough to know that they were brilliant in their own way. What I can definitely remember though is that none of them would have involved us winning a trophy. It doesn’t matter. It can’t matter, because I’d given up hope of a trophy years ago. It’s never been a reason to support my team. It never will be.

I don’t follow Newcastle United for any moral reason either. We do some brilliant community work these days, but I don’t find myself arguing with people about it, as if it makes us a better club than theirs. So any human rights issues that have been brought to the forefront of matters concerning this takeover can, at the very least, wait. And while the moral compass is out, why wasn’t it being waved around in the hope of finding support when Mike Ashley bought our club? Why weren’t Newcastle United fans being targeted on behalf of those suffering because of zero hours contracts and terrible working conditions? Not to mention being forced to sell Slazenger polo shirts.

If the likes of Richard Keys and others in the media care so much then surely this fight is theirs. As it happens I’ve read a lot of common sense being written by our fans over the last week or so concerning Saudi Arabia and their human rights record. But for now, we’re all focusing on the one thing – the excitement, the hope and the potential of this takeover.

It’s been said a million times in the last week, but I’ll say it gain. No one had a problem with human rights issues when Russians invested in Bournemouth or Chelsea or with Chinese money buying Wolves or investing in Southampton Barnsley or Birmingham or Reading, UAE investment in Manchester City or Charlton, Iranian money at Everton or Saudi owners at Sheffield United. The list could go on and on. So why is the takeover of Newcastle United a step too far?

Football is all about dreams. As a little kid you dream of being a footballer. As you get older you dream of a season ticket, a job that allows you to follow your team. If your team signs even a little bit of quality you dream about trophies, flowing football, success. At St. James’ Park we’ve been dreaming for decades. So just for now, excuse my dreams and excuse my excitement. Keep your agenda and let me and thousands of others enjoy something that could provide the kinds of memories that we probably never imagined we’d ever have.

Every football fan in the country might be about to witness something so special you daresn’t even speak about it happening to your club. Some of us might be about to sample it first hand. I can’t believe it might happen, but let me get at least a tiny bit excited.

 

 

 

The NUFC Takeover has me more worried than ever!

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We’re almost a week into the serious news about the latest Newcastle United takeover attempt. I say attempt, because history tells us that they never work out. Since Mike Ashley bought the club thirteen years ago and subsequently put it up for sale a couple of years later I’ve lost count of the amount of stories, rumours and consortiums that have entered all of our lives. I’m even still confused as to whether Barry Moat was actually a real person. I can’t have been the only one thinking that was a made up name, surely?

This latest story has me more worried than ever. It’s the validity that’s doing it. The hope that it brings, because as any good Newcastle fan knows, it’s the hope that kills you. Since the news broke about serious documents being submitted to Companies House, it’s felt like a long week. Day by day things look brighter. Hour by hour it actually seems like it could happen. But of course, with your sensible hat and especially if you’re of a certain age, on you could never actually believe it.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not trying to pour cold water on what, on the face of it, seems like the best news we’ve had in many, many years. If you can get excited, then do it. Get excited! In fact, get a bit more excited for those of us who simply can’t allow themselves to do it. Because believe me, when the time is right, and one of our new board members is there at the edge of the pitch with a black and white shirt or a scarf, me and many others who are at the moment terrified to get optimistic will be celebrating long and hard. #Cans indeed.

We’ve been here before though. I seem to remember that way back when, the aforementioned Barry Moat (if he’s real) came close, but we were told that he couldn’t quite raise the funds and that the lovely Mr Ashley was unwilling to give any leeway on price. At that time the price was a lot less. Typically, I built my hopes up. The man who’d taken my club away from me was on his way out. Chairman Barry was going to somehow find the money and bring Alan Shearer along for the ride. And what a ride it would be. But of course he didn’t and it wasn’t.

The club had been put up for sale and Ashley, Charnley and co had done so by putting an advert in the papers asking interested buyers to respond to a specially set up email address.  As professional as ever. If memory serves me rightly there was even time for a Sunderland supporter to launch a false bid for the club, which although it was quickly found out, was still a source of hope for a little while. A source of hope in Sunderland too, I suppose – one of their own had finally worked out how to do the internet.

Amanda Staveley, don’t forget, has also been here before. As ever, it all looked rosy. She attended a match and as a result, as well as seeing the team and sampling the atmosphere around the stadium, was presumably able to see at least some of our bridges. So with that kind of thinking, I imagined she was writing out a cheque at the end of the match in the player’s lounge. Any shortfall was being taken care of by trading in her Nectar points. Wor Amanda was the symbol of a very bright future.

Then she wasn’t. Despite the rumoured backing of oil money and the involvement of the Rueben brothers it all fell through. Mike Ashley himself called the whole thing off, referring to Staveley and the whole negotiation process as a waste of time. See, the pot can call the kettle black after all.

Despite all of this, there was time for more fun via Peter Kenyon and the Bin Zayed group. Again, both bids failed, despite appearing in an absolute blaze of glory and despite both looking legitimate and plausible. At one point during talks with Peter Kenyon, Ashley himself went on Sky to say that a sale had never been closer. It still never happened. If you hadn’t given up years ago, you probably had by this point. It may have shortly after this time that Ashley himself dropped the line into an interview that “I think I’ll own this club forever.”

Apart from the many failed bids, the fact is that things like this don’t happen to Newcastle United and its fans. As much as I worship this club – as we probably all do – I wouldn’t expect it to be bought and have money literally thrown at it. As much as I love my home city, we’re just a small city in the far north of England. I’ve never really imagined that anyone was taking a great deal of notice. The news that we could become the richest club in the country – and perhaps the world – just sounds ridiculous to me and as much as I’d love to get carried away, I won’t. The whole thing just makes me worry.

This week, I’ve spent a long time thinking about this takeover. As usual. I’ve tried not to think about it, because not thinking about it might just make it happen. A twisted logic, but mine all the same. Yet, it seems to be creeping ever closer. But I can’t allow myself to be sucked in.

I didn’t choose to support Newcastle United. It was a birthright. An addiction, something that was always going to happen. I was born in the city, brought up just down the road in Blaydon and so it was fated that I’d set foot inside St. James’ Park one day and fall in love. Like many before and after me. Because, there’s no glory to chase here. No trophies to talk about at work as if they were you’re own. Just disappointment, mainly. So the thought that someone might come in and turn us into something different is quite simply too outrageous for me to not worry about.

I’ve read lots of comments about us being the richest club in the world, the £250 billion that the owners are worth, signing Mbappe, Bale and all the rest. We’re going to target the Premier League title and the Champions’ League, apparently. But we don’t support this club for that type of thing. Don’t get me wrong, I’d got to a stage in life – I’m 48 – a few years ago now where I resigned myself to the fact that I simply wouldn’t see us win a trophy in my lifetime, so if someone does come in with serious spending power and transforms the place, then I’ll take it. But, at the moment it’s just another reason for me to worry about the fact that this whole thing might not go through.

I find it hard to understand that we may be utterly transformed from what we know as a club. We see ourselves as a so-called big club anyway. History, fan loyalty, the stadium, they all point to that as a fact, rather than just the usual bluster you get from fans. I’ve always believed us to be a big club. But now we could become the kind of club that none of us would have believed we could become in a million years. It’s so close you can almost touch and taste it. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the stuff of dreams. And because of that, I simply can’t be calm about the whole thing.

Apparently the whole process that would lead to an announcement is a number of weeks off. And everything I read worries me even more. As if a global pandemic wasn’t enough to occupy our minds, now this! I sincerely hope that it goes through. For the simple fact that it would mean getting rid of Mike Ashley and his cronies it’d be more than worth it. Then we can start to look at who the owners are and what they plan to do. But we’ve been here before.

I, for one can’t do anything but worry!