Newcastle United Football Club announced on the 7th October 2021 that they had been purchased by a joint consortium, comprising of the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF), PCP Capital Partners and RB Sports & Media. The 100% purchase of the club brings an end to the fourteen-year tenure of former owner Mike Ashley. With an 80% stake, PIF possesses reported assets of over £250 billion, making Newcastle the richest football club in the world.
While the overwhelming majority of Newcastle supporters approve the takeover, (fans celebrated the news outside St. James’ Park) questions still remain over the nature of the takeover and the direction the club will take to ensure success on and off the pitch.
The takeover had been in the works since April last year, so the swift reversal from the PIF, who backed out of the deal that July after the takeover failed the Premier League Owners and Directors Test, came as a surprise to many.
There are however points of tension that hinder the seemingly widely-supported deal. Firstly, the nature of how separate PIF was from the Saudi Arabian state was questioned due to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, being listed as chair of PIF.
Saudi Arabia’s relations with the West have been strained since the assassination of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, something that the Crown Prince denies. The issue of Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses has been notably highlighted by Amnesty International UK, who, in the wake of the takeover, have called for the Premier League to "change their owners' and directors' test to address human rights issues".
To many, the takeover is simply ‘sportswashing’, meaning that the opportunity was taken to provide a positive image of the PIF and Saudi Arabia through sport investment. Lastly, the major piracy issue of Premier League streaming rights was finally resolved between Saudi Arabia and the Qatari owned beIn Sports. Qatar had accused Saudi Arabia of blocking the streaming of beIN, while conversely failing to stop illegal broadcasting of Premier League football. This has now been reversed by Saudi Arabia.
Newcastle fan Max Turnbull talked to Demographica about his thoughts regarding the takeover:
How do you reflect on Mike Ashley’s ownership? There are rumours that he may buy Derby County.
MT: “I remember when he bought it back in 2007 and there was definitely optimism and hope around the city as at the time we were slowly falling off as a regular top flight club. That hope quickly went away when he quite simply didn’t invest in the club, and myself as well as most of the Newcastle fans have wanted him out for 10 years. I couldn’t give a monkeys what he does next. I’m just happy he’s out.”
Do you have any concerns with the takeover by the PIF given the alleged corruption and human rights abuses?
MT: I have no concerns; football is a corrupt sport. The way I see it is a group of people want Newcastle back as a top flight football club, something we haven’t been registered as in decades, and I’m all for that.
What are your thoughts on other Premier League clubs raising concerns with the takeover?
MT: If these football clubs were getting bought and they saw the money signs, they wouldn’t care. It’s just a worry as Newcastle could be a top club in a few years, so I don’t care what anyone else thinks.
What are you hoping the takeover can bring to the club and the community?
MT: Newcastle haven’t fully sold out a stadium in a while. We usually have 95% sold out most match games; I guarantee for the rest of this season, tickets will be sold out. The football club is like a church to the Geordies, we haven’t made progress as a football team in a very long time. This is hope, and it will bring the community and the city together.
While the media has further encouraged Newcastle supporters to dream of trophies and major transfers in the near future, major work needs to be done. The first tasks are to invest in updated training and stadium facilities and avoid relegation from the Premier League. Steve Bruce’s departure as Newcastle manager after a 3-2 home defeat to Tottenham in his 1000th game as a manager leaves Newcastle win-less this season and facing the possibility of relegation.
Once again, the game of modern football is arguably losing its roots and traditions. Although as is always the case, money takes priority over anything else. The takeover can rightly be scrutinised, but Newcastle United are neither the first club, nor will be the last, under foreign ownership that pushes the financial ceiling of football higher.
The loyalty, commitment and goodwill of the fans and players however will always remain, as evident by the quick response to a Newcastle fan who collapsed during the match versus Tottenham. The actions of the fans and players to alert the referee and first aid reminds us how precious life is, how football is more than just a game.
Daniel is a BA Modern and Contemporary History graduate from Royal Holloway, University of London. He is 21 years old with a strong love for history and football. He is hoping to pursue a career in sports journalism after writing for his university newspaper over his last academic year.
Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica Limited as a company.