Tuesday, November 30

Newcastle is not selling its soul to the Saudis. No soul left | Newcastle united


TOAbout 15 years ago, a young woman wrote my mother a beautiful poem for Christmas, talking about how she hoped the new year would end famine, war, and generally make the world a better place. Coming from one Tyneside family to another, the message ended with the plaintive line “Hope for Newcastle.”

Fans have been waiting ever since. But even though they have filled St James’ Park every other week, all they have been given is hopelessness. Although that young woman didn’t mean it, the line from that poem has become a cruel joke, silently taunting from the kitchen cupboard door where it hangs to this day.

News that Saudi Arabia’s controversial and delayed takeover of the club has taken place could change all that. Or maybe not.

I’m old enough to remember the last time a takeover of the club by vilified owners gave me a sense of hope. In 1992 Sir John Hall, real estate mogul and Northeast lord, wrested control from the patriotic trustees who had presided over decades of decline. As things went from strength to strength on the field thanks to Kevin Keegan’s tremendously entertaining side, the region was invaded by a dizzying sense of possibility. Hope was everywhere, fans wore their jerseys with pride, and when we broke the world transfer record in 1996 to sign Alan Shearer, the silverware seemed only a matter of time.

Alan Shearer joins Newcastle in 1996
Alan Shearer signed for Newcastle in 1996. Photography: Shutterstock

It wasn’t going to be like that, of course. Hope duly turned to despair, and the pain of unfinished business has lingered on Tyneside ever since. There seem to be a lot of people who think fans are complaining about not competing for the league and that we think we should rub shoulders with whoever the Big Six or the Big Four are at any given time.

That might be what a weird phone fan might have you believe, but it’s not what the vast majority of Newcastle fans think. Most have been marked by a life of underperformance and just want the team to be competitive, watch a decent football game that they can get excited about, and, yes, maybe even win a trophy.

The shortage in this department is truly impressive. It’s a well known and widely spread line that we haven’t won a national trophy since 1955 (the FA Cup, for the record). Less well known is that 35 different clubs have won a trophy in the intervening decades. Two of them, Oxford United and Luton Town, have had time to disappear from the Football League and return without us reaching them.

Our record in cup matches at Wembley at that time is also a study in hopelessness: he played five, lost five, goals against 11, goals for two. Throw in the 1996 Charity Shield and the 2005 FA Cup semi-final in Cardiff and there are another eight goals in the debit column and one on the bright side.

I don’t have a useful assist-to-cutlery ratio up my sleeve, but I’d be prepared to guess that there can’t be many other clubs in Europe, if any, that regularly have 50,000 fans at home games and yet flaunt a such a desperate record.

Mike Ashley in a Newcastle scarf
Mike Ashley’s 14-year ownership of Newcastle United has been controversial, to say the least. Photograph: Martin Rickett / PA

I know from the experience of the 90s that an acquisition does not come with guarantees and that the same could happen this time. The initial twist seems to suggest that there won’t be a massive Chelsea or Manchester City-style spending spree and that the upgrade will be more organic with an emphasis on youth development.

Along with the serious money prospect, the Saudis obviously come with some serious baggage and there’s no denying that it’s going to be an awkward fit. It could end in tears, but with the idea of ​​a more competitive team, as well as a much-needed multi-million dollar investment across the region, fans are overwhelmingly in favor of the acquisition.

We have had enough and the positive reaction to the agreement must be judged in the context of years of failure. Why shouldn’t we dare to dream, maybe even one day with a reel of color highlights instead of, you know, just black and white? Without fantasy, football loses meaning. Under the 14-year ownership of Mike Ashley, the club has become zombified, content to simply exist somewhere near the bottom of the table, or the Championship, with no ambition to progress. If the reports are to be believed, even shelling out salaries to bring in Leicester team player Hamza Choudhury during the previous transfer window was too much. Some might say that we are selling our soul to the Saudis, but there is no soul left to sell.

If Choudhury’s laughable failure is one of the latest acts – or rather not acts – of the Ashley regime, it seems like an auspicious time for baths to end 14 years of disappointment. Maybe he will 66. Hope for Newcastle.

Martin Farrer grew up in Tynemouth and has supported Newcastle for over 40 years.


www.theguardian.com

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