• Thu. May 30th, 2024

Newcastle United: Is this the price you pay for success?

ByMax Local

Nov 25, 2023
Newcastle United sign

A two-word statement from the Newcastle United Twitter account marked a historic day for the city: “Newcastle UNITED.” Ask any Geordie, and I guarantee you they will be able to recall their exact location when the news struck — the news that our club and surrounding city were finally free from the shackles of tight-fisted businessman Mike Ashley. Not only that, but we had just become the richest club in world football with an ownership value in the region of £320bn — a figure roughly 15 times that of Manchester City’s owners. Mike Ashley’s 14-year reign had completely sucked the life out of the club. 

Just four years prior to his 2007 takeover, we were competing in the Champions League against European superpowers such as Juventus, Barcelona, and Inter Milan. However, fast forward to December 2021, and we found ourselves without a win in all 14 of our opening Premier League matches and on track for a third relegation since the ‘Cockney Mafia’ took control. 

The club was rotten to the core; the stadium was falling apart and covered from top to bottom with hideous Sports Direct branding; attendances were plummeting game by game to the point at which 10,000 free season tickets were handed out in 2019 in a desperate bid to win fans back; and only three top-ten finishes were achieved under Ashley’s 14-year ownership. A slogan was soon born that quickly resonated with the fans: “We don’t demand a team that wins; we demand a team that tries.”

Two years after the 2021 takeover, the club finds itself in dreamland. Everything my younger self could have only dreamed the club could once unfold in reality right in front of my eyes. Geordie iconography dominates the city with black and white shirts flooding every street, Champions League football under the floodlights, a fourth place finish in the Premier League, a league cup final, and long overdue funding into the women’s team are all just the tip of the iceberg. 

But what my younger self didn’t anticipate was that with this success would come an immense feeling of alienation from the club he loved. And I know for a fact that I’m not the only one. A fanbase that prides itself on togetherness and unity now sees fans competing to ‘prove their support’ for the club since the newfound success, supporters being interrogated for their previous loyalty (or lack thereof), bust-ups between Newcastle fans, and conflict over tickets. Furthermore, fans now regularly take to social media app X after each game to vent their frustrations about the ‘flat’ atmosphere in the home and away crowds. 

All this has left a sour taste in the mouths of many, one that is hard to ignore as a supporter. I must also address the elephant in the room—the owners. Since the £300 million acquisition by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, owned by Mohammed Bin Salman (Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and a man accused by the UN of ordering the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi), not a week goes by without the club being shrouded in controversy. And no matter how hard you try to distance yourself from the politics as a Newcastle supporter, there’s no escaping the reality of the situation. Videos of fans wrapped in the Saudi national flag shouting abuse at protesters at St James’ Park during international friendlies involving the Saudi national team, ‘Saudi green’ kits, regular training camps in Riyadh, and a £25 million sponsorship deal to Saudi Arabian company SELA all act as a constant reminder of the political links and make it increasingly difficult to separate the politics from the football week by week. 

Newcastle fans such as myself continue to face a moral dilemma: do we just give up following the club we’ve adored since our childhood, or do we take it on the chin and accept that acquisitions as such are inevitable in the modern day? Admittedly, I’ve tried to push the controversy to the back of my mind, focusing romantically on what the club’s achievements have done for the city and its people, but ultimately, I fear I’ve started to feel alienated to the club I’ve stuck by my whole life. 

Newcastle United Football Club” by NewcastleGateshead is marked with CC0 1.0.