What is a club, in any case?

On the hill from which St. James Park dominates the Newcastle skyline, a statue of the late Sir Bobby Robson gazes towards the Tyne. He remains a man spoken about with sainted reverence. When Jose Mourinho finally won at that stadium, following 16 years worth of frustration, he sought out his old mentor’s likeness to share the moment with him. Robson’s words give an insight into the sheer magnitude of his personality, his understanding of the essence of our game, what made him the kind of man before whom even ‘The Special One’ was humbled:

“What is a club in any case? Not the buildings or the directors or the people who are paid to represent it. It’s not the television contracts, get-out clauses, marketing departments or executive boxes. It’s the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride in your city. It’s a small boy clambering up stadium steps for the very first time, gripping his father’s hand, gawping at that hallowed stretch of turf beneath him and, without being able to do a thing about it, falling in love.”

Few memories are etched as deep as my turn to be that boy, making my first pilgrimage to the castle on the hill with my dad and my brothers. I remember being handed my sixth birthday present, a Newcastle shirt, immediately worn to join the boundless sea of black and white. I remember stepping out onto the terraces of the Gallowgate End, and thinking that every person in England must be here. I remember feeling something at that young age universal to all who know the love of a football club, something that we all understand yet so few of us can articulate. Six years before that day, I had been born and thrust into a Newcastle United sleepsuit. 14 years later, I would eulogise my dad next to a coffin draped in black and white stripes. Today, I want to turn my back on the club that he led me to.

Ad: Make your voice heard! Vote for your EUSA representatives here.

After 14 long years, that Dickensian antagonist of a man, Ashley, is gone. Despite waiting for this day since 2008, I feel utterly unable to return. Ashley has been replaced by a consortium primarily led by the Saudi Arabian PIF, headed by Mohammed bin Salman, a man accused of having journalists murdered. A man at the head of a system that hands out 20-year prison sentences for tweeting dissent. A man in no small part responsible for the misery of the Yemeni people. How can players go out wearing rainbow laces, claiming to care about LGBT rights, onto a pitch owned by a man who has gay people whipped? What pride can come from being associated with this man?

The paper-thin faux morality football in this country has attempted to maintain is utterly shot. I sympathise entirely with those who feel they finally have their club back, but I will not pretend that seeing Saudi flags waved in the celebrations doesn’t sicken me, gleefully welcoming a murderous tyrant into the club.

This is simply the natural end-point. From oligarchs like Abramovich to Man City’s Sheikh Mansour, this has been the trajectory. The reputation of Newcastle United is now inextricably linked to that of the Saudi regime. This isn’t the point where it becomes too late for English football to reclaim some integrity, no that was years ago. At least the bloody Sports Direct signs came down.

Image courtesy of Andrew Curtis