photo Rick Dikeman (CC)

photo Rick Dikeman (CC)   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Newcastle United takeover: No to billionaire Ashley or Saudi despots

For working-class control of football

Norman Hall, South Tyne and Wear Socialist Party

The vast majority of Newcastle United fans were overjoyed on 7 October at the news that the 14-year reign of Mike Ashley, of Sports Direct infamy, was finally over. However, serious questions have correctly been raised about the new owners, in particular the Saudi Public Investment Fund which now owns 80% of the club.

There is no doubt the human rights abuses of the Saudi regime are horrendous. But let’s be clear, the fans had no say and no real influence in this deal between millionaires, billionaires and a sovereign wealth fund. If there was a referendum on the deal, I certainly missed it!

Yet it is the fans, predominately working class, who are being blamed by the press. Nobody, press or media has cornered Ashley to demand why he sold to the Saudi backed consortium. They already know, the answer is £305 million.

Nobody has raised to the same level of scrutiny the sale of other clubs to other exploitative capitalists. Even the Pandora papers – revealing billions upon billions of pounds worth of dodgy deals and tax avoidance by the world’s elites – seem to have had less press coverage than this takeover of a football club. Why? Because in this case there is the handy scapegoat of working-class fans.

Just how were fans meant to stop the deal? Complain to the government – a government that is still allowing the sale of arms and munitions to Saudi Arabia?

The Saudi Arabian regime has its hands covered in blood. But capitalism in general is ‘red in tooth and claw’. Sometimes capitalism kills using weapons of terrible destruction, as in war. Sometimes it targets individuals – assassinations of reporters, trade unionists, socialists etc. But more often, and more effectively, capitalism kills by poverty and disease.

Some of the individuals taking a pot shot at fans seem to think it is possible to have an ethical football club standing alone, or as part of an ethical capitalism. Therefore, the club should have been sold to a ‘nice’ capitalist.

Newcastle’s Labour council backed the takeover. Not surprising, as the Reuben Brothers (another part of the consortium) already own Newcastle racecourse and other large new developments in the city.

There can be no faith in Ashley, the consortium, or any other capitalist owners to run Newcastle United Football Club in the interests of fans and the local community.

The Labour council could have posed an alternative in the form of municipal ownership, with fans taking part in the running of the club. But even this could only have been a temporary solution in a sea of other capitalist-owned clubs.

I want my club to be owned and run by a consortium of the community and the fans and part of a federation of other clubs similarly owned and run. But football is so intertwined with capitalism this can only come about by kicking out the rotten capitalist system itself.