Fans hail new beginning for Newcastle United and Saudi Arabia

DUBAI: Everything was ready. Those party hats. The chips and dip. The cans. And then, nothing. The party had to be called off.

But 18 months on, the biggest celebration the city of Newcastle has seen in years is into its fifth day and shows no signs of slowing down.

Mike Ashley’s 14-year reign at Newcastle United is over after Saudi’s sovereign wealth fund PIF, Amanda Staveley’s PCP and the Reuben brothers completed the much-delayed $410 million takeover of the club.

The party was back on, and to say the Geordie fans have been keeping the neighbours up would be an understatement.

Newcastle United supporters celebrate the sale of the club to a Saudi-led consortium, outside the club’s stadium at St James’ Park in Newcastle upon Tyne on Oct. 8, 2021. Photo by Oli Scarff / AFP)

“We’ve got our club back,” supporters, waving Saudi flags, sang outside St James’ Park. “We can dare to hope again,” Alan Shearer, arguably Newcastle’s greatest player, posted on Twitter.

Halfway across the world, supporters in the Middle East are also excited for the club.

Radio and podcast presenter Peter Redding, a long-time Newcastle season ticket holder now based in Dubai, sums up the feelings of many.

“After witnessing the exciting and exhilarating times under Kevin Keegan, most Newcastle fans and myself felt helpless watching over the last 14 years under Mike Ashley’s reign,” he said. “Newcastle United is the pivotal regime of a city both, physically and mentally, it’s all anybody ever talks about.”

“To be under exciting new owners who share that passion with a clear vision is more than exhilarating,” he added. “Firstly they have given us our club back, and judging by the party scenes in the city after the announcement, this is just the beginning for Newcastle and Saudi Arabia.”

Joe Morrison lived a life most Newcastle fans could only dream off from 2001 to 2005. For three years under Sir Bobby Robson, and then two under Graeme Souness, he was the club’s Head of Media.

From mingling with the coaches and players to watching training sessions and matches, he was always close to the action.

Now a renowned television presenter in the Middle East and Asia, he looks back on that happy time wistfully.

A pedestrian passes a Newcastle United football club-themed mural in Newcastle upon Tyne in northeast England on October 8, 2021. (Photo by Oli Scarff / AFP)

“We were in the Champions League when I was there, and we’ve never been back since,” Morrison said. “That just goes to show you how far the club had fallen. Even before Bobby Robson we were in Europe and when you have that regular diet it’s a real loss when it’s suddenly taken away.”

Those happy days could soon be back.

“It was the last time the club had a glow about it,” he said. “After Sir Bobby, that glow faded away, the lustre was gone.”

In 2005, Morrison moved to the Middle East, eventually becoming the presenter of ART’s coverage of Premier League football, and has since seen the proliferation of football culture in this part of the world. One thing however remains constant.

“How do you get the world’s best players playing for your team? You’ve got to have big bucks, it’s as simple as that.” 

For Morrison, the first point to address is a new manager.

“I’d be looking at the likes of Zinedine Zidane,” he said. “Why? Because he’s a big-name manager and when you don’t have Champions League football, you need to have a manager who a player would come and play for. Someone they would recognize, some they would appreciate, and Zidane ticks off all those boxes right now.”

Having to wait till January to strengthen the squad is no bad thing, according to Morrison, as it will allow the new owners to take their time and scout the right players.

“Someone like Jan Oblak, the Atletico Madrid goalkeeper, would be fabulous,” he said. “And up front you have a very unsettled Harry Kane, who may have not been allowed to leave Spurs last summer, but I’m sure will be allowed to leave this summer, maybe even in the January window. Shore up the back and make sure you’re not conceding goals, make sure you’re scoring goals, they’re always the most pressing problems for any new owners.”

For Dubai-based Newcastle fan Mohsin Khan, the most important aspect of the new take-over was the departure of the old owner.

Newcastle United’s new director Amanda Staveley (R) and husband Mehrdad Ghodoussi (L) talk to the media on Oct. 8, 2021, after the sale of the football club. (Photo by Oli Scarff / AFP)

“The overriding feeling is relief, the primary thing for me was getting rid of Mike Ashley,” Khan said.

He accepts that fans of other clubs will be “envious” and hopes that the club is developed “organically” with investments going into renovating the stadium, surrounding area and creating jobs, and not just on buying players.

Khan says that the writing was already on the wall for Newcastle manager Steve Bruce, even without the takeover, and the time has come to replace him with someone who has the desire to take the club forward.

“There are a few names that have been mentioned like [Antonio] Conte, but he said that he doesn’t want to join a project at this early stage so in my mind I’m not bothered about him,” he said. “I don’t want that type of personality.”

Khan would be happy with an up and coming manager.

“Someone like Graham Potter from Brighton, I think he’s doing a really good job. Maybe Steven Gerrard,” he said. “He’s got the capabilities. Obviously Rangers are not in the Premier League, but I think he looks like an exciting manager. And possibly a good manager to have at this early stage when we’re trying to develop the club.”

As for a more established name, his first choice in a perfect world would have been for a figure that is still loved at Newcastle.

“Maybe at this point you need a big manager in order to attract players, so Rafa (Benitez) would have been the ideal one, but that ship has sailed unfortunately.”

Looking at players, Khan says that calls to sign the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar are just a bit of fun by the fans.

Newcastle United’s English defender Jamaal Lascelles (C) heads the ball wide during the English Premier League football match between Newcastle United and Leeds United on Sept. 17, 2021. (Photo by Lindsey Parnaby / AFP)

“Newcastle fans are intelligent enough to know that the caliber of players that will come in will be experienced and exciting, but they’re not going to be that upper tier level of player initially,” he said. “Maybe (Philippe) Coutinho because he’s been linked several times, that could be our one marquee signing. Other than that, it would be great to get a few names in with Premier League experience, James Tarkowski of Burnley, he’d be a good signing. Sensible signings, we need to get a couple of defenders in and we need a striker. And I’d also like to replace Jonjo Shelvey, I’m not a big fan of his.”

Born in the UK, Khan grew up in Abu Dhabi before moving back to his home country as a teenager. That was when he fell in love with Kevin Keegan’s mid-90s Newcastle team, particularly Andy Cole. In 2018 he relocated to Dubai and discovered how popular English football was in the region. 

“Football is massive here, it really did take me by surprise,” he said. “When I first moved here during the World Cup three years ago, it was amazing to see how passionate everyone is about football. If Newcastle can turn themselves into one of the contenders, then there will be many more people following them. They’re a big club. I’ll be really excited to see more fans walking around in Newcastle shirts in the next year or so.”