England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

NUFC take over – no to blood stained money and system laundering: Reclaim the Game!

The bloody, theocratic Saudi dictatorship has taken over Newcastle United Football Club (NUFC). Lest we forget, the man behind the Saudi Public Investment Fund – the state’s sovereign wealth fund – is Mohammed Bin Salman, Crown Prince, aka the ‘butcher of Yemen’ and the person who ordered the murder of Yamal Jashogyi, the Saudi journalist who was tortured then killed in the Saudi embassy in Turkey.

Many NUFC fans are making convoluted arguments to justify the takeover, “anyone is better than Mike Ashley” (current owner of NUFC and Sports Direct), and too many, unfortunately, are looking the other way.

As as Newcastle fan, ask yourself honestly, can you support the takeover of NUFC by a regime and individuals who are directly involved in:

  • the bombing and murder of civilians in Yemen
  • the exploitation of migrant workers akin to bonded labour and even slavery
  • having the worst workers’ rights in the region and paying starvation wages
  • treating women as minors and second class citizens in a ‘legal’ sex segregation, gender apartheid judicial system
  • the absolute discrimination of LGBT people including punishments of fines, public whippings, beatings, vigilante attacks, chemical castrations, prison time up to life, capital punishment and other forms of torture.

Newcastle fans might point out that a Premier League team is already owned by a Middle Eastern billionaire. Other clubs are owned by the obscenely wealthy of Russia and the USA. Many expensive properties and businesses are owned by corrupt overseas owners. Britain has massive business ties with China and Israel. All that is true but that does not make this takeover right.

Power of fans’ protests

During the Coronavirus crisis the millionaire owners of clubs like Liverpool, Newcastle, Tottenham, Bournemouth and Norwich outraged working class fans by initially and cynically taking advantage of the government scheme, under which employers can claim for 80% of furloughed employees’ wages, while star players remained on astronomical salaries. Under pressure these clubs were forced to back down. This is an answer to fans who think public pressure and campaigning cannot stop the Saudi takeover. Also, fan power forced the so-called ‘Big Clubs’ to withdraw from the European ‘Super’ League. 

The movements against cutthroat capitalist Mike Ashley over the years have been sizable and show the potential for public involvement and action. NUFC fans have protested against the Ashley regime and linked their opposition to his chairmanship of the club to his exploitation of workers at Sports Direct.

Socialists and trade unionists who are NUFC fans have consistently opposed Ashley and campaigned to get him out of our club. However, we must be absolutely clear about this: Newcastle fans have no business supporting the takeover of NUFC by a consortium largely financed by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Kick big business out of football!

We also need to expose the hypocrisy of the fat cats who run football. Premier League rules prohibit minor criminal offenders from ownership, but do not require any scrutiny of those accused of being war criminals, human rights abusers or murderers like Mohammed bin Salman. The Premier League meekly accepted the Saudi regime’s pledge that they would not interfere in the running of the club. Money talks. However, the Saudi press spells out the intentions of Mohammed Bin Salman clearly, “Breakthrough $410m deal gives Kingdom a seat at top table of European football.” (Arab News)

The Premier League cannot be allowed to let Mohammed bin Salman to ‘sportswash’ the Saudi regime. NUFC fans cannot look the other way. We must say no to the war criminal, human rights abuser and accused murderer taking over the club.

If we remain within the confines of big business and the inflated prices in corporate football we will not get anywhere. We need to look beyond the business model of capitalist, fat cat run football. Football came from the working class and we need to reclaim the game.

The Coronavirus crisis and economic crisis has shown the weakness of capitalism and the football business is not immune to this. In the Spanish La Liga, the club in the best position financially at the moment is the fan owned club Athletic Bilbao, mainly because they only play with Basque players and they do not have the multimillion inflated wage bills of other clubs.

Joaquín Caparrós, ex-Athletic coach, now in charge of Armenia has said there will be a ‘before and after the Coronavirus crisis’ for football. He says that football fans will demand restrictions on player’s wages and clubs like Athletic who encourage local talent and have invested in young players rather than spending obscene amounts on transfer fees and wages could have an advantage post-Coronavirus.

Reclaim the game – fan owned clubs

Ultimately, the future of football lies in reclaiming the game for the people with the model of fan and community run clubs along the lines of some Spanish and German clubs. Many fans are sceptical about how this can be achieved, although agreeing it is a good idea in an ideal world. Ashley is set to make another fortune by selling the club. Fans ask how they could possibly get that kind of money together to buy the club? Many believe this is not achievable and that is why they passively go along with the Saudi deal.

In 2005 American businessman Malcolm Glazer’s takeover of Manchester United was opposed by fans. Ultimately Glazer bought the club and many fans decided that was a bridge too far and decided to set up FC United of Manchester. The success of this fan led club has been a reflection of working class fan’s desire to bring football back to its local and community roots.

NUFC’s fans may have not reached that breaking point yet but we are near to it. Many NUFC fans have voted with their feet during Ashley’s cynical, money grabbing regime and as bad as it has been, Saudi blood stained money has to be rejected. Ashley has to go but Bin Salman is not the solution. Big business cannot be trusted to run our club, neither can the Saudi dictatorship.

Polls claim 93% of NUFC fans are in favour of the takeover by the murderous Saudi regime. This can be explained by 14 years of having Ashley in control of the club and up until now no Labour MPs have opposed the dirty deal. They are too scared of going against so-called ‘public opinion’ whipped up by the local paper the Evening Chronicle. Pundits like Alan Shearer inevitably fall into line and use twisted logic to suggest that having a theocratic dictatorship take over NUFC will help to reform them! “I understand also that questions have to be asked with the human rights issues, it’s really important we don’t brush it under the carpet. We have to educate ourselves and this I think this will only highlight it even more.”

However, many fans, although a minority at the moment, are not taken in by this nonsense. Socialists and figures in the labour movement need to stand up and be counted on this issue, give a lead and expose this grubby deal for what it is: ‘sportswashing’ on a monumental scale. All the perfumes and money of Arabia will not sweeten this deal or wipe away their crimes. NUFC fans in time, will come to regret looking the other way on this.

Ashley has dragged the club through the mud now it will literally be dragged through blood. As many have argued for years, the only solution for NUFC is a takeover by the fans.

  • Ashley Out!
  • No to the takeover of NUFC by the murderous Saudi regime!
  • Sack the board
  • Reclaim the game!
  • For a fan’s takeover of NUFC

Photo credit: Skysports.com


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