Like most football supporters, Newcastle United fans are happy to ignore ethics when it comes to the ownership of the club so long as Mike Ashley sells up.
Since the Premier League season ended, we Newcastle United fans have been subjected to a wealth of speculation: Speculation about the manager’s contract, speculation about his replacement, speculation about transfer funds, speculation about transfers, speculation about a takeover. Speculate to accumulate, so the saying goes.
Amongst all this conjecture, I’ve yet to read anything delving into the ethical vortex of our football club being essentially owned by a member of one of the royal families that through a federation of absolute monarchies preside over a regime notorious for violating human rights. A nation under Sharia law, where capital punishment is administered by stoning, hanging or a firing squad. Where you can be flogged for up to 80 lashes for consuming alcohol unless in a licensed venue, or sentenced to death for being homosexual. There is no such thing as Freedom of Speech in the United Arab Emirates and dissenters frequently go missing in suspicious circumstances. Torture is common practice in custody. Many migrant workers are essentially indentured servants at the mercy of their employers/owners.
The list goes on, and I haven’t even covered women’s rights, but then neither has the UAE, really. They’re too busy, along with the Saudis, helping to tear apart Yemen, where more than 60,000 people have been killed since 2016. Of course, as a Brit our hands aren’t exactly clean when it comes to the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world at this moment in time, what with all the arms we’ve sold and continue to sell to Saudi Arabia. Not to mention the state of the world generally, colonialism and the empire, Northern Ireland, Israel, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya — our foreign policy generally. Proud to be British? These days especially. I won’t even mention Brexit. God save the queen that welcomes and entertains Donald Trump, the racist, sexist, adulterous, most powerful man on the planet, who bankrupted two of his companies, received a million-dollar loan from his father, and doesn’t believe in climate change despite the report published on Tuesday that under current global policy, civilisation could well be over by 2050. Perhaps if the Bin Zayed Group acquires us we’ll have won a trophy by then. Small mercies, aye. Even if nobody’s around to read the record books, somewhere in the ether our intangible souls will remember a veteran Sean Longstaff holding aloft the Champions League trophy.
Newcastle United supporters are acutely aware of the current owner’s felonies and misdemeanours, from the undermining and unfair dismissal of Kevin Keegan to the two relegations we’ve suffered under his watch and the lack of ambition and failure to invest in a club with the potential to challenge for trophies. The absurdities and limitations of his ownership have been felt on the terraces and witnessed on pitches from St. James’ Park to Bournemouth. And as for his business practices, the way he’s made and continues to make his money… well, a parliamentary enquiry found that Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct treats its workers without dignity or respect, as commodities rather than human beings, with staff often paid less than the legal minimum wage, more than 3,000 warehouse workers on short-term temporary contracts, and the company’s working practices described as appalling. Indeed, Sports Direct’s very success is founded on this business model. Yet the logos of Ashley’s Victorian workhouse litter our great stadium for a nominal fee after years of disgracing St. James’ Park for free. The Sports Direct Arena. For shame.
How about John Hall? Mr Newcastle, the owner who helped transform our beloved club from one destined for the old Third Division to a team that beat Barcelona in the Champions League with no less than eight of the starting line-up from the UK and Ireland. A man who wanted a team full of Geordie world-beaters. The man who sold Newcastle United to Mike Ashley, subjecting us to twelve years of tears, who donated heavily to the Conservative Party, who had tea with Thatcher, who spoke of how she took away union power but gave us the power to do things, whatever that means (what exactly did her servants put in their tea?). Thatcher was the Prime Minister who said that there’s no such thing as society and foisted upon us, along with the former Hollywood actor and US President Ronald Reagan, the neoliberal reality that has increased wealth disparity to levels unseen since the 1920s. Privatisation and deregulation have accelerated across the developed world since Ayn Rand’s disciples essentially ran things, even by a governing Labour Party under the Thatcherite Tony Blair. We’ve been told that the transition to a world run solely for profit and to the detriment of its citizens and the environment can no longer be reversed; that there is no alternative to capitalism. That we’ll all be gone by 2050. Cheers, John. You’re not directly to blame but clearly you put your money into the wrong party. And now we’re all doomed. But hey, back then we had a great team. Thanks for the memories. And Mike Ashley. What a legacy.
I suppose that the real problem here is that despite the existence of the Newcastle United Supporters Trust, the club we love will never be owned by its fans and in this world run solely for profit, there aren’t many ethical obscenely rich people knocking about, and none of these hypothetical unicorns appear to be interested in owning a football club, or at least our one. So in case it hasn’t already occurred to them, I’d like to encourage Mark Knopfler, Brian Johnson, Sting, Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, Jimmy Nail, Ant and Dec and aye, because he’s not short of a bob or two, even the odious Tony Blair, to pool resources and buy Newcastle United and turn it into a fan-owned, trust-controlled club. We could be the next Borussia Dortmund. Or AFC Wimbledon.
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