If you’ve been following the BPAS podcast and blog, you’ll be well aware of its opinion of Latics’ current owners and how desperate a growing number of fans are for regime change. So, you might think any Latics fan must have been envious watching the recent takeover at Newcastle, and seeing Newcastle fans dancing outside St James’ Park, some wearing Mohammed bin
Salman masks, singing “we’ve got our club back”. That’s what we want, right?
I don’t envy them at all. I’d hate to be in their position. I feel sorry for those who have expressed their concerns at their club being taken over by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, and the involvement of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Whatever Mike Ashley’s faults, he hasn’t been accused of being involved in the torture and murder of a journalist who criticised him, as far as I’m aware. Plenty of Newcastle fans don’t care and just want to see investment in the team, and some have (not unreasonably) asked why football fans are being expected to be moral arbiters – why so much criticism of Newcastle taking money from Saudi Arabia if it’s OK for the British government to sell them arms? Football being as tribal as it is, some have doubled down and gone into siege mentality, wearing headscarves, waving Saudi flags and chanting “blood, blood, blood money” before the game at Palace. One Newcastle fan website showed a spectacular lack of perspective in an article that compared the media coverage of the takeover to the vilification of Liverpool fans after the Hillsborough disaster (the paragraph has since been deleted).
(Image credit: PA - www.examinerlive.co.uk)
It has got me thinking, what if that was us? I’ve said in previous blogs that I agree with Matt’s response on the podcast to people saying ‘careful what you wish for, better the devil you know’ – I’m more than prepared to twist rather than stick at this point. But we don’t want to end up with owners who are even worse, we do need to make sure the next owners are right for the club. When we talk about needing ‘fit and proper people’, we usually mean owners who will run the club properly. And let’s face it, we’re unlikely to attract the attention of Middle East oil money. If we did, though… I’ll happily admit to being a woke leftie and I wouldn’t be happy about my club being used to ‘sportswash’ people implicated in human rights abuses. Football clubs are community assets, and they can, and do, great work – one of the few good things about the club over the last few years has been the fantastic work the Community Trust does, promoting mental health initiatives, organising employability skills courses, and providing sensory packs to support fans with autism, among many things. It tarnishes the good work that football does when it throws any sense of social responsibility out of the window when someone offers enough money.
In an excellent article for The Athletic about Saudi Arabia’s LGBTQ+ community, Adam Crafton quoted a Saudi man who fled the country after being subjected to ‘conversion therapy’: “The pinkwashing is nice, isn’t it? So it is, ‘We are going to take money from those who torture us while wearing rainbow laces’? No, thank you.” United With Pride, NUFC’s LGBTQ+ supporters’ group, issued a statement cautiously welcoming the new owners, which was widely criticised. Their claim that “There is potential to be a positive influence to improving the conditions for the LGBTQ+ community in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere” seems a bit optimistic to say the least, but they’ve been put in a ridiculously difficult position. On the one hand, it’s hard not to see them as hypocritical for welcoming the rulers of a country where a young man is in prison for posting a selfie wearing leopard skin shorts on Instagram (google Suhail al-Jameel, I can only do so much soapbox ranting here). On the other hand, they were working to make their club more inclusive and welcoming long before the PIF were on the scene. If they openly condemn the takeover and criticise the new owners, that almost certainly means they can no longer work with the club. It’s a horrible situation to be in, and I don’t envy them.
I want to be able to take pride in the club on and off the pitch again. Beating Liverpool in the FA Cup in 2013 might be the happiest I’ve ever been at a match, and it was all the better because it was great to see the club show its support before the game for the Red Rose Walk, which was raising money for the Hillsborough Justice Campaign and the Hillsborough Family Support Group. I’d hate to see the great work that the Community Trust does being overshadowed or undermined by another dodgy owner. I get that some fans just want to see success on the pitch, and don’t think it should be our problem as supporters to worry about where the money is coming from. I think we can do better. I hope we can. We should expect better.
Thank you to Arlene for submitting this week's post
You can follow Arlene, the glory hunter, on Twitter @arlenefinnigan.