By Maurício Alencar, Footrace Football Expert
The ultimate substitution occurred last week when the Newcastle takeover by the PIF was completed. Prince Mohammed bin Salman on for Mike Ashley, Sports Direct off for PIF, and domestic workers’ rights abuses replaced by overseas human rights abuses.
The big substitution got Newcastle fans raving. Many were caught chanting “we’ve got our club back”. Most surprisingly, Newcastle’s LGBTQ+ group United with Pride celebrated the substitution as well, stating that they hope “there is potential to be a positive influence to improving the conditions for the LGBTQ+ community in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere”.
On the other hand, prominent wide-eyed journalists and writers ranging from Simon Kuper of The FT to Oliver Holt of the Mail Online have described the Saudi takeover as signs of “a national malaise”, or have evaluated that “murderers are welcome if they are rich enough”.
Rarely are football journalists and fans at odds with each other. The fans generally regard it as the best substitution ever in football. The journos generally regard it as the worst substitution ever. Alan Shearer, occupying both identities, is “excited” and “conflicted”, as told in his column for The Athletic.
It should be the case that the only thing that matters to a football fan is that their club’s values are kept intact, football is played on a pitch in front of local fans, and that there is a feeling of community about the club- and that
In the case of The Super League , the changes to the game only mattered to fans because it meant that most clubs in the country and the rest of Europe were at risk of being removed from the football pyramid, and consequently the football pitch completely. And in the case of this Newcastle, the change mattered to its fans only because a leech of a club owner in Mike Ashley had drained the community replete (for heaven’s sake, he tried to change St James’ Park’s name into Sports Direct Arena in 2011!). In both cases, fans played their part as the “12th man” in catalysing action, a part they know very well as match-attendants impacting results.
The new decade presents an opportunity for football fans to therefore take on more animated roles in reacting to changes that happen off the pitch. The perfect world would surely be if it occurred in the same tone, attitude, and language to what happens on the pitch:
If/when the “golden share” fan vote is announced, that should be equivalent in celebrations to Deeney’s heroic goal against Leicester in the semi-final of the Championship Play-Offs. If/when Saudi Arabia and Arsène Wenger’s proposals for a biennial World Cup fails to go through and are skied over the net, English supporters opposed to it should be standing on their feet, flinging their arms about, and hilariously singing “waaaay”.
When the PIF completed the deal to takeover Newcastle, there shouldn’t have really been chants of “we got our club back”. There probably should have been sighs, mixing relief and despair all into one sound- like maybe when your team, that has gone into the match as favourites to win, manages to sustain pressure from the opponents to finish the match at a tedious little scoreline of 0-0. For better specificity, there probably should have been dry, ironic chants of “legal assurances, what does that mean?” in relation to the Premier League’s statement on the separation of Saudi Arabia to Newcastle United.
In a year where the Super League got red carded for foul behaviour and dissent, people are calling for a better referee of the game in the form of an independent regulator, and fans have gloriously returned after a near 18-month injury, you’d think the football gods would’ve sent someone better on as a sub.