Newcastle United's Saudi Owners Have to Go!

No Saudi Toon are protesting this Saturday, November 12th to try to eject the owners from the club. Here's why.

10 min read

A recent article in the leading Newcastle United fanzine put forward the view that the takeover of Newcastle United by the Saudi Public Investment Fund “is predominantly about the money.” The obvious implication being that there isn’t really much difference between Newcastle’s owners and the ownership at many other clubs – they are all seeking to make a profit, and a lot of their money is dirty to some degree. To support this view, the author points to recent comments by club chairman Yassar al Rummayan:

We bought the whole team for £350m, instead of only having 30% in another team for £700m. You can see Chelsea was sold for $3.5bn. So, my potential now is to go from £350m to at least $3.5bn.

I’d actually agree with this stance to a point - it does seem possible that the Saudis might be planning to depart in a decade or so after securing a healthy profit on their investment. This line of argument could be seen as an attempted riposte to comments along the lines of Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp’s recent complaints that clubs like Newcastle and Manchester City “have no ceiling” due to their apparently limitless financial backing. But even if you accept this point, it’s still very strange for a fan to reduce the issue of Saudi involvement in our club to merely a question of money, and it’s an approach that treats the multitude of abuses and oppression the Saudis are responsible for as irrelevant to a discussion on the club’s ownership.

During the 14 years of previous owner Mike Ashley’s stewardship, it was common to see fans frustrated by Ashley’s shabby treatment of the club, as he renamed the stadium and refused to communicate with some journalists and supporters, all while linking the club to his exploitative Sports Direct empire. Aside from the lack of investment, the image of the club he projected was terrible, and that mattered in itself. However, we might ask now how much of the criticism of Ashley was due to his failure to bankroll on-field success rather than his endlessly shabby behaviour and linking us to Sports Direct’s exploitation?

There are no owners in football who project a worse image to the world than Saudi Arabia. The harm they do to the reputation of this club and its city is enormous, as people and behaviour that previously would have been unacceptable become normalised, and it is hard to place a value on the damage done to the club’s reputation.

Head coach Eddie Howe has repeatedly been left stuttering for an answer when asked how he felt about the club’s owners – and it’s a question that isn’t going to go away.

In 2021, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman was still being described as a “pariah” that world leaders avoided, particularly following the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. But at the first game after the Saudi led takeover was completed in October 2021, the man he personally selected to be governor of his country’s Public Investment Fund was given a raucous reception by 50,000 Newcastle supporters live on television. What financial value would the Saudis have placed on that? And what did people watching around the world think of Newcastle United?

Newcastle co-owner Amanda Staveley has waxed lyrical about her love of women’s football several times now, stating how much she wants to encourage opportunity for girls through the sport. Journalists have unquestioningly repeated these PR lines. She most recently shared her views on this subject just weeks after the majority stakeholders she speaks for sentenced two women to 34 and 45 years in jail for their social media activity, but her comments go unchallenged by North East reporters.

Co-owner Amanda Staveley shared her views on how women's football can encourage opportunity for girls just weeks after the majority stakeholders she speaks for sentenced two women to 34 & 45 years in jail for their use of twitter.

When the Saudi Minister for Sport, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Saud, followed the club’s twitter account back in April 2020, the story was reported by Newcastle’s regional paper The Chronicle’s website. The sports minister’s father is Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, who also served in the Saudi government. He resigned from his position as Director General of Saudi Arabia‘s intelligence agency — a post he had held for 23 years — ten days before the September 11th attacks. He met Bin Laden several times and was instrumental in cementing the Taliban’s power in Afghanistan. In 2003 he admitted on a live call-in show that six British men had been tortured by his intelligence agents. The Chronicle didn’t think to mention any of this information about the sports minister’s family, instead preferring to enthuse about the prospects for the takeover.

And at the final home match of last season, The Chronicle reported that the club’s new director Majed Al Sorour had publicly thanked the Ambassador to the UK Prince Khalid bin Bandar for attending the match. His father had been the Saudi ambassador to the US. In July 2016, withheld pages from the official U.S congressional report on 9/11 were released, revealing that he had paid thousands of dollars to a man who passed funds to two of the 9/11 hijackers. two years ago a US judge ordered him to give testimony on his possible knowledge of these events.

These are the type of people who are now able to publicly associate themselves with our club without members of the North East media or Newcastle fanzine editors batting a collective eyelid.

Before the takeover was completed, The Newcastle based Wylam Brewery plastered a flattering image of Mohammed bin Salman standing on the St James’ Park pitch on the side of one of their beer cans. Because bin Salman could now be associated with our football club, someone at the brewery thought that was appropriate. Following the resulting backlash, I never saw that can on sale, but given the speed at which things have deteriorated since then, I don’t know how many people would bother complaining if Wylam tried it again. The team now turn out in a Saudi Arabia themed kit, and in January they spent a week training in the Saudi city of Jeddah. The club have confirmed that the squad will make another trip to Saudi Arabia in December.

When the takeover was completed, Alan Shearer and North East politicians acknowledged the ‘issues’ caused by Saudi ownership of our club, and they claimed ‘engagement’ could perhaps change them. But in the year since the takeover took place, the Saudi state has continued to carry out executions (120 so far this year) and jail women for criticising him on Twitter. There are currently at least eight Saudis with death sentences hanging over them for ‘crimes’ committed when they were minors.

Last week Newcastle city council announced that they have broken relations with their twin town in China over the regime’s use of torture. But the council’s Chief Executive Pat Ritchie spoke out in favour of the Saudi takeover in August 2020, and no one from the council has ever voiced any criticism towards the new ownership. The double standards are striking.

Last week Newcastle city council announced that they have broken relations with their twin town in China over the regime’s use of torture. But the council's Chief Executive Pat Ritchie spoke out in favour of the Saudi takeover.

At the time, Ritchie justified her support for the takeover by claiming that the deal could be “transformational” for the city, saying that “members of the consortium spear-heading this deal had made a clear long-term commitment to the city to help drive growth and regeneration”.

13 months have now passed since the takeover’s completion, and there is very little sign of this transformational investment. On the other hand, the numerous negative headlines and constant criticism towards the club and its supporters have been very evident indeed.

The Saudis have only been in charge for a year. Who knows how much damage to the reputation of our club and city will have been done after they’ve been here for a decade or so?

Newcastle United will never be just about the money – it isn’t just another business - and that is why the Saudis have to go.

I am a member of a group of Newcastle supporters who are opposed to Saudi involvement in our football club. On Saturday 12th November, our campaign, NOSAUDITOON will be holding a silent protest outside St James’ Park. We are supported by Amnesty International and the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights, and we will highlight the plight of eight minors who are currently imprisoned in Saudi Arabia and are at risk of execution:
Abdullah Al-Dirazi, Jalal Al-Labad, Youssef Al-Manasif, Hassan Zaki Al-Faraj, Abdullah Al-Huwaiti, Jawad Qureiris, Mahdi Al-Mohsen and Ali Al-Sbaiti.

The protest is our attempt as Newcastle United fans to engage with the issue of our club being owned by one of the most vicious dictatorships on the planet, and to prevent the normalisation of human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia.

We invite North East Labour MPs, councillors, fans representatives and groups, but most of all ordinary Newcastle United fans to stand with us at the protest and show that we are serious about engagement and holding the owners to account for their many crimes.

Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah is one of a number of local politicians who has pledged to retain a critical line on Saudi Arabia.

“If you think the #nufctakeover will stop me criticising the Saudi Regime you don’t know me and you don’t know Newcastle” she tweeted on the takeover’s completion. She also released a statement which read: “I understand the new owners believe this investment is a sign of change and a desire to open up on the part of Saudi Arabia and I hope that is true.”

Our protest is an ideal opportunity for Chi Onwurah and other politicians in the region to express their criticism of the Saudi state, where abuse and oppression has only worsened over the last year.

While this particular protest is focused on the minors at risk of execution, the greatest show of solidarity Newcastle supporters could show with all people oppressed by Saudi Arabia would be to throw the current owners out of our football club, and this is the ultimate aim of our campaign. Is there any chance we can succeed?

When our campaign met with Saudi exiles from the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights, we asked for their opinion.

The activists view was that the Saudi state would be extremely surprised to see dissent fermenting against them after a successful first year in charge, and their extreme intolerance of any sort of criticism would lead to their departure. A state that hands down sentences of more than 40 years for sending some critical tweets isn’t going to plough millions of pounds into their investment if the response from supporters is mass protests against them.

Newcastle fans have certainly proven themselves to be more than capable of protesting against the club’s ownership over the years, so it follows that fans may be in a position to decide whether the Saudis remain at the club or not.

Newcastle United fans have certainly proven themselves to be more than capable of protesting against the club’s ownership over the years, so it follows that fans may be in a position to decide whether the Saudis remain at the club or not. Even protests on a moderate scale may be enough to force a change.

In my view it is very much up to the fans whether the current owners remain in place. The current situation amounts to an understanding that supporters maintain the pretence that there is nothing too objectionable about the ownership, and in return some trophies will be delivered. I would take absolutely no pleasure from any trophies won under this ownership.

I don’t think the club has ever been held in lower regard by people around the world than it is at the moment, and I don’t see how anyone could have respect for any success the club has as a result of what I regard as the fans’ willing collusion with Saudi Arabia.

On the other hand, there is an opportunity here too. There are not many organisations or institutions of any description that have turned away from Saudi money, certainly not in this country. The British government has always appeared willing to bend over backwards to accommodate the Saudis. In 2006, Tony Blair stopped a corruption investigation into payments made by BAE Systems to Saudi Arabia, stating that the “our relationship with Saudi Arabia is vitally important…. that strategic interest comes first”. In the current political climate, cultivating ever closer links with Gulf monarchies like Saudi Arabia is likely to become an even greater priority for the government.

Since the Saudi-led coalition initiated the war in Yemen in 2015, Unicef says that the situation in the country has become one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world, with more than 23.4 million people in need of assistance, while the Council on Foreign Relations says that more than 4 million people have been displaced. Thousands of civilians have been killed by bombing.

During the course of the war, BAE Systems has sold £17.6 billion worth of arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia, while both BAE and the RAF have personnel permanently stationed there. British support is vital to this effort: in 2019, a BAE Employee told Channel 4’s Dispatches: “If we weren’t there, in 7 to 14 days there wouldn’t be a jet in the sky.”1

Some Newcastle fans have argued that they see no reason why they should oppose Saudi ownership if our government is happy to do business with them, but the British state’s strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia should hardly be seen as any sort of endorsement, and I’m certain that is obvious to most onlookers.

Some have argued that there is no reason to oppose Saudi ownership if our government is happy to do business with them, but the British state's strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia should hardly be seen as any sort of endorsement.

If our supporters came together to eject the Saudis from our club then I think we’d gain a lot of recognition, and I’d take far more pride in that than any success achieved under this ownership.

For a genuine alternative view on Newcastle’s ownership, visit our twitter account @nosauditoon and, if you can, support our protest at St James’ Park on Saturday 12th November at 16.15.

  1. And see also David Wearing’s “Britain’s War in Yemen” for New Socialist. “The British state is playing a leading, enabling role in causing the disaster. When Yemeni civilians are killed it is often by British-supplied bombs and missiles dropped from British-built planes flown by British-trained pilots, and with maintenance provided on the ground by British technicians.” 


Andrew Page