After 16 long weeks, the proposed takeover of Newcastle United – which officially began in January but has been at the forefront of fans’ minds for far longer – has reached a conclusion. The consortium has pulled the plug.
So acute has been the tension over the past few months that at times it’s been easy to forget what exactly we were getting excited about. Most of the headlines that have forensically dissected this seemingly never-ending saga have focused on the buying side, the Saudi Public Investment Fund, which in attempting to purchase a controlling stake in the club alongside Amanda Staveley and the Reuben brothers, would have made Newcastle one of the world’s richest clubs.
Amid this media circus, it has been easy to get caught up in the more superficial aspects of what this takeover represented: big-ticket signings and a rocket-propelled journey towards the upper echelons of the Premier League. The size of the deal represented something well beyond many supporters’ wildest dreams.
However, for most, the kernel of joy in this proposed takeover was not necessarily what it heralded but, more importantly, what it signalled the end of: Mike Ashley’s miserable 13-year tenure.
Rumours of Gareth Bale and Philippe Coutinho have swirled, but what most fans had wanted from this was more modest: a reorientation of the club, to make it one that communicated with its supporters and was able and willing to compete. More than anything, fans yearned for a team they could be proud of, and a club whose ambitions represented a fairer return on the love and money they have dotingly invested each week.
Importantly, too, the blueprint stretched beyond the pitch. In a number of set-piece articles, fans were seduced by plans to invest in the foundation, the city and the Quayside – the makings of a project that showed faith not only in our dream that Newcastle United were a sleeping giant in English football but also the city’s untapped potential in an often-ignored part of the UK.
In its withdrawal, the consortium feels it has not been fairly treated by the Premier League throughout the process. At the same time, questions must be asked of the buying side who, we were reassured from the start, was unwaveringly committed to the project, whatever the hurdles.
Many things remain unclear: why has the Premier League taken so long to make a decision? Why has the consortium backed out before a decision had been made? How did due diligence from the buying side fail to anticipate looming piracy allegations?
These are questions we’ll invariably be given differing answers to over the coming days. But will any of those answers sufficiently address or acknowledge the pain suffered by supporters over the past four months? I suspect not. Unsurprisingly, finger-pointing has started, with one of the consortium’s major players slamming the Premier League. I am sure these allegations won’t go unanswered.
As for the big moral questions – ones that have burdened Premier League executives for months and were likely responsible for the delay – there are no simple answers. What was put in front of the Premier League – a binary yes/no decision – does not do justice to the complexity of the issues. But the way it has been handled from start to finish – the communication vacuum, the false promises, the very public PR battle accompanying a very “confidential” owners’ and directors’ test – has made it all the more painful for those watching on.
Many of the takeover’s most outspoken critics will rejoice – and maybe in the long term they will be proven right – but it’s hard not to feel there has been a total disregard for those who make the club what it is: its unshakeable fanbase.
I would guess the prevailing perception of Newcastle United among most modern-day football fans amounts to little more than “broken”, a far sight from the glory days of the 90s. Under Ashley, the club has been more likely to hit the headlines for off-pitch farce than on-pitch successes, which is less than ideal. The latest developments are arguably the most depressing chapter in the misery chronicles.
What happens next is unknown. A largely uneventful season has finally ended and the transfer window is open. But the club remains in the hands of an owner who, even when he didn’t want to sell, was uninvested in its success. The supporters and club remain in limbo, just as they have done for the past 13 years, and our most promising sign of hope is now disappearing before our eyes.
Harry Savill is editor of The Spectator’s View and is on Twitter @hajsavill