Football club for sale,no questions asked. But why would there be?
Posted on October 21, 2021
Stick with this, even if you’re not a football fan.
On Wednesday, Newcastle United sacked their manager, Steve Bruce.
I think I’d quite like Steve Bruce if I ever met him. He was a very good, no-nonsense footballer and, what’s more, he played for the club I support and then went on to manage it quite successfully. He’s clearly a chap who’s no stranger to either a buffet or a drop of alcohol to go with it and, by his own admission, had to take stock of such indulgence when catching sight of a grotesquely unflattering photograph of himself. Plenty of us know that one, Steve.
His enforced departure from his job, albeit with a healthy pay-off, came about because of the takeover of Newcastle United by the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) which provided 80% of the £305 million bid. It is, of course, crucial to understand that the PIF is most definitely not an arm of the Saudi state presided over by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, often referred to with cheery familiarity as MBS. What’s that you say? MBS is Chair of the PIF? Well, I think we can confidently say that a man of such integrity and honourable intent will easily be able to separate his regal role and level of commitment to his new-found trinket.
The prevailing narrative seems to be that we are to be shocked and appalled that individuals connected to a regime which indulges in medieval justice and human butchery can forge such close connections to an historic English football club. A disgrace, of course. Who would want to besmirch themselves by dealing with such people?
One possibility is the UK government, which sells the Saudis fleets of Tornado fighter planes. These generate sums running into tens of billions since 2010, with £11 billion’s worth being sold in 2019 alone. For the avoidance of doubt, these bombers do not sit in hangars or on runways as prized toys of bored, rich boys: they drop tons of munitions on Yemen, causing death, misery and famine among some of the world’s poorest people. There’s also the minor irritant of people banging on about the involvement of MBS in the death and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, but he said he had nothing to do with it, so that’s OK.
All the same, naughty old government. Naughty old Newcastle. Why couldn’t they have shopped around to find a respectable, honourable owner like Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City who, we are assured, most definitely does not use the club as a means of laundering the finances of the shining beacon of human rights that is Abu Dhabi? Or Roman Abramovich who so obviously acquired his massive wealth through thrift, honesty and a dedication to preserving villages which could have been obliterated by pipeline construction? Couldn’t they just have found a buccaneering international venture capitalist like John Henry at Liverpool or the loveable Glazer family at Manchester United?
Newcastle fans can be excused for complaining that they, and the club they love, should now be expected to uphold a moral standard that has been ragged and sagging for at least two decades. Of all the notions to elicit sneers and snorts from those (of us) who follow the game closely, none induces more spluttering than the idea that there is some sort of guardianship when it comes to fit and proper persons buying clubs. In fairness, it was once local businessmen – yes, gender specific – often indulging their own ill-gotten gains in loss-making vanity projects. Now it is the province of the unscrupulous in pursuit of a glory that is attainable by an ever-diminishing few.
At the end of last Sunday’s game, Newcastle fans in their thousands chanted for the sacking of their manager. However, like many football supporters I know, while they were doing so, I was almost hugging myself with glee at the sight of their new, smug owners looking uncomfortable and miserable in their unfamiliar surroundings. So you thought it was all about glory, adulation and excitement? Well, football, as those of us acquainted with it any level will tell you, will always bite you on the arse given even the slimmest of opportunities to do so. It’s a game, not a commodity.
And that’s why I’m on the side of portly, temporarily disillusioned Steve Bruce. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, he intimated that this could be his last job after playing over 900 games and managing for the neat one thousand which ended at the weekend. He’s 60 years old and a rich man, so why bother? Like I say, I don’t know him, but I’m going to chance this small wager: Steve Bruce will manage another football club.
Why? Because he loves the game. Because he knows its not a commodity. Because he comes from a working-class community and understands its value to people. And that sort of value far exceeds anything that the blood-money changers, the butchers and the rights’ abusers can ever begin to imagine.