Saturday, October 31

Newcastle fans ‘confused and heartbroken’ by takeover collapse

Newcastle United fans say they are “confused” and “heartbroken” following the collapse of the Saudi Arabian-backed takeover.

A consortium, led by the country’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), agreed a £300m deal to buy the club from Mike Ashley in April but has now pulled out.

Greg Tomlinson, from the Newcastle United Supporters’ Trust, said “answers are needed from the Premier League”.

Fellow supporter Michelle George said: “It’s left fans devastated.”

The deal was delayed after being scrutinised under the Premier League’s owners’ and directors’ test.

And the consortium, which also included PCP Capital Partners and the Reuben Brothers, has pulled out because it is understood the PIF ran out of patience.

Magpies supporter George added: “As fans, we are heartbroken. It sounds dramatic but we have suffered for 13 years under Ashley through a lack of interest and investment in the club.

“So the fact it played out how it did and for the length of time it did and then for the news to break, and we still don’t have the full picture.”

Legal documents were handed over to the Premier League 16 weeks ago, but the bid has been dogged by claims regarding Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and its handling of TV piracy.

The delay to the process came because the Premier League lawyers struggled to establish precise links between the consortium and the Saudi government.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is also the PIF’s chairman.

Despite the ownership complications, a survey of Newcastle United Supporters’ Trust members found that 97% of them were in favour of the takeover, with many wanting rid of Ashley.

“Everyone was excited about the bid and potential investment in the city, so it represents a missed opportunity for Newcastle and the north-east as a region,” added Tomlinson.

“We’re left confused about what has gone on here – it’s been almost 17 weeks of noise.

“It’s been made clear that football supporters are the least important part in a decision which affects supporters the most.

“We have been treated with contempt.”

George, who is a solicitor, said the Premier League had to “shoulder some blame” for the deal falling through.

“The test didn’t allow [Premier League chief executive] Richard Masters to take into account moral issues which he or the people around him thought were important,” she said.

“I understand it was a confidential process but for it to carry on that long, they should at least tell us what the position was.”

She added: “Everybody was thinking we could be the next Manchester City, although caveated by what’s come to light now, that nothing really good happens with Newcastle.”

As for the future, both Tomlinson and George are hopeful, so long as the future does not involve Ashley.

American businessman Henry Mauriss is understood to be keen to buy the club for £350m.

Tomlinson says he is “sceptical” about that deal, but added: “I now hope we can find somebody who is willing to buy the club and pass relevant tests and take us forward in a proper manner.

“There is no future for Newcastle United under the current owner.”

George said: “Fans were done with Mike Ashley before this happened and looking ahead to the new season, it doesn’t give you huge amount of motivation to spend £70 on a new shirt, or a look at transfer rumours because other clubs have already started to buy players, and we know we will be scraping the bottom of the barrel.

“There will still be things to talk about but everyone is going to wake up and feel a bit sad for a few days.”

Analysis

BBC sports editor Dan Roan

Arguably the most controversial takeover deal in Premier League history is finally over.

Sources close to the consortium say they tried to prove to the Premier League that the Saudi government would have no say in the day-to-day running of the club.

The Premier League seems to have been concerned that individuals not on the club’s new board would have had influence over decision-making at St James’ Park because the Saudi Crown Prince is the chairman of PIF. Given that the Saudis has been forced to deny allegations they had facilitated TV rights piracy after complaints from the Premier League themselves, this took on even greater importance, and ultimately this issue could not be resolved.

Current owner Mike Ashley is also understood to have tried to renegotiate the deal in recent days because of the length of time that had lapsed, and that also contributed to the decision by the group to walk away.

But with so many negative headlines over Saudi Arabia’s poor human rights record, the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, and the war in Yemen – plus tension with rival clubs and broadcast partner beIN Sport over television rights piracy concerns – Premier League officials may be privately relieved the consortium has taken the decision out of its hands.

Many in football will now want to see its Owners and Directors’ Test strengthened to ensure states like Saudi Arabia cannot buy clubs, and there is no repeat of a saga that has done little for the game’s reputation.

After months of uncertainty, however, Newcastle United fans desperate to see the back of Ashley will no doubt see it very differently.

Source: BBC Sports

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