How a new era dawned at St James’ Park

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October 19, 2021
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    Newcastle United supportersPolls of Newcastle fans have shown overwhelming support for the club's new owners

    In some ways, it seemed an ordinary matchday as Newcastle fans climbed the hill towards St James' Park.

    But the cover of the matchday programme was maybe the first clue. Midfielder Sean Longstaff was set on a background of pure gold.

    Newcastle United programme

    Sunday's Premier League match against Tottenham was the first since the club was bought in a takeover backed by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF) – a body reported to be worth in excess of £250bn. The deal makes Newcastle one of the richest clubs in world football.

    The prospect of their fortunes being transformed both on the balance sheet and the league table have prompted celebrations from many fans.

    Newcastle fansNewcastle fans

    The Premier League approved the takeover after getting "legally binding assurances" that the Public Investment Fund's ownership would not mean the club was being controlled by the state of Saudi Arabia. That distinction did not stop some supporters draping themselves in the Saudi flag.

    Fan wearing a Saudi Arabia flag

    There have been criticisms of the deal, as Saudi Arabia has been accused of a host of human rights abuses. Western intelligence agencies believe the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 – which he denies. A van showing Khashoggi's face and that of the crown prince, who is listed as the chair of PIF, circled the ground before kick-off.

    A van with pictures of Jamal Khashoggi and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

    Some away fans protested against Saudi Arabia's hostility to LGBTQ+ rights.external-link Homosexuality is outlawed in the country and the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association says the death penalty is the legally prescribed punishment for same-sex sexual acts in Saudi Arabia.

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    The transfer window is shut, but Newcastle's new-found wealth has not stopped a host of players being linked with the club already. One fan hoped for a more impressive team effort rather than the arrival of any particular superstar player.

    A sign held by a Newcastle fan

    Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the club's new non-executive chairman and the governor of PIF, arrived at the ground well before kick-off…

    Yasir Al-Rumayyan

    …and the fans' flag group Wor Flags, who have not brought banners to the ground since May 2019 in protest at how the club was run by previous owner Mike Ashley, were also in place in plenty of time.

    Flags

    Before kick-off a banner was unveiled featuring the words of Geordie actor Jimmy Nail, hailing the resilience of the city.

    Banner in Gallowgate

    Al-Rumayyan and consortium figurehead Amanda Staveley were introduced to the crowd and given a rapturous reception.

    Al-Rumayyan and consortium figurehead Amanda Staveley

    However there was less love for the outgoing owner, with Ashley's face taped to a ball at the foot of a statue of the legendary Jackie Milburn.

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