Come match day, St James’ Park is the beating heart of Newcastle. Its pride of place in the centre of the city and its iconic roof dominating the skyline and inviting its congregation to assemble are emblematic of how inextricably linked the club is to the community.
It is painfully ironic that an institution so loved inherited such a neglectful owner in Mike Ashley. The club turns 140 下个月, meaning it has been in his hands for a 10th of its life; the damage done in that time has overwritten in many people’s minds the successes that preceded his ownership.
It has become fashionable over the years to berate Newcastle fans for having wildly unrealistic expectations, for “living in the 90s”, and treating various managers with disrespect: certain pundits have made a handsome career out of talking about it on the radio.
然而, it is worth acknowledging this takeover – and the unrelenting efforts that have gone into pushing this over the line – did not occur in a vacuum. This isn’t RB Leipzig. In buying Newcastle, Amanda Staveley and her Saudi-led consortium are inheriting a club whose history runs deep, which had qualified for the Champions League three times in the 10 seasons before Ashley arrived and which, after years of hurt, is begging to be loved.
Most importantly, the fans’ loyalty and passion help stand Newcastle apart from other clubs when on-field performances haven’t. The fans make it a seductive commercial prospect, and this was no doubt an influential factor for the buyers.
While it is easy to be sidetracked by the Hollywood ascent of Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain, fan expectations in Newcastle are far more modest: ambition, recovered dignity, renewed hope. And they don’t necessarily require a war chest of funds to satisfy them.
Small touches in the first instance would help restore the club as the institution it once was. Emulating the example set by Leicester City’s owner, who puts community outreach and fan experience front and centre of operations, would be a significant improvement on the diet of unfulfilled promises and outright lies we’ve been fed by Ashley.
Early promises from the new owners of investing in the city, in the foundation and the vital work it spearheads, and in girls’ and women’s football have been well received. Opening regular lines of dialogue with the Newcastle Supporters Trust and investing in community events that can re-energise civic pride would further strengthen their foothold with fans.
From a footballing perspective, top of the list will be a heavyweight director of football with the experience and reputation to forge an identity that extends beyond being an advertising vessel for Sports Direct. Long-overdue investment in the outdated training ground and neglected stadium would make them fit to accommodate and inspire the players who grace them.
As for Steve Bruce, his days look numbered. With a win percentage of 29% and a defiantly unacademic approach to tactics, his homegrown enthusiasm has proven an insufficient substitute for managerial prowess. If the owners are serious about creating a project based on ambition and innovation, Bruce sadly must be confined to the Ashley era.
当然, it would be remiss to ignore the scrutiny the club and fans will inevitably receive around the Saudi owners’ background, which has been widely documented and for good reason. Any success Newcastle achieve – from ambitious signings to, and I whisper it, winning a trophy – risks being tainted by the unsavoury associations that have followed the consortium from day one. How fans compute these challenges remains to be seen – for now, all anyone with ties to the club is thinking about is the ousting of Ashley.
This unlikely marriage is in its honeymoon stage, but if the owners fulfil even a fraction of the promises they have made, this could be a watershed moment for the club and its community.
When Newcastle host Tottenham, it is possible not a lot will seem different; the squad will be just as depleted and Bruce may still be on the sidelines. But the stands will be humming positive notes for the first time in a very long while, and the tune will be not one of pain and disappointment but excitement and hope. A new era begins now.