There has been a small debate among certain sections of the Newcastle United fanbase this season about just how old the famous club that wear black and white in the North East of England are.
Do we mark anniversaries based on the older parent club, Stanley FC, founded in 1881? Or its merger with Newcastle West End in 1892 which created the club we know today, Newcastle United?
Whichever way you look at it, I think everyone will agree that 2021 marks one of the most significant years in the club’s history and in time could even be seen as the most important year of its existence.
As what you may call a rather proactive fan, I’ve spent most of the last 14 years, eight of them as an expat in Dubai, actively and vocally trying to promote change from the previous Mike Ashley ownership. As founder of the supporter's club, founding and interim chair of the Supporter's Trust, fanzine and newspaper writer, radio show host and currently YouTube broadcaster on the NUFC Matters channel, I’ve pushed for change in every possible way I can.
Finally, this year, it finally paid off, for all Newcastle fans.
After three years of attempts, resistance from football authorities, broadcast companies and anyone else who felt that they could chip in their two pennies’ worth, the consortium of the Saudi Public Investment Fund, Amanda Staveley's PCP Capital Partners and the Reuben Brothers — well-known property magnates in the UK who have a vested interest in Newcastle — finally took control of the club.
It hasn’t been easy.
The PIF has shown amazing resilience and patience to get the club. It was also not without legal action taken by the previous owner to force through the sale. Complex, and at times controversial, but in October 2021 the deal was signed, sealed and done.
Relief. Joy. Delirium. You can name any positive emotion you like. They all came to pass for all supporters of the club. There were literal celebrations in the streets. Under previous owner, Mike Ashley, we were a ghost ship of a club. Simply existing. Happy to survive and without ambition, the club had become a soulless vacuum, devoid of hope, dysfunctional and joyless. The mood swing since the takeover is palpable in every way you can measure.
Returning home to Newcastle for the recent holiday period I was able to see and feel first hand just how everything has changed in terms of mood, hope and more. The atmosphere in the city pre-match is something akin to the early 1990s and the Kevin Keegan “entertainers” years. Yet here we are, languishing at the bottom of the table, a genuine mountain to climb. But there is belief. Belief that in the PIF’s investment we have a springboard to better days. Belief that the consortium that has come together can provide the leadership and decisions to keep our status and build an exciting future. Belief in new manager Eddie Howe and the squad seemingly buying into his methods, personified by Brazilian Joelinton who looks like a whole new player.
It feels like we’ve been backed into a corner and between dubious VAR decisions, petulant comments in the press from so-called football writers and sniping from fans of other clubs, there is also a growing feeling of us against the world. And you know that may just be the kind of feeling that will help galvanize us all, the club, ownership, team, manager and fans, to do something amazing in the New Year and something spectacular in the years ahead.
There are a lot of lazy stereotypes about Newcastle fans that often get bandied about as fact when they couldn’t be further from the truth. Apparently we’re expectant, demanding, and have ideas above our station. For supporters of a club without a domestic trophy since 1955 or any competition win since the 1969 Inter Cities Fairs Cup, that always was a strange thing to say.
The reality is far from the truth. We want a club to be proud of, a team that gives 100 percent. We want hope and ambition, the desire to bloody the nose of the great and good and compete on a level playing field. With the investment of the PIF, we have gone from a club with no hope, no owner investment for 10 years and only $9.5 million in capital expenditure in that period (less than some League One clubs) to a reinvigorated sleeping giant, ready to rise. Hope has returned along with joy and the ability to dream again.
For a set of fans with supposedly “unreal expectations,” the ecstatic social media celebrations when the stadium’s windows were washed go some way to explain just how low the Ashley years had brought the bar and drained us all of so many of the simple pleasures that football can bring.
Now, all that has changed. We can dream big again.
One thing that stands out for me is the potential for growth. For NUFC as a club on the world stage. For Newcastle and its people as investment opportunities open up into the region. For PCP Capital Partners and the Reuben Brothers. For the PIF opening its portfolio to a truly global stage and for fans of Newcastle United, old and new, who in a small way can play their part in Saudi’s Vision 2030.
One thing is for sure — as anyone who knows Geordies would tell you — we won’t be a silent partner in any of this for sure.
From depressing lows to incredible highs, 2021 will be remembered as year like no other for Newcastle as a city, the North East of England as a region and for Newcastle United, the shining beacon that we look to as expats and the club we support through thick and thin.
For a so-called “small club in the North of England” we’ve made quite a lot of noise in the last quarter of 2021. And we’ve only just started.