On the eve of the first anniversary of the Newcastle United takeover, club Chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan delivered a special open letter to the club’s fans.
“The first game after the takeover will live long in my memory,” he said recalling the home game against Tottenham on Oct. 17, 2021 and the “feeling of pride at holding the black and white scarf entering the stadium.”
So much has happened since that day, and I was lucky to experience many of those moments both in Newcastle and at home in Saudi Arabia.
Here are my main takes from a memorable year.
When Keith Patterson, a popular Newcastle fan who helped push the takeover, was asked about the biggest change at the club after the Saudi-backed purchase, he replied simply: “Hope.”
That there is the hope of winning a trophy — something that could not be envisioned a year ago — is a sign of just how ambitious Newcastle United, both the club and its fans, have become.
It might not come this season, but now there is real hope that a first trophy since the 1969 Fairs Cup is on the way.
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Pre-season sets tone for new campaign
Winning the Premier League is not the target for Newcastle right now, and supporters know that a far more realistic target is winning a domestic cup at Wembley or reaching Europe next season.
The club’s intentions were clear from the pre-season camps in Austria and Portugal, which saw impressive displays against Benfica and Atlanta in particular.
With an improved, settled squad in place, the feel-good factor of the summer has carried over into the season.
The January transfer window set a high bar for Newcastle’s recruitment, with Kieran Trippier, Dan Burn, Bruno Guimaraes and Chris Wood joining on a full-time basis.
And things have only improved since then, with the summer window seeing the likes of Nick Pope, Sven Botman and Alexander Isak joining Eddie Howe’s squad.
During the summer, fans were impatient for big-name signings, but the management’s vision was different, with Howe prioritizing individuals with the right personality for his team before anything else.
Off the pitch, recruitment has also been meticulous, the club biding their time to get the right people in place. From signing Howe himself, to adding Sporting Director Dan Ashworth, CEO Darren Eales and others, Newcastle now has a management team that is the envy of most clubs.
A promising start to the Premier League season
The start to the 2022-23 season could not be more different from that of last season, when Newcastle failed to win any of their first 14 fixtures.
This time around, Newcastle kicked off with a 2-0 win over Nottingham Forest and after eight matches find themselves seventh in the league and eyeing Europe.
The 11 points have come from two wins, five draws and only one narrow loss to Liverpool. Some of those draws could have been wins as well, and while a lot of hard work still awaits Howe and his squad in the coming months, no one is complaining about this positive start.
Upcoming challenges off the pitch
Newcastle’s to-do list remains a long one, and one of the challenges — a welcome one — is how to meet the demands of fans.
St. James’ over-52,000 capacity could be sold several times over for every match. There has even been talk of a brand-new stadium with an 80,000 capacity.
In theory, that may solve a problem, but in reality, it will initiate a bigger one. St. James remains the heart of the city, and its location is culturally and financially precious.
Far more likely is redeveloping this historic home.
Mehrdad Ghodoussi, part-owner of Newcastle United, has made it clear that the club is in talks with the city council to try and expand St. James’ capacity.
Leaving the stadium, he said, would be “like tearing your soul out.”
He added: “There are a lot of things that need to happen first. If we can get it to 60,000 or 65,000, it will be amazing, and we’ll look at every possibility.”