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Newcastle United fans take to Downing Street to protest over protracted takeover

Approximately 300 Newcastle fans embarked on Downing Street to criticize the lack of transparency shown by the English Premier League’s (EPL) governing body towards a £340m takeover involving Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. The protracted takeover, which has been negotiated by PCP Capital financier Amanda Staveley, collapsed last year. Since then, the proposal has been in the hands of an independent arbitration panel and Newcastle supporters – as well as Staveley – are imploring the government to force the hand of the EPL to reveal the reasons for the deal’s failure.

Newcastle United photo
Photo: Newcastle United

The supporters that ventured down from the north-east of England to the capital complained of being “kept in the dark” regarding the ongoing takeover appeal. The Geordies are some of the most passionate football fans in the UK and their loyal fan base is crying out for some stability off the field, with current owner Mike Ashley having spent the last few years cultivating a sale of his majority shareholding. It’s an ongoing saga that’s proving to be a blot on the landscape of English football, bringing negativity to the nation’s sport after the recent highs of the country reaching the EURO 2020 final.

On the field, the Magpies finished the 2020/21 EPL campaign in good shape, cementing a 12th-placed finish well clear of the relegation zone, despite mounting pressure on boss Steve Bruce. Newcastle surprised many pundits with their strong performances to end the season, picking up plenty of points on home soil despite the lack of the Geordie faithful to roar them on. As a matter of fact, home advantage was unaffected by empty stadiums throughout the EPL in 2020/21, with home teams winning 46.2% of matches between June and October 2020, compared to the long-time average of 45.4%.

Squad strengthening seemingly out of the question for Magpies’ boss Steve Bruce

While the long-term stability of Newcastle United’s ownership remains in question, it looks unlikely that Magpies boss Steve Bruce will be given substantial funds with which to strengthen his squad for the 2021/22 EPL campaign. This is proving a serious cause for concern among fans, who fear their club will stand still or even go backwards towards the relegation places in 2021/22. At the time of writing, Newcastle have made no new signings in the summer transfer window, with Steve Bruce working hard to secure the services of Arsenal youngster Joe Willock on loan once again. Apart from that deal, there has been precious little transfer speculation given the uncertainty surrounding long-term funding.

Amanda Staveley penned an open letter to Tracey Crouch, the former sports minister, criticising the EPL for its lack of accountability and transparency surrounding the deal and the subsequent appeal. Newcastle Central’s MP Chi Onwurah even got involved with the takeover negotiations last summer when she wrote to EPL chief executive Richard Masters. However, Masters responded to Onwurah and insisted that the takeover consortium initially rejected the option of an independent arbitration on the deal.

Long-serving Newcastle fan and protest organizer Holly Blades insisted that Magpies’ supporters had grown sick and tired of waiting around for a decision on its club’s future. Ms Blades said it had been “15 months that [they] have now been waiting for an answer”. Blades insisted that it wasn’t healthy for supporters or the club in general to be “kept in this limbo” while trying to compete at the highest level of English football. Blades said the protest was launched because a section of fans could no longer “sit and have no comment” from EPL officials.

The independent arbitration had been due to commence sometime this month, but the case has been adjourned until early 2022 due to “issues with the disclosure of evidence” involving both parties. Blades said that Newcastle fans are the lifeblood of the club and have a “right to know what is happening in this situation”. The 300-plus protestors attempted to hand deliver a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, imploring him to intervene in the appeal in the same way the UK government did over the failed European Super League project.

High-profile Newcastle United fans and TV presenters Ant and Dec even took to their official Twitter account to voice their confusion at the EPL’s inability to provide transparency “around the arbitration regarding #nufctakeover”. Magpies’ fans continued their protest away from Downing Street and moved to Parliament Square.

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