Inside the Newcastle United fan fightback – the tale of taking back takeover control, told by supporters on the frontline
Forgotten, overlooked, unloved, uncared for.
A lone man stands on a street. W2, London. A 90s raver, a Tyneside expat, a takeover pioneer. He's just bought a Barbour, but he wants Masters.
Another relents to friend pleas to join a movement. Be part of something more, something bigger. Now finds himself at the top, membership growth exponential. He wants clarity.
107,000 names and counting. It began with one, aghast, living room signature, full of Sky Sports News ticker tape fury. The fightback begins.
A talking head, living room laptop laughs, cutting opinions, a voice for the fans. The likely lads, three musketeers. Touching, spirit-lifting, positive. An actor, self-publicist. We want Saudi.
Born of Scandinavian fire and ice, forged on the banks of the Tyne – delivering joy and pain, in often unequal doses. Tweets, retweets, definite endorsements. A digital team off the terraces.
The backgrounds may be varied, but the views one and the same. The Newcastle United takeover saga has done nothing for the constitution, the brain, the heart. It's pulled at the strings, pressed at the buttons, causing scars that reveal a crying soul. It didn't take much scratching to see the pain.
But, in all of this, deal or no deal, Newcastle has never been more United. Not United against Ashley, this time at least. United for change, United for riches and a future, United for hope.
Newcastle United fans refused to let this £300 million deal die - the one brokered in Riyadh over tall glasses of cardamom-infused amber, fine-tuned in Park Lane with a North Yorkshire twist, backed by the rich list boys from Bombay.
The continental flavour of the deal's origins remain, but this is now very much a Geordie takeover. Our takeover.
Here FIVE key figures tell their story, in their own words, having 'done their bit' to get the takeover fight back on the front foot, parked in the front yard of the opposition. From the man at Premier League HQ to the Friday night Zoom calls, the supporter plea, the deal as a phoenix from the flames.
'They're smuggling him out'
Roots in Whitley Bay, worked in Heaton, moved to London for money, opportunity and love.
Tyler, or @HaddawayMan as he's known on Twitter, used his unique position as a capital Mag to scout the Premier League HQ last week for three days, supported by the London Magpies supporters group.
He took the fight from Tyneside to the doormat of the Premier League, careful not to tread on any fans below it.
And here he tells what he did and why.
Q: What are your Newcastle United roots?
"I was a NUFC fan throughout childhood attending games from early teens but dropped off going to the games in the early 90's when I became an avid clubber locally such as Walkers, Shindig and Rockshots and travelled to clubs across the country. First moved to London the year we missed out on the Premier league."
Q: Why did you decide to do what you did?
"I saw Amanda Staveley's statement and decided to help raise the profile and thought that I might be able to show that the Premier League would not want to deal with fans or answer questions."
Q: It certainly got some traction online, do you believe that in 'doing your bit' it helped the cause and raise awareness more widely?
"It went viral online and I think it did play a small part in helping to raise the profile with the city council and government with both getting involved shortly afterwards."
Q: Would you do it again?
"I would do it again. The important part is being professional in what you do."
Q: And finally, what do you want from this process?
"I want a football fans charter or constitution drafted for football as a whole. This should be produced by fans from all clubs and be for fans. To avoid any particular groups becoming too strong and will also lay out how different groups are scrutinised."
25, 50, 75, 100 & more
It started with one, it could now fill two St James's Parks.
The petition on change.org has been the one absolute constant in the takeover fightback – and from humble beginnings, drafted on a living room settee, has been pushed by Geordie royalty Ant and Dec, celebrity fans, normal ones. Been discussed at No10 Downing Street and pulled a fanbase, beaten, heartbroken, back from the dead.
Sean H, or @NUFCTakeoverP as he wants to be known for the piece, does not welcome credit for what he has done, nor does he crave notoriety.
Q: Why a petition?
"Firstly, I don’t want the focus to be about me for starting it as I fear that might take the attention from what we have achieved as a fanbase. The petition was started out of suspicion that there was ‘foul play’ at work in regards to how the Newcastle United takeover was handled by the Premier League, especially after the Saudi backing was pulled out. Their continued silence regarding claims from the likes of Amanda Staveley do nothing to relieve the suspicions."
Q: Did you ever think it would take off like it did?
"When I originally set it up, I honestly didn’t think it would prove to be as successful as it has been. I've seen petitions start and fail over the past couple months for a host of different reasons. That being said, it may not have been as successful if certain Twitter accounts with influence such as Steve Wraith and NUFC360 hadn’t shared it because they took the petition from hundreds of signatures to thousands overnight."
Q: Is transparency the key in all of this? Or a decision from the PL? And what do you hope comes of it?
"I believe it has gone past the point of just gaining clarity from the PL because everyone has such little trust in what they have to say at this point. The only way to completely remove those suspicions is to carry out a full investigation into their conduct which is what we hope to achieve with this petition."
Q: Do you want a Saudi takeover?
"Of course, I still want the takeover to happen because the impact it could have on the region along with Newcastle United itself could and would be huge."
The voice of the fans, for the fans – for all of us
This hasn't just been a battle fought among the lavish riches of the Saudi court, or the Premier League boardrooms, or even St James's Park – it's been shifted to the doorsteps of every single person, man, woman and child of Tyneside, the North East and beyond.
Things have gone political – and the Newcastle United Supporters Trust have played a massive role in this shifting of the narrative.
They've helped transport the battleground. This is not just about this Saudi deal, it's about every takeover, for every club. And it's about what this might have meant for Newcastle, not just United.
They've pulled along near 50 members of parliament, from across the land, cross party support, to call for answers. Change is their drive, Premier League clarity their aim. And chair Alex Hurst's quest is to satisfy not only the wider fans’ want for words, but his near 14,000 members' thirst for change.
Q: Do you feel some clarity and at least a response from the PL would satisfy your members?
"I think the silence from the PL would help quash some theories going around. Silence creates a vacuum. But then it depends on what type of response we get. Amanda Staveley has made public some serious accusations about the role of other clubs in this and the influence of Qatar. In addition to that the PL’s own conduct needs to be examined. If all of the above was addressed open and honestly then yes I’d think members would be satisfied."
Q: Can this pressure from the fans really make a difference?
"It’s already made a small difference in shining the spotlight on the PL. Over 40 MPs have been in touch with the PL thanks to fan pressure and individual Trust members lobbying their MPs for answers. In terms of the takeover, who knows? I’d like to think so and I feel like we’ve done what Amanda Staveley asked of us. For too long different groups or even just twitter accounts have attacked each other. It’s been Mike Ashley’s biggest asset, our division."
Q: After the political drive, what are the next steps for the trust?
"That’s a hard question as we have to see what’s next for Newcastle United. Should there be no takeover we will make an effort to get back around the table with Lee Charnley to discuss the immediate future of Newcastle United."
Q: What would you and the trust see as a victory?
"Answers and therefore a decision from the PL on this takeover. It’s correct that there should be a proper process in place to vet the people who want to own our club. If they aren’t suitable, you’d think they’d have failed the test by now after nearly five months. If they are, then allow them to pass the test?"
A 360 view, from around the globe
Your Twitter alerts, my Twitter alerts. @NUFC360 is in the homes, the devices and the thoughts of Newcastle United fans across the globe. When that phone buzzes, we all get that feeling.
360, founded by @DannyNUFC360, has become many Magpies supporters 'go to' outlet for all things black and white. The rumours, crazy or not, the chatter, the craic.
They've given fans hope, killed it in a tweet. Passed on the news, good and bad. But what's it like carrying that kind of expectation, responsibility? We asked them via @EvinG_98.
Q: Is it difficult balancing being a fan and a news service?
"It’s very difficult. Do we simply just report all of the news and never comment on it? Do we offer any opinion on anything at all? Ultimately, we are fans and we want to have a voice and be able to comment on things. We have a responsibility to inform fans. We owe it to our followers to provide the best possible coverage of Newcastle, without spreading fake news or trying to be ITK. There’s pressure and there’s stress and there’s responsibilities for sure."
Q: What has been like monitoring the takeover process?
"It's been an absolute rollercoaster of emotions. One day we are on top of the world and the next we’re back to square one. Some admins have even questioned why we put ourselves through it, but it’s because we love the club and we want to keep the fanbase informed."
Q: Momentum. Will it fade or continue to flow?
"I think a lot will depend on the noises we hear from either the PL, Ashley’s camp or the consortium. In the meantime, we will aim to continue piling on the pressure and working with fan groups to achieve our common goal.”
Q: Your NUFC hopes for the future?
"The ultimate aim is for transparency from the PL. And if a by-product of that is that the deal gets back on, then fantastic. But our aim is to find out why this takeover didn’t happen, why they didn’t make a decision and what external influences were at play etc. Cloud nine would be for the deal to be back on the table. But we aren’t getting our hopes up on that just yet."
'We have been sold a dream' - Ashley OUT, Saudi IN
By his own admission Steve Wraith is a Marmite figure among the Newcastle United fanbase. Some fans love him, others the opposite. Either way, it matters little to the man.
Throughout the 17-week wait the promoter/actor/author/broadcaster/NUFC activist and fan has proven to be the tonic many supporters needed in the lockdown gloom.
While COVID took hold, people battened down the hatches, NUFC Matters broadcast to an audience of thousands. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, in fact, every day of the week.
Some watch once, others daily. And it's become a staple of NUFC social media over the course of the last four months. Wraith has in many ways been what the 'Positive Professor' has been to the masses. But what next? Wraith thinks we're in the Ashley endgame.
Q: What do you want from this takeover process, the movement?
"There have been a lot of egos and a lot of fallouts. In the past it has been difficult for all the groups to unite. This time we have a common goal. We have been sold a dream. We will become one of the elite, the potential to be bigger than the likes of Man City and we have all bought into that dream. And we all now know Mike Ashley wants out. That is part of the dream, too."
Q: United for now or United forever?
"There has been some terrific work done by a number of groups – no one group has led the way. The Trust, the guy who did the petition, the Magpie Group and others. This has been a united effort, a protest, a push. We've seen some choose to fill the timelines of Twitter accounts of sponsors, #ApproveTheSale – things like that. It is good to see the fanbase together. Ashley has split the fans – divide and conquer. That's what's different now. Unity is strength. Will this continue? The longer we don't have answer divides may form again, unfortunately."
Q: NUFC Matters. Your YouTube channel. Has that been a cathartic experience through the lockdown troubles?
"I really enjoy doing it, it is therapeutic. It's a bit of escapism for fans. We started it, professionally done at the start of the season but the videos just did not do what we hoped for numbers-wise. But that's all changed recently. Lockdown was a game-changer. Lee Clark was the first real success we had. And now we have groups of fans, Neil Mitchell and Steve Hastie, yourself, the girls on a Monday night. And we all try to be positive – which is something I think people have needed through tough times."
Q: What of the future of this takeover?
"Because of me being pictured with Amanda Staveley, showing her around the football club and introducing her to different characters, a lot of people were asking me takeover questions. I couldn't answer them but I felt a responsibility to help give fans the answers they deserved. We all felt the momentum. We all wanted to be positive – and I don't apologise for that. We never gave false hope, we just gave our opinions. The deal is still possible. A deal will go through at some point simply because Mike Ashley, this time, wants to sell."