C.On match day St James’ Park is the beating heart of Newcastle. Its place of honor in the center of the city and its iconic roof, which dominates the skyline and invites the community to gather, are a symbol of how inextricably linked the club is to the community.
It is painfully ironic that such a beloved institution in Mike Ashley has inherited such a negligent owner. The club will be 140 next month, which means it has been in his hands for the 10th time of his life; the damage done during this time has overwritten in the minds of many people the successes that preceded his possession.
It has become fashionable over the years to blame Newcastle fans for having wildly unrealistic expectations, “living in the ’90s” and treating various managers with disrespect: some experts have had good careers talking about it on the radio speak.
It is to be recognized, however, that this takeover – and the relentless efforts to get it across the line – did not take place in a vacuum. This is not RB Leipzig. With the purchase of Newcastle, Amanda Staveley and her Saudi Arabia-led consortium are inheriting a club with a long history that qualified three times for the Champions League in the ten seasons leading up to Ashley’s arrival and begs to be loved after years of injury .
Most importantly, the loyalty and passion of the fans helps set Newcastle apart from other clubs when it hasn’t been on the field. The fans make it an alluring commercial prospect and this has undoubtedly been an influencer for the buyers.
While it’s easy to get distracted by the Hollywood rise of Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain, the expectations of fans in Newcastle are far more modest: ambition, regained dignity, new hope. And they don’t necessarily need a war chest to keep them satisfied.
Small movements would primarily help restore the club to the institution it once was. Following the example of the Leicester City owner who puts the publicity and fan experience first would be a huge improvement over the diet of unfulfilled promises and open lies that Ashley fed us.
Early promises by the new owners to invest in the city, in the foundation and its important work, as well as in girls’ and women’s football, were well received. Opening a regular dialogue with the Newcastle Supporters Trust and investing in community events that can revive civic pride would further strengthen their position with fans.
From a football perspective, top of the list will be a football heavyweight director with the experience and reputation to forge an identity that goes beyond the role of a promotional ship for Sports Direct. Long overdue investments in the outdated training ground and neglected stadium would make them fit to accept and inspire the players they honor.
As for Steve Bruce, his days seem numbered. With a 29% win rate and a defiantly unacademic approach to tactics, his homemade enthusiasm has proven to be an inadequate substitute for leadership skills. Unfortunately, if the owners are serious about creating a project based on ambition and innovation, Bruce has to stay limited to the Ashley era.
Of course, it would be negligent to ignore the scrutiny the club and fans inevitably receive on the Saudi ownership background, which is widely documented for good reason. Any success Newcastle achieves – from ambitious signings to – I whisper it – winning a trophy – risks being spoiled by the seedy associations that have followed the consortium from day one. How the fans assess these challenges remains to be seen – at the moment everyone connected to the club thinks only about the fall of Ashley.
This unlikely marriage is in the honeymoon phase, but if the owners keep a fraction of their promises, it could be a turning point for the club and its community.
If Tottenham host Newcastle, not much will appear different; the squad will be just as exhausted and Bruce can still be on the sidelines. But the stands will hum positive notes for the first time in a long time, and the melody will be marked not by pain and disappointment, but by excitement and hope. Now begins a new era.
Harry Savill is the Editor of Newcastle fansite The Spectator’s View and is on twitter