Fans say the only reason why the Saudi regime hoped to takeover Newcastle United was to “rescue its reputation as a pariah state with huge human rights abuses”, writes Rayhan Uddin of Middle East Eye.
Newcastle United fans of Arab descent from South Shields, a town in northeast England with a long-established Yemeni and Muslim community, say they are “really pleased” that a proposed Saudi takeover of their football club had been called off, Middle East Eye has learned.
Descendents of some of the UK’s earliest Arab and Muslim immigrants told MEE that the bid was “morally unacceptable” given Saudi Arabia’s poor human rights record, and would have brought a “negative impact” on Tyneside’s Muslims.
On 30 July, a consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which is chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, withdrew its £300m ($390m) bid to buy Newcastle United.
The PIF had waited over four months to pass the English Premier League’s (EPL) owners and directors’ test, but eventually lost patience after the vetting process was delayed by media piracy and human rights concerns.
The takeover proposal failed partly due to the EPL’s demand that the Saudi state become a director of the football club for the deal to go through, according to a leading member of the investment group that was looking to buy the club.
The takeover has been a particularly hot topic in South Shields, a coastal town less than 10 miles away from Newcastle’s city centre. While many fans were bitterly disappointed by the bid collapse, others like Robbie Parkin held a different opinion.
“I’m really pleased the Saudis pulled out. When a power like that takes over, you sign a deal with the devil,” Parkin, a third generation Yemeni, told MEE.
“I haven’t really spoken to anybody who was really for the deal. Every person I spoke to, white, Yemeni or whatever, no one supported it on the shop floor,” he said.
Parkin, a 33-year-old football coach, is part of a small but significant number of South Shields residents who are of Yemeni descent.
‘This club has a wonderful heritage… but Saudi Arabia was trying to use Newcastle to rescue its reputation as a pariah state with huge human rights abuses’
Yemeni men first arrived in South Shields as early as the 1860s, mainly working as seamen on British merchant vessels. Most of them married local women and integrated into wider Geordie culture, resulting in one of the UK’s earliest settled Arab and Muslim communities.
According to The Yemeni Project, there are now up to six generations of South Shields Yemenis, with many no longer having Arab names or features.
Parkin told MEE that despite never having been to Yemen, he had grave concerns about Saudi Arabia owning his boyhood football team, given its military involvement in his country of origin.
“During all the takeover talks, nothing was mentioned about how it would directly impact Yemen,” he said.
A Saudi-led coalition has carried out over 20,000 air attacks since the Yemeni civil war began in March 2015, with one-third of those striking non-military sites such as schools and hospitals, according to the Yemen Data Project.
Keith Hussein, a South Shields resident of Egyptian descent, also welcomed the Saudi withdrawal.
“I have to say I’m really glad. This club has a wonderful heritage… but Saudi Arabia was trying to use Newcastle to rescue its reputation as a pariah state with huge human rights abuses,” he told MEE.
The 54-year-old, who is now a researcher and lecturer, said that many of the town’s Muslims opposed the Saudi bid to own Newcastle United.
“I’ve spoken to friends in the Muslim and Yemeni community, and they were quite appalled at the thought of the consortium taking over Newcastle. I certainly think it would’ve been very negative for Tyneside’s Muslims,” Hussein said.
“It’s deeply morally unacceptable. You think of Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses: the domestic population subjugated, dissidents and journalists assassinated, the ongoing war on Yemen – which is particularly unpopular here.
“The takeover would have divided Newcastle fans. Tyneside takes pride in good relations with the various Muslim communities, but I think this would have had a detrimental effect,” he explained.
Although some fans welcomed the collapse of the Saudi takeover, a large number of supporters were left angered and devastated by the news.