My message to Saudi Newcastle owners: Money alone cannot keep football alive | Jason stockwood
I lived in Newcastle for a while in the late 1990s and absolutely loved my stay there. Parties at the Bigg Market and the Quayside, dancing on the Tuxedo Princess’s rotating dance floor, a boat transformed into a nightclub, and an occasional short stroll from the city center to St James’ Park to see Newcastle United. As a co-owner of Grimsby Town, I know how important the football club is in people’s imaginations and in their sense of civic identity, especially in post-industrial towns. Which is why it struck me as odd when the news of the Saudis’ takeover of the club was greeted with almost universal delight from the fans.
It was difficult to absorb on several levels. First, Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy ruled by Sharia: how can the notion of independence of ownership have any rational meaning for a consortium bound by the customs and practices of that country? Then there are issues such as the attitude towards women’s rights in their own country, the violations in Yemen or the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. If I were a fan, I would like to understand the way of “legally binding assurances” that there will be no interference from the ruling elite of the country they are from. Moreover, the deal raises serious questions about the Premier League’s own bar for moral and financial suitability, testing owners and directors. Can they really be convinced that the consortium will act independently of the Saudi state?
Obviously, the consortium will bring vast sums of money and investment to the northeast, and without a doubt, the team will be full of even bigger names in the years to come, but at what cost to the integrity of the region? The primacy of money over all other considerations is a continuation of the problems we saw with the European Super League debacle. Newcastle fans only need to think back a few months to see what international owners really think about the fans who live in club communities, those who go through the turnstiles at every home game and realize they are. secondary to the public and global revenues. maximization.
Our view of organizations as purely economic entities can only be a partial version of the truth. Much of what is important and valuable is clearly non-monetary or even measurable. Yet, the dominant economy has long been concerned only with profit and competition; as Milton Friedman said in 1970, “the sole purpose of a company is to generate profits for its shareholders”. Perhaps it is time to listen more carefully to the words of Robert Kennedy, who said in 1968 that GDP “measures anything but what is worth.”
The belief that profit is the only measure of value has long characterized the way our economy and our football clubs are run, with often disastrous results. Last month County Derby took office and, like many football fans, I have followed the story with interest, not least because the club were ranked 12 points by the Football League, sending them to the kick. of the championship, the second. level of English football.
In economic parlance, the loss of status and civic pride resulting from the closure of a football club would be considered a mere “externality“. In recent memory, Bolton, Bury and Macclesfield have all “made a Leeds” when their owners could no longer fund failed strategies. These clubs and their fans now face a potential decades-long ascent to reclaim their former glory.
If capitalism is to support football for the next 100 years, it will have to put the interests of supporters and the local community above those of shareholders. The supporters are the most important constituent of football clubs, bar none. Every weekend, many travel hundreds of kilometers to support their teams, at home or away. That’s why Grimsby Town FC is 17% fan-owned through the Mariners Trust fan group, a fully democratic representation of our fan base which holds two of the five seats on our board. This type of ownership model should be applied in clubs across the country, giving fans a meaningful seat at the table in every meeting room of every professional club in the UK.
It is the sense of unity that has helped Grimsby Town have our best start to the season since 1982. Despite football clichés that ‘nothing is won in October’, we are quietly happy with the positive start to the season. . Much of the credit goes to the revitalized fan base embracing the new era in our corner of North East Lincolnshire.
To avoid another tragedy like the Derby, we need stronger oversight of financial adequacy to run clubs through reforms to the owners and managers test. Supervisory measures are already in place to ensure financial stability at the point of purchase, but owners should be required to demonstrate how they will cover projected losses on an ongoing basis. However, property issues are not just about finances. For newly funded Newcastle, there must be commitments to the values of the local community to ensure that those who are steeped in club history and rooted in the region are key players in the team’s vision. When success is transactional and bought only by the brute force of money, what is left for the ordinary fan to make their own?
I’m sure many football fans are eager to see what the next government fan-led review delivers, and how enduring and meaningful its recommendations on the property are. While any reform has come too late for Derby fans (or the few Newcastle supporters who seem to care), perhaps a different way of thinking about football could extend beyond the world of football. sport, encompassing a different way of thinking about what we value in life.