Newcastle United fans in wild celebration over Saudi-led takeover at St James’s Park

Newcastle United fans in wild celebration over Saudi-led takeover at St James’s Park
Some of the football fans posed in traditional Saudi outfits and waved Saudi flags

Thousands of Newcastle United fans have celebrated the club’s Saudi takeover with a party outside the stadium.

Supporters sprayed beer, danced and sang when news broke that their unpopular owner of 14 years, billionaire retail tycoon Mike Ashley, had his sale approved by the Premier League.

Some of the football fans posed in traditional Saudi outfits, waved Saudi flags, and surrounded the statue of the late Sir Bobby Robson – the club’s beloved former manager – outside St James’s Park.

Drivers passing the famous stadium tooted their horns and were cheered by the fans.

Ian Beeby, from Longbenton, Newcastle, said he could hardly speak for the emotion he felt over the news that the deal was approved.

“We have got our hope back,” he told PA News. “It’s the best feeling ever.

“It’s not about the money for me. The money is good, but it’s all about the hope, actually coming to the game and them having a go. Hopefully they will rejuvenate the city too.”

Dale Graham, from Throckley, Newcastle, said he was looking forward to the Saudi owners to bring in a new manager.

He said: “If I could play Fantasy Football, my first choice would be Mourinho. He’s got a soft spot for the club, it would be a no-brainer for me.”

Tony Starforth, from Gateshead, said: “It’s the best day ever. It has been a long time coming. The only way is up now.”

Newcastle United supporters surrounded the statue of the late Sir Bobby Robson

Human rights group Amnesty International UK said that the club’s takeover by a Saudi-led consortium is “an extremely bitter blow for human rights defenders”.

The consortium comprises of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), financiers PCP Capital Partners, and the Reuben Brothers. PIF is chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and will hold an 80 per cent stake in the club.

Amnesty International UK chief executive officer Sacha Deshmukh said: “We can understand that this will be seen as a great day by many Newcastle United fans.

“But it’s also a very worrying day for anyone who cares about the ownership of English football clubs and whether these great clubs are being used to sportswash human rights abuse.

“In our assessment, this deal was always more about sportswashing than it was about football, with Saudi Arabia’s aggressive move into sport as a vehicle for image-management and PR plain for all to see.”

Jubilant fans held and waved the Saudi flag around

UK-based campaign group Fair Game responded similarly by saying Newcastle’s takeover was “sportswashing pure and simple”.

Its director of advocacy Mike Baker said: “Newcastle United has a long, proud history. Today that history has been hijacked by a country with a serious international image problem. A nation that executes journalists and treats women horrendously.

“If the Premier League believes that the Saudi Government is fit and proper, then frankly they have just made the case for an independent regulator even stronger.”

Sports minister Nigel Huddleston said it was for footballing authorities to legislate on the qualifications of prospective new owners based on the systems they already have in place.

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