|ASH WITH THE CASH: Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley is on the verge of selling his club to a mega-rich Saudi-based consortium. AFP Photo|
Newcastle is a great city. I’ve had many a top night out there, and some of my oldest and best friends are Geordies.
The strange thing about Newcastle is, unlike many other towns and cities in the United Kingdom, there is only one football team.
Therefore, no matter what, you follow ‘The Toon’.
Manchester has United and City, Liverpool has both Everton and Liverpool, Birmingham, Aston Villa and Birmingham City, and even smaller cities and towns have multiple clubs. Nottingham has both Forest and County, Sheffield has a United and a Wednesday.
But in Newcastle things are much more black and white, literally. Their nearest rival is Sunderland, and that’s still around 20 kilometres away.
Upshot is, if you were born in Newcastle, you follow United, and for those long suffering fans, times have been very, very tough.
They last won the league in 1927, the FA Cup in 1955 and their only honour of note in recent times was winning the Intertoto Cup in 2006.
Google it, and you’ll find a photograph of the then club captain Scott Parker receiving a certificate to mark the achievement. He looks like a schoolboy who is getting a prize for best attendance that week.
However, all that looks like it’s about to change.
Eighteen months ago, a takeover at Newcastle was on the cards after owner Mike Ashley (don’t say that name too loud in the bars around St James’ Park, sorry, I mean the Sports Direct Arena) agreed to sell the club to a Saudi-backed consortium who were prepared to invest a whopping $340 million.
That deal eventually went sour over a copyright row, as the consortium was connected to a television station in the Middle East that was illegally broadcasting football matches.
There were other reasons the plug was pulled, much to the dismay of Newcastle supporters who once again felt downtrodden.
But this week it seems the deal is back on. Those copyright issues have been sorted and Ashley is once again on the verge of selling the club.
You can almost hear the cheers from the North East of England as pen is about to be put to paper, and already the Toon fans are dreaming of ways the club can spend the cash.
Names already mentioned to take over as manager from Steve Bruce include Zinedine Zidane and Antonio Conte. The supporters are, to coin a well-used footballing phrase, over the moon.
But there needs to be an air of caution.
If the deal gets over the line, and by the time you read this column it may well have, Newcastle will instantly become one of the richest clubs in the country.
But that doesn’t always amount to immediate success.
Whoever does get the manager’s job, Conte, Zidane, or whoever, will get a war chest to spend on new players and there’s no doubt some very big names will soon be seen in black and white.
However, a team still needs to be built. The manager will need time to stamp his authority on the squad and come up with a strategy and style of play to challenge those clubs that are already in contention for the title.
So while this is very good news for the supporters, they need to remain patient.
That said, Newcastle United fans certainly have a brighter future to look forward to. VNS