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Oct. 19, 2021, 3:14 p.m. EDT

Renewal of footballing optimism collides with moral question marks as Saudi wealth fund takes control of Premier League club Newcastle

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Associated Press

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Matty Ward gave up his season ticket after being fed up with the lack of cash spent on the team and returned on Sunday after three years.

“It’s just brilliant, I’m really happy,” the 18-year-old Ward said, wearing an imitation of the red-and-white checkered headdress mimicking Saudis. “To have a bit of hope in your club, that’s what football is about … to be able to believe in your club again.”

Fans like Ward may try not to get too deep into the Saudi controversies highlighted by activists like Amnesty International who tried to block the deal.

“Human rights is obviously a concern. If anything is proven then I expect it to be dealt with properly and thoroughly,” Ward said. “But as long as there is clear separation between that and the club, I don’t see the problem.”

To approve the sale that stalled last year, the Premier League said it received “legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United Football Club.” The corporate ownership structure of PIF counters that, although the Premier League won’t discuss that or why the guarantees are required.

Amanda Staveley, who brokered the deal and now owns 10% through an investment vehicle, has defended the new ownership and was at Sunday’s game with Al-Rumayyan, who was introduced to the crowd to cheers.

One complicating factor for allowing the buyout was the Premier League pursuing legal means to shut down a television piracy operation linked to Saudi Arabia that was bootlegging footage from Qatari-owned beIN Sports. The thawing of the wider Gulf diplomatic dispute this year led to beIN being informed it was no longer banned in Saudi Arabia, removing an obstacle for the change of ownership.

How long it will be until footage of Newcastle celebrating a trophy will be beamed around the world remains unclear. The spending can’t begin until the January transfer window to strengthen a team in next-to-last place with three points from eight games and a manager in Steve Bruce who fans chanted will be “sacked in the morning.”

Fans like Greenslade, who had stopped coming to games a decade ago, hold out hope that better times are now coming, and the search is on for tickets that are hard to come by again. He says just coming to the stadium on a matchday is enough to start getting excited — “after 14 years of absolute dross” — about the prospect of exciting times ahead.

He is prepared for a slow rebuilding as the squad is reconstructed. “It can take 10 years as long as it comes,” he said. “What are [players] going to come for? Only the money at the moment.”

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