Mr Richard Masters
57 North Wharf Road
London W2 1HQ
31 Jul 2020
Dear Richard Masters
Newcastle United Football Club – failed take over
I am writing to you as the Member of Parliament for Newcastle Central and therefore for St James Park. I have the privilege to represent thousands of Newcastle United supporters and am a fan myself. I am sure you have visited Newcastle, you know that the stadium, like the club, is at our heart and in better times, during home games, the city echoes to the sound of every failed pass or on target strike. It is with that level of passion and concentration that fans have followed the latest long, drawn out and ultimately failed takeover attempt, and many have now contacted me. During seventeen interminable weeks, fans have endured wild speculation, condemnation, provocation, social media attacks, stereotyping, malice, hope, inspiration and despair. This in the midst of a pandemic and as we watched, from our living rooms, the club scrape through to another season in the Premier League and now enter the transfer period under the same, and I am afraid to say, reviled, ownership.
I saw your response to my colleague Julie Elliot, MP for Sunderland Central when questioned in the DCMS Select Committee about the length of time the takeover was taking, and also your reply to my colleague Ian Mearns, the MP for Gateshead. Your dry comments on ‘due process’ seemed to take no account of the strength of feelings in the city. I am well aware that neither I, nor Newcastle’s thousands of fans, get to chose who owns the club.
We know that power rests with the Premier League. But I do believe you should be more accountable to the fans which make football such an important part of our national culture and our local economy. I would therefore appreciate it if you could answer the following questions.
- Why did a process which generally takes a month last so long, 17 weeks and counting, without coming to any decision?
- We understand that the main issue was not Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, a valid target of great criticism, but the Premier League’s intellectual property rights. Is that the case and could that not have been made public? Indeed, should not the criteria for the determination/long delay be published? Given the frequent condemnation of NUFC fans who supported who takeover, could the impact of the Saudi human rights record be clarified, specifically and in the context of other Premier League clubs owners and investors?
- Is it true that several Premier League clubs objected to the takeover and what influence do the views of competing clubs have in the approval process?
- Is it true, as reported, that the owner, Mr Ashley, keeps the £17m deposit the buyers paid for exclusivity? Do you agree with me that this money should at the very least be invested in good causes in the North East, for example the NUFC foundation and the Newcastle United Supporters Trust? It is unacceptable that the only person to profit from 17 weeks of frustration for fans should be the man whose ownership of the club is causing such misery for those same fans.
- Do you agree that it is unacceptable to leave loyal fans in such doubt for so long and that the process needs to be improved? For example, why were there press briefings but no fan briefings?
I am not arguing that the Premier League should have approved the sale, I am not an advocate for the Saudis, or for Mr Ashley, or for any billionaire, I advocate for the people of Newcastle Central. But the Premier League should have made a decision and engaged with fans in the process, rather than sitting on the takeover for months until the prospective buyers lost patience.
The club has been left severely disadvantaged as a consequence of the delay, the city has lost out on significant investment and the loyal fans are not only disenchanted with the Premier League but with football as a whole.
This is a long letter, but by no means as long as the wait my constituents have had to endure. I fear your answers to my questions are going to be a polite reprise of ‘none of your business’. I hope you understand that this further strengthens the argument for greater regulation of the Premier League, more financial and governance transparency, and more involvement of fans in decision making. I shall therefore be asking the government to act immediately on its manifesto promise of a “fan-led” review into the structures of the national game.
Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central
Shadow Minister for Digital
Shadow Minister for Industrial Strategy, Science and Innovation