Sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Sometimes, a picture of a new football kit can expose a thousand lies. When an image of Newcastle United’s new away kit was leaked on Friday and showed that it was designed in the same colors as the Saudi Arabia national team, all the falsehoods about the club’s ownership that have been peddled so relentlessly in the North-East and by the Premier League were brought into the light.
Newcastle should be ashamed of asking their players and their fans to wear the green and white of a top that bears a striking resemblance to the national shirt of one of the most repressive, brutal and bellicose regimes in the world. Talk about stupid. Talk about an own goal. Then again, as Greg Norman would say: ‘We’ve all made mistakes.’
In his role as chief executive of a new breakaway tour, LIV Golf Invitational, funded primarily by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), Norman has become the chief apologist for the crimes and policies of his Saudi paymasters, brushing off the cold-blooded murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was cut up with a bone saw in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, as a minor inconvenience. Even he might struggle to dispel the sense of dismay that greeted the kit reveal.
Premier League Newcastle will turn out in the green and white of Saudi Arabia next season
Glorying in the riches now at their disposal, many Newcastle supporters have been fiercely loyal to the Saudis since they bought 80 per cent of the club last October and some have waved away their appalling human rights record, their repression of minorities, their penchant for mass executions, their treatment of women and their targeting of civilians in the war in Yemen. But even for the loyalists, this felt like a worrying development.
The Saudification of the away kit is only a symbol, of course, and perhaps some see it as a trifle. But club colors are a powerful symbol and the fact the Saudis have chosen to annex a kit to accelerate their sportswashing project on the Tyne suggests that Newcastle may have sold an awful lot more of their soul than first thought.
The idea they have got their club back after the Saudis bought it from the loathed Mike Ashley is also looking more and more delusional with every day. The truth is they are further and further away from getting their club back. Who knows what part of the club’s history and culture the owners will appropriate next? Newcastle as a vassal state is a sad sight to see.
Sportsmail can confirm the new away jersey for 2022-2023 carries the Gulf state’s colors
The kit bears a striking resemblance to the Saudi Arabia national team’s official strip (left)
‘If it is true Newcastle are changing their away kit to match Saudi Arabia’s national colors,’ a spokesperson for Amnesty International said, ‘it exposes the power of the Saudi dollar and the kingdom’s determination to sportswash its brutal, blood-soaked human rights record .
‘Everyone needs to resist being part of Saudi Arabia’s propaganda drive, be aware of what is going on there and speak out about the government’s abuses: the mass executions, Khashoggi’s murder and dire situation for LGBTI + people. Sport must not be allowed to be used like this. ‘
The away-kit debacle is also a colossal embarrassment for the Premier League, who fell over themselves to wave through the Saudi purchase of Newcastle on the laughable basis that the PIF, chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the son of Saudi Arabia’s king, was separate from the state.
The shirt has been signed off by chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan, who is also governor of Saudi’s Public Investment Fund, the club’s majority owners
The prospect of Newcastle playing in what is tantamount to the kit of the Saudi national team does not do an awful lot for the credibility of the Premier League’s position.
There must also be growing concern that just as being an apologist for the Saudis has started to destroy the reputation of Norman, so being on the payroll at Newcastle and playing in Saudi colors will have more and more of an impact on the club’s ability to recruit the elite talent they need to fulfill the supporters’ expectations of incoming trophies.
Eddie Howe is a fine manager who has done a first-class job since he arrived in the North-East but his attempts to dodge questions about the human rights record of the Saudis will become even more untenable when his team are running out at Old Trafford and Anfield looking like the Saudi national side. Is that really what a man like him and a club like Newcastle want to stand for?
The club has strongly and repeatedly insisted there are no links between the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund that owns 80 per cent of Newcastle United, and Saudi state
The hopes of many decent Newcastle fans that they could maintain a separation between the owners and the club have been damaged by the revelations about the new kit. How can there be separation now? How can there be any pretence the Saudi state is not using Newcastle for its own ends, loading the club with its crimes, sucking it deep into its orbit?
What is next, I wonder? At what point do people who love Newcastle object to the cynical way the club are being used? A rebrand of St James’ Park as MBS Park? Changing the home kit to green-and-white stripes? How far would the Saudis have to go before their money is no longer worth it?
Newcastle might be rich beyond their wildest dreams but the losses are mounting up.
Newcastle have further strengthened their links with Saudi Arabia by appointing Majed Al Sorour to the board of directors
My Spurs ordeal proves fans are cash cows
I was caught in a motorway jam on the journey to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for the north London derby on Thursday night and got to the ground just after half-time. My friend and I had paid for two £ 30 tickets in the stands but when we showed them to stewards, they refused us entry. They said we were ‘too late’.
I asked why it mattered that we were late. Our lateness only defrauded ourselves. We were not causing harm or danger by arriving after kick-off. We would not spoil anybody else’s viewing pleasure by arriving late. It was not like we would be clambering over people in the front row of the Dress Circle at the Old Vic while the actors glared at us from the stage. We were not seeking a discount.
They repeated we were too late, that these were club rules, that the club would sack them if they allowed us in, that we were breaking the law by asking them to allow us in and that if we continued arguing ‘you know how this is going to end ‘.
I knew, by then, it was going to end in an Arsenal defeat but I don’t think that is what he meant. I can hear you playing the world’s smallest violin and I know Spurs have a good community reputation and I know one bad experience does not necessarily reflect the way a club treat their fans.
But this just happened to be my bad experience and, sadly, it only confirmed my view that too many Premier League clubs treat their supporters like dirt. They use them as cash cows but they do not care about them. They do not need them and they do not value them.
I was subjected to a bad experience during the recent north London derby at Tottenham
Noble Khan had nothing left to prove
It has been a privilege to report on the career of Amir Khan over the last couple of decades.
I can still remember the sense of excitement that surrounded his emergence at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, when his journey to winning a silver medal as a 17-year-old was one of the best British stories of those Games.
Over the years, I’ve spent time with him in Bolton and Los Angeles and Las Vegas and watched him fight the very best that his sport had to offer. He won some of those big fights and he lost some, but he never ducked the biggest challenges.
When the end came, he went out on his shield against Kell Brook in Manchester in February.
After that fight, the nobility that both men showed towards each other, their grace and their dignity, completed an uplifting night. Khan was a great British fighter, a dazzling talent who kept you on the edge of your seat. I’m glad he announced his retirement last week. He has nothing left to prove.
Amir Khan confirmed his retirement from boxing at the age of 35 on Friday afternoon