Angry Premier League clubs demand emergency meeting on Newcastle deal

  • Other 19 clubs united in opposition to Newcastle takeover
  • Clubs concerned Premier League’s brand could be damaged

Angry clubs have targeted the Premier League with complaints about the Newcastle United takeover and are pushing for an emergency meeting next week.

The 19 other top-flight clubs are understood to be united in opposition to a Saudi-led consortium being allowed to buy out Mike Ashley and are demanding to know what changed for it to be waved through and why they received so little notice.

The demand for the emergency meeting is not so much an attempt to derail the takeover – because it is too late – rather a reflection of how high feelings are running.

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Clubs have expressed concern that the Premier League’s brand could be damaged by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) taking an 80% stake in Newcastle, although eyebrows will be raised at this given the identity of other owners in the division. The deal has been fiercely criticised by human rights groups, especially as PIF – the state’s sovereign wealth fund – is overseen by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The arrival of a new set of billionaire owners is bound to have upset clubs who see on the horizon a far more competitive Newcastle and the prospect of St James’ Park wealth inflating transfer fees and wages.

The league’s chief executive, Richard Masters, and chairman, Gary Hoffman, have received complaints from clubs who had no idea the Newcastle takeover was about to be approved. It was first proposed in March 2020 but the consortium withdrew its bid four months later amid growing fears it would fail the Premier League’s owners’ and directors’ test.

The subject was not on the agenda at the most recent shareholders’ meeting two weeks ago. The league effectively blocked the deal last year and it was said last week at a competition appeals tribunal (CAT) involving Ashley and the league that arbitration proceedings to decide the matter were scheduled to begin on 3 January.

It is understood clubs learned via the media on Wednesday of the impending takeover and received confirmation from the league by email at 5.18pm on Thursday. That is the time at which the league released a statement saying the deal was done and that it had “received legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United”.

Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi pose for photographs inside St James’ Park after meeting with staff on Friday.
Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi pose for photographs inside St James’ Park after meeting with staff on Friday. Photograph: Serena Taylor/Newcastle United/Getty Images

The league would no doubt point out that issues of confidentiality and legality prevented the sharing of Newcastle developments. Furthermore, the league board’s nominated powers over the owners’ and directors’ test were endorsed after a vote among the clubs.

The league’s QC, Adam Lewis, had said at the CAT that the deal could go ahead – albeit there was no suggestion it would happen so swiftly. “If the arbitration decides KSA [the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] is not a director then the transaction can and will go ahead, with no question of the owners’ and directors’ test being applied to KSA,” Lewis said.

Since then Saudi Arabia has lifted its ban on the Qatar-based beIN Sports and promised to close pirate websites showing Premier League football in the country. Crucially, it also convinced the league the state would not be involved in the day-to-day running of Newcastle. There is considerable unease among clubs as to whether this will prove to be the case.

The Newcastle takeover has drawn reaction from the political arena, too. Labour, while arguing that the deal will “trouble many fans”, has not called for it to be paused, and is instead demanding a new system of regulation as soon as possible, most likely based on the ongoing review into football governance led by the Tory MP and former sports minister Tracey Crouch.

Alison McGovern, the shadow sports minister, said: “This is ultimately a failure in the way that football is governed. Labour has called for a tough independent regulator for many years and the action we hope will come from the publication of the Crouch review cannot come soon enough.”

Downing Street and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have maintained a deliberately hands-off approach, with officials insisting that it is a matter for the Premier League, and that since the UK trades with Saudi Arabia it would be anomalous to ban the takeover of a football club.

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