08 October 2021

Cue the hand-wringing, pearl-clutching, and smelling of salts. Spare me.

And with that, yet another club has sold its soul to the highest bidder, relegating our precious club and its noble values to fall behind yet another rival in the quest for relevance if not glory. With news that the Saudi takeover of Newcastle has been completed, we can look forward to a future in which the Magpies shoulder their way towards the top of the table, leapfrogging the likes of the Arsenal and the other knights in shining armor who remained committed to values of purity, chastity, the "right way", and—you know what? Spare me. Suffice it to say that we are hardly as pure as the driven snow over here. In fact, one might say we're getting the worst of both worlds, bankrolled and sponsored by some very sordid types without getting any closer to grabbing that brass ring.

I'll spare Stan Kroenke his blushes. His effect on the clubs he owns is well-documented. My spite and spittle against him goes a step further because he's named after not one but two baseball players who played for my second-favorite sports team, the St. Louis Cardinals. But I digress. There was a time not so long ago when many of us were craving a takeover by none other than convict and accused rapist Alisher Usmanov, a member of Vladimir Putin's inner circle and one of the world's biggest mining magnates
—and there aren't many people who can claim be Putin's pal and successful at extracting valuable minerals from the Earth without being, shall we say, "flexible" about one's pruderies and punctiliosities. And yet more than a few of us pined for him to assume ownership of our beloved club.

Now that we're seemingly stuck with the merely contemptible Kroenke, we seem to think we're somehow holier than our oily arrivistes at the Etihad or Stamford Bridge. Perhaps we could adopt a sanctimonious but ultimately hollow motto—"more than a club" or something like that, but somehow Latinized so that it sounds more dignified?

Come off it. We've played in Emirates Stadium since and have been sponsored by Emirates Airlines since 2006. It's been fifteen years then that we've been so closely associated with the United Arab Emirates, a place where torture, forced disappearances, misogyny, homophobia, flogging, forced labour, human trafficking, and other human rights abuses are de rigeur. Emirates CEO Sheikh Ahmed bin Saaed Al Maktoum may have been able to keep his hands cleaner than others who have dirtied theirs, literally and figuratively, but he's hardly a crusader for democratic reform in the country he helps to rule.

Every weekend, our players' kits encourage people to visit Rwanda. Internet searches for Rwanda spike during matches, opinions of Rwanda as a tourist destination have improved markedly, and visits to Rwanda have increased as well. Is this directly attributable to the sponsorship deal? It passes the smell test despite the stench that originates from Rwanda, where arbitrary executions, detentions, and disappearances occur; torture, arrest, and imprsionment of critics and journalists is endemic; and where lofty notions like "democracy" and "freedom" are but quaint catch-phrases.

Look—I don't mean to rake this club over the coals, but if we lament too loudly the acquisition and likely ascenscion of Newcaslte, we run the very real risk of looking like foolish hypocrites. Our only real complaint is that we haven't shared in the spoils of our owners' largesse in the same way that supporters of other clubs have. This is the water that all football fans have had to swim in for quite some time now, and it's awfully hard to swim without getting wet. I'm reminded of David Foster Wallace's anecdote:

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?” 

Wallace goes on to explain that "The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about." We've been siwmming in this water for so long that we no longer recognize it.

In other words, we're not special. We're not nobler than any other club, nor are we more rapacious. We're simply another club caught up in a mess made by the people featured in the Pandora Papers, people who can buy and sell whatever bauble they want. If we are special, it's in how we've allowed ourselves to be deluded, conned even, by a majority owner who is probably thrilled to see just how far down in the sand we've stuck our heads. He hasn't had to invest his own money in the club because we thump our chests—or are we flagellating ourselves—about how we're a proud, self-sustaining club.

The idea of a self-sustaining club that can also compete with the clubs that can brazenly flout FFP and pay whatever measly fines FFP dares to levy with what they scrum up from the sofa cushions has gone the way of the dodo. I don't know what to do about it, to be honest, and I'm sure this little screed of mine won't make its way to the desks of those who have done so much damage to the sport. Maybe I should just climb down, grit my teeth, and accept this as just one more symptom of late-stage capitalism. Would I feel better if we were winning silverware? Probably.

If only to bring this a more-lighthearted end, I'll share that exchange variously attributed to W.C. Fields, Groucho Marx, and a few others:

"Would you sleep with me if I paid you £1,000,000?"

The woman, blushing and giggling, replies, "Well, yes."

The man asks, "would you sleep with me if I paid you £5?"

The woman, indignantly, exclaims, "just what do you take me for?"

"Madam, "the man replies, "we've already established that. Now, we are negotiating."

And here we are.