Britain’s loathsome football sale – the Atlantic
In the city of Newcastle upon Tyne, in the north of England, there is no Florence Duomo Where Sagrada Familia standing, representing the city, its soul and its spirit. There is no Saint-Paul, Notre-Dame or St. Mark’s Basilica. No, in Newcastle the Cathedral and the Castle are secondary, as is the Roman Wall built by Emperor Hadrian. In Newcastle, the soul of the city is its large, imposing, unbalanced (and somewhat dilapidated) football stadium, St. James’s Park, which rises above the skyline right in the city center.
And now that stadium and the besieged football club that occupies it belong to Saudi Arabia – or at least its sovereign wealth fund.
You might expect it to be controversial at Newcastle. It’s not just any old country that buys an English football club. It is a man-ruled country that the United States has concluded ordered the dismemberment of a journalist, a country waging a brutal war in Yemen which is among the most barbaric in the world.
And yet, few in Newcastle seem to care. I mean, why should they? Their rivals in the English Premier League already belong to some pretty nasty regimes or people: Manchester City is controlled by Abu Dhabi and Chelsea by a Russian oligarch linked to the Kremlin. What’s the point in refusing someone’s money if no one else is? The fixer who facilitated the Saudi takeover has, incredibly, insisted that Saudi Arabia state was not taking over Newcastle football club, but rather its sovereign wealth fund, which the fixer said genuinely cared about human rights. Both, of course, are headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Beyond this cynical piece of art, however, the sale of Newcastle United is emblematic of something far more fundamental and depressing about the British state.
The English Premier League is a product designed and developed in another era, before the global financial crisis, Brexit and Donald Trump. It is an example of an open, European and capitalist Britain, a Britain that has everything and wins. The league is the richest and most watched in the world, with investment and ownership rules much more open than those of its peers, while operating within a larger European structure but selling itself more aggressively to the world than any competitor. It’s a bit like London’s financial sector before Brexit: the largest player within a larger European network, but more global in reach, culture and investments than its rivals. The Newcastle club will soon be able to compete with the best of European football as they will be richer. It is capitalism in action (or, at least, petro-fueled and state-rigged capitalism).
In fact, this model looked a bit like Britain that emerged from Margaret Thatcher’s revolution in the 1980s. It’s largely forgotten now, but this titan of conservatism has done more than any other prime minister before or since to delve deeper into it. the integration of Britain into Europe (with the exception of Edward Heath, another Tory, who brought Britain into the bloc in the first place). For Thatcher, the big goal was a single European market from which Britain could enrich itself. For Japanese and American investors, Britain has become the gateway to the European market.
Yet what was the result? David Edgerton The rise and fall of the British nation, Thatcher’s reforms did not lead to what she wanted. She had wanted to resuscitate British capitalism and its place in world affairs. After all, British money had once toured the world, buying assets for British companies. Until the 1960s, writes Edgerton, Britain was by far the richest place in Europe. In the 1980s, this was no longer true, with Britain choosing instead to try to build a national economy, with industries and nationalized assets.
Thatcher’s policies did not reinvigorate British industry. In Edgerton’s words, “the UK has ceased to have a distinctly national capitalism and has instead become a major financial center, now largely for the capital of others.” Over the next 30 years, Britain, and London in particular, became increasingly entangled in the global economy before everything collapsed in 2008, destroying the economic and social model based on its profits.
Edgerton argues that Brexit, in a sense, was a call for the re-emergence of national control. For ordinary workers, including those who live in poorer parts of the country like, to give an example, the area surrounding Newcastle, this is certainly understandable. The vote to leave the European Union was not, in this reading, a sort of imperial reflex, but rather the opposite: a nostalgia for the kind of world that existed in Britain. after empire, when the economy was national, not international.
The English Premier League and its supporters, however, continue as if nothing had happened: in Newcastle, hearing the news, supporters arrived at St. James’s Park, some wearing fake scarves, to celebrate their club’s new wealth.
Taken together, it all seems inconsistent at the national level. We listen to Prime Minister Boris Johnson tell the Conservative Party at its annual conference last week that Brexit was the drug needed to reform the UK economy, to make it more British and highly skilled and well paid. He even boasts of dismantling a planned European super league which he says gutted the Premier League by creating a pan-European version. This, he told me, reflected the “uprooted” nature of modern life, in which people are detached from their national environment. And it is clear that people feel uprooted in a global economy over which they have no control.
Yet here we are, a nation presiding over the most global sports league in the world, allowing anyone to buy our clubs as long as they have a lot of money because that will create the best product to sell. in the international market.
The Newcastle takeover seems sort of born out of another era and emblematic of the future. It’s a deal from a time when Britain didn’t care where the money came from as long as it came to Britain; when we were China’s best friend in the West, indifferent to that country’s human rights violations; and when London welcomed everyone who wanted to spend their dirty money. But isn’t the recovery also a glimpse of the country’s present, and also of its future? The recent wave of news related to the publication of the Pandora Papers highlights London’s central role in the global tax evasion industry. Those days were meant to be over, shocked by Brexit and Boris Johnson. And yet it remains.
Newcastle certainly seem to have gained something from this deal. But hasn’t he also lost something, something that cannot be measured in pounds and cents? What happens to its football cathedral once it has become the washhouse of the reputation of others?