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The Final Third: Deep pockets matter more to fans than human rights

Tyne for a change: Newcastle’s Allan Saint-Maximin (left) and Valentino Lazaro PICTURE: GETTY

NEVER mind the human rights record, look at the bank balance. That seemed to be the message from many Newcastle fans this week as a number of supporters’ groups joined forces to publically beg Mike Ashley to accept a reported takeover bid from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.

‘Ashley should not stand in the way of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our club, our communities and our proud city. It’s time for him to take his money and get out of our club,’ read the statement from a collective including the Magpie Group and Toon For Change — although, it must be said, not all fans groups agree.

Ashley, who has repeatedly been described as ‘not to fit to run the club’ — with contentious working practices at Sports Direct and a controversial shirt deal with Wonga among the numerous charges levelled at him — has been urged to step aside and let cuddly Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman take charge.

I mean, what kind of ‘proud city’ would let a ruthless, unelected leader who is accused of being behind the horrific killing and disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi — a Saudi citizen and journalist — buy the venerable football club at the heart of its community?

Well, most cities, if previous examples are anything to go by. Because as far as fans are concerned, we don’t care about your political views, let alone political prisoners. We care about what you can win us.

Manchester City are run by the sovereign wealth fund of Abu Dhabi, part of a United Arab Emirates regime accused by Amnesty International in 2018 of a ‘ruthless crackdown targeting human rights defenders, judges, lawyers, academics, students and journalists, in their efforts to stamp out dissent’.

But, instead it was Manchester United fans who were condemned for their violent protests against the suits in charge of their clubs this week.

No one suspects the Glazer family or Ed Woodward of killing journalists or detaining political prisoners without charge but they nearly missed out on Bruno Fernandes and Champions League football looks a long shot, so pass the fireworks and red paint.

City? They’re off to Wembley yet again so everything remains hunky- dory when it comes to Sheikh Mansour and Co.

And just to be clear, we all do it. I’m not a fan of fascist salutes but when a certain Italian was leading Swindon to the League Two title, I was rolling the eyes and chuckling ‘oh Paolo’ with the best of them. I might even overlook it if Richie Wellens started sporting a ‘Pol Pot was alright really’ badge if, as seems possible, we win League Two again this year.

More than ten years ago, then Football Association chairman Lord Triesman was calling for fit-and-proper persons tests of potential overseas owners to consider human rights abuses. Naturally, nothing was done.

So, across the country this weekend fans will hero-worship the stars and cop a deaf ’un to the possible ill-gotten gains and regrettable ways of the people who bought them.

Mike Ashley has been a bad owner for Newcastle but sometimes it seems his biggest crime is not being rich enough. At least Prince Mohammed bin Salman can’t go wrong on that score. And, for many fans, that is all that really matters.