March 3, 1877: The first record of football being played on Tyneside at the Elswick Rugby Club. Later that year, Newcastle’s first football club, Tyne Association, was formed. The origins of the Newcastle United Football Club itself can be traced back to the formation of a football club by the Stanley Cricket Club of Byker in November 1881.

This team was renamed Newcastle East End F.C. in October 1882, to avoid confusion with the cricket club in Stanley, County Durham. Rosewood F.C. of Byker merged with Newcastle East End a short time later. In 1886, Newcastle East End moved from Byker to Heaton.

In August 1882, Newcastle West End F.C. formed from West End Cricket Club, and in May 1886, the club moved into St James’ Park.

The two clubs became rivals in the Northern League.

An early Newcastle United team, pre-black and white stripes, mid-1893. Image Courtesy: Chroniclelive
An early Newcastle United team, pre-black and white stripes, mid-1893. Image Courtesy: Chroniclelive

In 1889, Newcastle East End became a professional team, before becoming a limited company the following March.

However, on the other hand, Newcastle West End was in serious financial trouble and approached East End with a view to a takeover. Newcastle West End was eventually dissolved, and a number of its players and backroom staff joined Newcastle East End, effectively merging the two clubs, with Newcastle East End taking over the lease on St James’ Park in May 1892.

With only one senior club in the city for fans to support, the development of the club was much more rapid. Despite being refused entry to the Football League’s First Division at the start of the 1892–93 season, they were invited to play in their new Second Division. However, with no big names playing in the Second Division, they turned down the offer and remained in the Northern League, stating, “gates would not meet the heavy expenses incurred for travelling.”

In a bid to start drawing larger crowds, Newcastle East End decided to adopt a new name in recognition of the merger.

Newcastle United Football Club team group, 1893-1894 season. Image Courtesy: Chroniclelive
Newcastle United Football Club team group, 1893-1894 season. Image Courtesy: Chroniclelive

Suggested names included Newcastle F.C., Newcastle Rangers, Newcastle City and City of Newcastle, but Newcastle United was decided upon on 9 December 1892, to signify the unification of the two teams.

The name change was accepted by the Football Association on 22 December, but the club was not legally constituted as Newcastle United Football Club Co. Ltd. until 6 September 1895.

At the start of the 1893–94 season, Newcastle United were once again refused entry to the First Division and so joined the Second Division, along with Liverpool and Woolwich Arsenal.

They played their first competitive match in the division that September against Woolwich Arsenal, with a score of 2–2.

Turnstile numbers were still low, and the incensed club published a statement stating, “The Newcastle public do not deserve to be catered for as far as professional football is concerned.”

However, eventually, figures picked up by 1895–96, when 14,000 fans watched the team play Bury.

That season Frank Watt became secretary of the club, and he was instrumental in the promotion to the First Division for the 1898–99 season.

However, they lost their first game 4–2 at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers and finished their first season in 13th place.

The journey

At the start of the previous century, it was said, “The Newcastle team of the 1900s would give any modern side a two-goal start and beat them, and furthermore, beat them at a trot.”

Newcastle United went on to win the League on three occasions during the 1900s; 1904–05, 1906–07 and 1908–09.

The team was famous for “artistic play, combining teamwork and quick, short passing.”

After the First World War, the team returned to the FA Cup final in 1924, in the second final held at the then-new Wembley Stadium.

They defeated Aston Villa, winning the club’s second FA Cup. Three years later, they won the First Division championship a fourth time in 1926–27, with Hughie Gallacher, one of the most prolific goal scorers in the club’s history, captaining the team. Other key players in this period were Neil Harris, Stan Seymour and Frank Hudspeth.

In 1930, Newcastle United came close to relegation, and at the end of the season Gallacher left the club for Chelsea, and at the same time, Andy Cunningham became the club’s first team manager.

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In 1931–32, the club won the FA Cup a third time. However, a couple of years later, at the end of the 1933–34 season, the team were relegated to the Second Division after 35 seasons in the top. Cunningham left as manager and Tom Mather took over.

The club found it difficult to adjust to the Second Division and were nearly further relegated in the 1937–38 season, when they were spared on goal averages. However, when World War II broke in 1939, Newcastle had a chance to regroup, and in the War period, they brought in Jackie Milburn, Tommy Walker and Bobby Cowell.

They were finally promoted back to the First Division at the end of the 1947–48 season.

During the 1950s, Newcastle won the FA Cup trophy on three occasions within a five-year period, beating Blackpool in 1951, Arsenal in 1952, and Manchester City in 1955.

However, after this last FA Cup victory, the club fell back into decline and was relegated to the Second Division once again at the end of the 1960–61 season under the management of Charlie Mitten.

Mitten left after one season in the Second Division and was replaced by former player Joe Harvey. Newcastle returned to the First Division at the end of the 1964–65 season after winning the Second Division title.

Under Harvey, the club qualified for European competition for the first time after a good run in the 1967–68 season and the following year won the 1969 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup Final, triumphing 6–2 over two legs against Hungary’s Ujpest in the final.

From the 1970s to the kick-off of the English Premier League in 1992 – Newcastle United’s journey was full of ups and downs.

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Malcolm MacDonald who led United’s attack to Wembley in their 1974 FA Cup Final defeat at the hands of Liverpool – The club also had back to back triumphs in the Texaco Cup in 1974 and 1975.

Harvey left the club in 1975, with Gordon Lee brought in to replace him. Lee took the team to the 1976 Football League Cup Final against Manchester City, but failed to bring the trophy back to Tyneside.

However, he sold Macdonald to Arsenal at the end of the season, a decision of which Macdonald later said, “I loved Newcastle until Gordon Lee took over.”

Lee left for Everton in 1977, and was replaced by Richard Dinnis.

Newcastle United dropped once again to the Second Division at the end of the 1977–78 season.

Dinnis was replaced by Bill McGarry, and then he was replaced by Arthur Cox. Cox steered Newcastle back to the First Division at the end of the 1983–84 season, with players such as Peter Beardsley, Chris Waddle and ex-England captain Kevin Keegan the fulcrum of the team.

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However, with a lack of funds, Cox left for Derby County and Keegan retired. With managers such as Jack Charlton and then Willie McFaul, Newcastle remained in the top-flight, until key players such as Waddle, Beardsley and Paul Gascoigne were sold, and the team was relegated once more in 1989. McFaul left the managerial post and was replaced by Jim Smith. Smith left at the start of the 1991–92 season and the board appointed Osvaldo Ardiles his replacement.

Sir John Hall became the club’s chairman in 1992 and replaced Ardiles with Keegan, who managed to save the team from relegation to the Third Division. Keegan was given more money for players, buying Rob Lee, Paul Bracewell and Barry Venison.

The club won the then First Division Championship at the end of the 1992–93 season, earning promotion to the then-new Premier League.

The Premier League era

At the end of their first year, 1993–94 season, back in the top flight they finished in third, their highest league finish since 1927.

The attacking philosophy of Keegan led to the team being labelled “The Entertainers!”.

Keegan took Newcastle to two consecutive runners-up finishes in the league in 1995–96 and 1996–97, coming very close to winning the title in the former season which included a 4–3 game against Liverpool at Anfield – often considered the greatest game in Premier League history – which ended with a defining image of the Premier League with Keegan slumped over the advertising hoarding.

The success of the team was in part due to the attacking talent of players like David Ginola, Les Ferdinand and Alan Shearer, who was signed on 30 July 1996 for a then world-record fee of £15 million.

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Keegan left Newcastle in January 1997 and was replaced by Kenny Dalglish, however, the club endured a largely unsuccessful season with a 13th-place finish in the 1997–98 FA Premier League, failure to progress beyond the group stages of the 1997–98 UEFA Champions League despite beating Barcelona and group winners Dynamo Kyiv at St James’ Park as well as coming from 2–0 down to draw 2–2 with Valery Lobanovsky’s team in Ukraine and defeat in the 1998 FA Cup Final. Dalglish was replaced as manager early in the following season by Ruud Gullit.

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The club once again finished 13th in the league and lost the 1999 FA Cup Final. Gullit fell into disagreements with the squad and chairman Freddy Shepherd, and quit the club four games into the 1999–2000 season with the team bottom of the table to be replaced by Bobby Robson.

The club managed to reach an FA Cup Semi-final and to stay in the Premier League.

A title challenge emerged during the 2001–02 season, and Newcastle’s fourth-place finish saw them qualify for the UEFA Champions League. The following season, Robson guided the team to another title challenge and finished third in the league, and the second group stage of the Champions League, after being the first team to have progressed past the first group stage after losing their first three games.

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Newcastle finished fifth in the league at the end of the 2003–04 season and exited the Champions League in the qualifying rounds, but despite this Robson was sacked in August 2004 following a series of disagreements with the club.

Graeme Souness was brought in to manage by the start of the 2004–05 season. In his time at the helm, he broke the club’s transfer record by signing Michael Owen. Souness also took the Geordies to the quarter-finals of the 2005 UEFA Cup with Alan Shearer winning the tournament’s golden boot as well.

However, he was sacked in February 2006 after a bad start to the club’s 2005–06 season.

Glenn Roeder took over, initially on a temporary basis, before being appointed full-time manager at the end of the season.

Shearer retired at the end of the 2005–06 season as the club’s all-time record goalscorer, with 206 goals.

The era of Mike Ashley

On June 7, 2007, Freddy Shepherd’s final shares in the club were sold to Mike Ashley and Shepherd was replaced as chairman by Chris Mort on 25 July.

Ashley then announced he would be delisting the club from the London Stock Exchange upon completion of the takeover.

The club officially ceased trading on the Stock Exchange as of 8 am on July 18 2007 at 5p a share.

Sam Allardyce – a replacement of Roeders, departed in 2008 on mutual consent and Keegan was reappointed again.

Mort stepped down as chairman in June and was replaced by Derek Llambias, a long-term associate of Ashley.

The fortunes of Newcastle United did not change as they finished twelfth in the 2007-08 Premier League season.

Keegan resigned!

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He stated, “It’s my opinion that a manager must have the right to manage and that clubs should not impose upon any manager any player that he does not want.”

Former Wimbledon manager Joe Kinnear was appointed as his replacement, but in February 2009, due to his heart surgery, Alan Shearer was appointed interim manager in his absence.

Under Shearer, the club were relegated to the Football League Championship at the end of the 2008–09 season, the first time the club had left the Premier League since joining it in 1993.

Following their relegation, the club was put up for sale in June 2009, with an asking price of £100 million.

Chris Hughton was given the manager job on a caretaker basis before taking over full-time on 27 October 2009.

On the same day, Ashley announced that the club was no longer for sale!

Hughton led Newcastle to win the 2009–10 Football League Championship, securing automatic promotion in 2010 with five games remaining, and securing the title; Newcastle were promoted back to the Premier League after just one season away.

Under Hughton, Newcastle enjoyed a strong start to the 2010–11 season, but he was sacked on 6 December 2010. The club’s board stated that they felt “an individual with more managerial experience [was] needed to take the club forward.”

Three days later, Alan Pardew was appointed as manager with a five-and-a-half-year contract.

Despite some turbulence, Newcastle were able to finish 12th at the end of the season, with one particular highlight being a 4–4 home draw against Arsenal that saw Newcastle come back from four goals down to claim a point.

The start of the 2011–12 season was very successful as they went on to enjoy one of their strongest openings to a season, playing 11 consecutive games unbeaten.

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Newcastle eventually secured a place in the 2012–13 Europa League with a fifth-place finish – their highest league position since the Bobby Robson days and further honours were to come as Pardew won both the Premier League Manager of the Season and the LMA Manager of the Year awards.

In the following season Newcastle made few acquisitions in the summer and suffered injuries over the season. As a result, the first half of the season was marred by a run of 10 losses in 13 games, which saw the club sink near the relegation zone.

The Europa League campaign was largely successful with the team making the quarter-finals before bowing out to eventual finalists Benfica.

Domestically, Newcastle struggled and stayed up after a 2–1 victory over already-relegated Queens Park Rangers on the penultimate game of the season.

The 2014–15 season saw Newcastle fail to win any of their first seven games, prompting fans to start a campaign to get Pardew sacked as manager before an upturn in form saw them climb to fifth in the table. Pardew left for Crystal Palace in December.

His assistant John Carver was put in charge for the remainder of the season but came close to relegation, staying up on the final day with a 2–0 home win against West Ham, with Jonas Gutierrez, who beat testicular cancer earlier in the season, scoring the team’s second goal.

After a few months,  Carver was sacked and replaced by Steve McClaren the following day and in 2016, McClaren was sacked after nine months as manager, with Newcastle in 19th place in the Premier League and the club having won just six of 28 Premier League games during his time at the club.

He was replaced by Spaniard Rafael Benítez on the same day, who signed a three-year deal, but was not able to prevent the club from being relegated for the second time under Ashley’s ownership.

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Newcastle returned to the Premier League at the first attempt, winning the Championship title on May 7 2017 with a 3–0 win against Barnsley.

On 16 October 2017, Mike Ashley put Newcastle United up for sale for a second time.

The team finished the season with a 3–0 win over the previous year’s champions Chelsea, finishing 10th in the league, their highest finish in four years.

The following season saw a 13th-place finish, despite being in the relegation zone in January.

As such Ashley came under increased scrutiny for his lack of investment in the squad and apparent focus on other business ventures.

Benitez left after rejecting a new contract in 2019.

The faith in Ashley was done and dusted and after giving quite a few false hopes, the end of Ashley’s ear was just knocking at the doors.

New era – The Saudi-backed takeover

The takeover of Newcastle United F.C. by a consortium consisting of PCP Capital Partners, Reuben Brothers and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (PIF) was a takeover preceding that commenced in April 2020.

The takeover process gained notoriety for a variety of reasons, including allegations of improper conduct from the Premier League through the purported deliberate misapplication of its Owners’ and Directors’ test to block the deal.

It also triggered wider debates about piracy within the context of the Saudi Arabia – Qatar international dispute and of the role sports washing has in international sport.

Despite interventions from the likes of Boris Johnson (Prime Minister of the United Kingdom) and the governments of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and Qatar, the takeover process lasted for 18 months following early predictions that it would be completed by June 2020.

Finally, to the amusement of the fans of Newcastle United, the club has confirmed the club’s takeover by a Saudi Arabian-led consortium, ending Mike Ashley’s 14-year ownership!

How did the takeover happen?

According to BBC, “The best anyone could have hoped for was January 2022, when arbitration between the consortium, led by financier Amanda Staveley, was scheduled in an attempt to settle a row with the Premier League about who would have control at the club.”

“The Saudi state has been accused of human rights abuses and was recently embroiled in a copyright row, which would have made it tricky for the takeover to go through based on the Premier League’s owners’ and directors’ test.”

“So what the consortium needed to do was prove that the Kingdom’s PIF, which would provide 80% of the money for the takeover, was separate to the state. Difficult, perhaps, when the ruling leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is also listed as PIF’s chair.”

“But with legal assurances provided, that has happened. It is understood there will be consequences if those agreements are broken. The consortium can also demonstrate how PIF already invests in companies, including the McLaren F1 team, without state control.”

“The precursor to news of the takeover going through on Wednesday was Qatar broadcaster beIN Sports saying it had resolved its dispute about Premier League football matches being broadcast illegally in Saudi Arabia.”

“By proving there is a separation between the Saudi state and PIF that issue becomes immaterial. But after claims that beIN had pressured the Premier League into blocking the takeover, the timing was interesting nonetheless.”

According to the Guardian, “The controversial £300m deal received Premier League approval almost 18 months after it was first proposed. It hands the keys of St James’ Park to owners capable of transforming Newcastle into one of the world’s wealthiest clubs and follows the news that Saudi Arabia has lifted its four‑year ban on sports channel network beIN Sports. This allows Premier League, UEFA and FIFA match to be broadcast legally again, and the Gulf kingdom has also promised to close pirate websites operating in the country.”

“Crucial to the takeover’s approval was the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) – the state’s sovereign wealth fund overseen by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – providing assurances to the Premier League that the Saudi state would not be involved in the day-to-day running of Newcastle.”

“That had been a significant stumbling block when the deal hit the rocks in July last year, with the Premier League considering the PIF de facto the Saudi state when it came to passing its owners’ and directors’ test.”

“That issue has been the subject of a long legal dispute by Ashley, which was expected to be resolved in an arbitration hearing in January but will now be dropped.”

“The Saudi commerce minister and acting media minister, Majid bin Abdullah al-Qasabi, is understood to have played a key role in brokering the deal and Yasir al-Rumayyan, the governor of PIF, will be the non-executive chairman.”

Rumayyan said, “We are extremely proud to become the new owners of Newcastle United, one of the most famous clubs in English football. We thank the Newcastle fans for their tremendously loyal support over the years and we are excited to work together with them.”

According to the Guardian, “The Saudi consortium will own 80% of the club, with 10% going to the billionaire businessmen and international property developers Simon and David Reuben and the remaining 10% going to the Yorkshire-born, largely Dubai-based financier Amanda Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners. The Reubens hold an extensive property portfolio in Newcastle with their assets including the city’s racecourse.”

Staveley said, “Our ambition is aligned with the fans – to create a consistently successful team that’s regularly competing for major trophies and generates pride across the globe.”

Staveley has been very much the public face of the long-running takeover saga, dubbed “Project Zebra” by consortium insiders. Four years ago Ashley called her a “time-waster” after she and PCP Capital partners joined a different consortium in a forlorn attempt to buy Newcastle from the retail tycoon.

As per the Guardian, “This time it is different. Saudi Arabia views Newcastle as part of its Vision 2030 plan to modernize the kingdom and wean it off a longstanding dependence on oil. In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, it has been quietly, and counter-intuitively, purchasing stakes in assorted businesses, including the cruise company Carnival.”

“With Staveley and Jamie Reuben – the son of David Reuben – taking directors’ roles, the Saudis could argue they are displaying a newfound diversity towards gender and religion. Jamie Reuben tweeted: Big job on our hands but onwards and upwards we march. Howay The Lads!

“The consortium’s blueprint is to take back to the Champions League a club that has suffered two relegations and two promotions since Ashley bought it from Sir John Hall and Freddy Shepherd for £134m in 2007,” according to the Guardian.

“There has also been a talk of investment in urban regeneration in Newcastle and possibly a donation to the Royal Victoria Infirmary, the NHS hospital situated a long goalkick from St James’ Park. PIF is involved in supplying artificial-intelligence data to the NHS through its Project Babylon initiative,” stated the Guardian.

“Jamie Reuben said plans had been worked on with Newcastle city council to “deliver long-term sustainable growth for the area.”

“It is understood the government has welcomed the Saudi investment in Newcastle and attendant strengthening of the UK’s strong commercial and intelligence links with the kingdom.”

How will Newcastle manage human rights concerns?

BBC reports, “Despite the Premier League’s insistence that PIF is separate from the Saudi state, human rights organisations and campaigners still believe the connection is clear.”

“Amnesty International has urged the Premier League to change its owners’ and directors’ test “to address human rights issues”.

“Its UK chief executive Sacha Deshmukh said, Ever since this deal was first talked about we said it represented a clear attempt by the Saudi authorities to sportswash their appalling human rights record with the glamour of top-flight football.”

“Saudi ownership of St James’ Park was always as much about image management for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his government as it was about football.”

Other campaigners have told the BBC that the issue will not go away, even though the takeover is complete.

“Lina al-Hathloul, whose sister Loujain was held in prison for protesting about women’s right to drive, says protests could occur at St James’ Park, which would “embarrass” Saudi Arabia.”

Tomlinson says,” Clubs are bought and sold at the highest level by billionaires and sovereign states, and we have not had a say in that. But as a supporters’ organization, we will always support inclusion and be against discrimination and abuse of human rights.”

“We will use our influence to affect change where we can.”

“Managing the public relations of a Saudi Arabian-backed takeover will be a key item in the consortium’s in-tray, and will likely continue long after the deal is completed.”

“But the country has already shown its capacity to handle those issues when hosting fights for British heavyweight Anthony Joshua, the Spanish Super Cup and an F1 Grand Prix set for 2023.”

The vision of the new owners

BBC reports, “Backed by the wealth of PIF, the consortium is also made up of Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners and British property investors the Reuben Brothers, who are also billionaires, so there is no shortage of money.”

“Staveley, who is from Yorkshire, has spoken in the past of her admiration for Manchester City, having been involved in the Abu Dhabi takeover 13 years ago. But she has also previously urged caution about lavish spending, preferring to highlight how City’s owners have invested in the city of Manchester.”

“So there is hope from locals that the Newcastle owners follow a similar template.”

“From a club perspective, one of the first items on the 48-year-old’s agenda will be overhauling the structure of the club and improving its communications with supporters.”

“Ashley is rarely heard from, and any communication from senior figures often comes in the form of statements from managing director Lee Charnley, who is Bruce’s go-to man when it comes to transfers.”

“But there is no chief executive tasked with running the club, there is no director of football and Bruce is the public figure who has to face weekly questions about everything from legal cases to lack of funds for players, which led to huge frustration in the summer.”

The fans of Newcastle are delighted

“Fans are absolutely delighted that the disastrous 14-year reign of Ashley is almost over,” says Greg Tomlinson of NUST.

“They are looking forward to having hope and belief in their football club for the first time in many years.”

“We don’t demand that the club is winning trophies next season. We just want growth and a football club that gets better. Fans have been beaten into the ground.”

“My two grandsons are 30 now, they come here and they’ve never seen them win anything. The hurt on these big lads’ faces, it breaks your heart,” said Jean Sproul, 80, a lifelong fan who remembers drinking out of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup when Newcastle won the European competition in 1969.

“This makes your whole week. If you get beat you’re going to have a terrible week. The last 14 years have been horrendous,” said Allen O’Connell, 28, with his three-year-old daughter Millie, standing beneath the Gallowgate stand on Thursday.

“As fans, there’s not a lot we can do about the human rights stuff,” said Loraine. “We’re all wearing clothes borne out of sweatshops in countries with human rights issues. The moral compass is always a strange one in times like this. As fans, especially as downtrodden as ours, you’ve got to be allowed to enjoy a bit of hope, and that’s the priority today, not about human rights issues. Hope for the club, hope for the area.”

“Football is nigh on a religion here and it’s one of the key things about the identity of the city,” said Mark Middling, a senior lecturer in accounting at Northumbria University who specializes in financial transparency in football.

“If the Saudis were to emulate what’s gone on in Manchester then I think that would be very welcomed.”

Nick Forbes, the leader of Newcastle city council, said, “This is a momentous day in the history of the club and our city. Football is such a vital part of Newcastle’s identity and St James’ Park is, for many, the literal and metaphorical beating heart of the city. The prospect of successes on the pitch once more gives us all something to hope for.”

“The World Cup next year is going to be in Qatar and that’s one of the worst places in the world [for human rights] – so why should Newcastle United be affected by the human rights side of it?” said Ray Sproul, 80, who still attends games home and away. “Man City have had their owners for years and no one’s shouting and screaming at them. We’re just interested in football. We’re ordinary football supporters and that’s it.”

Middling said Saudi Arabia’s human rights record was “concerning”, but he said blocking the takeover on those terms would have smacked of double standards. “The UK still sells arms to Saudi Arabia and has business arrangements within the country. If you’re going to trade with Saudi Arabia, to turn around and say they can’t own one of our football clubs would be a bit hypocritical.”


Information gathered from BBC, the Guardian and Wikipedia

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