As co-owner of Grimsby Town, I know local fans and communities are the lifeblood of the game – and the key to its long-term future
I lived in Newcastle for a while in the late 1990s and absolutely loved my time there. Nights out in the Bigg Market and on the Quayside, dancing on the rotating dancefloor of the Tuxedo Princess, a boat-turned-nightclub, and the occasional short walk from the town centre to St James’ Park to see Newcastle United. As co-owner of Grimsby Town, I know how the football club looms large in people’s imaginations and their sense of civic identity, especially in post-industrial towns and cities. That’s why it struck me as odd when news of the Saudi-led takeover of the club was met with almost universal delight from the fanbase.
It’s been difficult to absorb on a couple of levels. First, Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy ruled under sharia law: how can the notion of independence of ownership make any rational sense for a consortium bound by the customs and practices of that country? Then there are issues such as the attitude towards the rights of women in their own country, the violations in Yemen or the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. If I was a fan I’d be keen to understand the manner of the “legally binding assurances” that there will be no interference from the ruling elite of the country they are from. Moreover, the deal raises serious questions about the Premier League’s own bar for moral and financial suitability, the owners’ and directors’ test. Can they really be satisfied that the consortium will act independently of the Saudi state?
Jason Stockwood is a technology entrepreneur, fellow at Oxford University and chairman of Grimsby Town FC