Tyneside descended into ecstasy as local lad Sean Longstaff blasted his shot past Gianluigi Donnarumma to put Newcastle United 3-0 up against PSG. It was loud. It was incredulous. It was an announcement of the new Newcastle on the world stage, with a final result of 4-1 reverberating throughout the Champions League. Club legend Alan Shearer heralded the victory with his customary restraint, describing it as “f****** belta”.
But one childhood Newcastle fan was not watching.
It was not because he missed the game while at work or stuck in traffic, nor because he hadn’t the nerve to view. Instead, Ben Boyd actively chose to watch Dortmund’s match on the other channel.
He has fallen out of love with the team he grew up supporting. In fact, he has fallen out of love with the entire sport in his home country. The 22-year-old from Gateshead cannot watch English football because he cannot do it in good conscience.
“I can’t quite put my finger on one exact thing or moment,” he tells me as we ponder the reasons that pushed him over the edge to actively look elsewhere for his football fix. “It is variety of things that all stem around money in some way, shape or form”.
He tells me of the “sour taste” that snowballing spending of Premier League clubs has left in his mouth. “Chelsea’s recent spending is genuinely mind blowing,” he says. He blames English teams for inflationary issues in the transfer market and touts Manchester City’s “unmatched” finances and the “disappointing” takeover of Newcastle as factors of his dwindling enthusiasm for English football.
The PIF takeover of Newcastle has been criticised by Amnesty International who argued the Saudi state would use the club to “portray a positive image” of the nation accused of human rights abuses. Amnesty also argued that the club’s ownership was “sportswashing, plain and simple”.
NUFC Fans Against Sportswashing also criticised the “damage” being caused to the club and the region “due to the association with one of the bloodiest dictatorships on the planet”.
“Seeing some local, working class people basically worshipping the Saudi state because they have invested in Newcastle is really saddening to me as someone who is extremely proud of the region,” Ben says.
He is particularly aggrieved by chants of “Two-Nil to the Saudi Boys” at the recent FA Cup game against rivals Sunderland but concedes that a vast majority of fans will continue to support the club’s ownership “especially if they continue to deliver occasions such as Champions League nights and derby day victories”.
MailSport’s Luke Power tells me of an “unseen threat” of sportswashing that he believes has not been cross-examined enough – “Down the line, could Newcastle’s owners decide they want a few of their players to represent clubs in the Saudi Pro League instead and simply pinch them? Who would be able to stop them?
“What if these nations decided to flip the narrative?”
Luke says that he “absolutely” sympathises with fans who turn away from their clubs because of moral issues.
“No club has a divine right to be supported,” he says.
“Maybe it would make some clubs think harder about how they treat their fans if they weren’t just gifted them by generational influence or geographical proximity. That said, I would not sneer at those who keep supporting a problematically owned club. The team you support is an essential part of some people’s character, a treasure trove of memories and hopes for the future”.
Ben used to jump on the Tyne and Wear Metro for matchdays but is now more likely to stay at home and watch the Bundesliga, his new footballing love.
“I personally believe football in Germany is the closest to perfection in the modern age,” he says.
“The vast majority of German football fans were and are opposed to investors and big corporations which could possibly pollute the purity of the game and challenge the sanctity and influence of the beloved 50+1 rule.”
German clubs must have at least one more than 50% of votes at board level reserved for the parent club meaning that ultimately fans get the deciding say in the operation of the club rather than private investors.
It is a model that 2. Bundesliga Podcast host Matthew Karagich thinks sets German football apart from other major European leagues. “An example [of the 50+1 rule working well] is Bayern Munich fans protesting the club’s sponsorship with Qatar Airways”.
Matthew also thinks that the Bundesliga will continue to grow in popularity saying “the football is entertaining to watch and the atmospheres are unmatched worldwide”.
Ben has visited Germany on multiple occasions just for the football, swapping the Metro for the Deutsche Bahn. He most recently took in Leverkusen v Molde in the Europa League and sampled some German non-league football in Dusseldorf first hand.
“I genuinely don’t think German football and its fan culture could be any more different to the English game,” Ben says.
“The financial disparity on the pitch, and the difference in attitude towards outsiders off the pitch are starkly contrasted. I feel I have found safety in German football, as I believe the principles fans stand by and the level of passion for their teams is infectious, it is the underdog story that I believe is the pinnacle of what football is all about.”
It is a difference, especially in fan culture, that immediately struck England’s record goalscorer Harry Kane who told Sky Sports after his first game for German giants Bayern Munich that the crowd was “really different to some of the Premier League atmospheres I’ve experienced”.
Kane has also fallen in love with German football scoring 22 goals in 16 Bundesliga games this season, averaging a goal every 65 minutes.
We contacted the Premier League to ask them to respond to Ben’s story and see if they had any message for fans who have turned away from the game because of issues relating to money and morality.
A spokesperson for the Premier League directed me to their statement on the completion of the PIF takeover of Newcastle and reiterated chief executive Richard Masters’ stance that the league is “comfortable and satisfied” that the Saudi state will not interfere in the running of Newcastle.
The league did not respond directly to Ben’s story of disillusionment.
After speaking with Ben, I am left wondering how many more fans are in the same boat, isolated from their childhood clubs and seeking sanctuary in new lands with new teams and perhaps even in entirely different continents.