The takeover is all the fans want. They’ve been waiting 12 years to have a change of hands and they’ve been through a lot of rubbish under Mike Ashley – relegations, being bottom of the league, having average players playing for the club for a long time – and yet they still support Newcastle United.
There were still 52,000 turning up, even through the dark days when they got relegated. So they deserve changing fortunes. I’m trying to keep on an even keel about it, and I certainly don’t expect the owners to start signing Mbappé, Messi and Ronaldo because the club’s been in decline for so long. The infrastructure needs sorting out. The training ground is probably one of the worst in the Premier League, and although the club has a fantastic stadium it needs upgrading.
When I started playing for Newcastle in 1992 we had Lee Clark, Steve Watson, Steve Howey, Alan Thompson, Robbie Elliott all coming through the academy but it’s been sparse developing players recently for a club of its size.
So all of that needs investment. We need to get the right people in the right jobs: people that care about Newcastle and are not just doing it for the sake of a job. We have to get the right players in because I think sometimes foreign players don’t realise where Newcastle is. They use it as a stepping stone, it’s the north-east of England, it’s cold sometimes, but they want to go to the Premier League and they’re not bothered if it’s Newcastle or elsewhere.
The players under Kevin Keegan all wanted to play for the club. Bobby Robson was the same. There is no point paying Mbappé 500 grand a week if he doesn’t want to be there. They may get these level of players in four or five years – just not yet. But if fans see the owners pushing the club in the right direction and see what they’re trying to do they will be patient because they care about and love their club.
Manchester City would be a great model, as would Leicester City. I admire these owners because they’ve also invested in the area, the people in the area, and I think their fans feel a part of the club. I was at Newcastle for 10 years and until I got up there I didn’t realise the size of the club, the support. Everywhere you see grannies with the team shirt on, kids with the shirt on, women pushing prams wearing it when it’s not even a game day, so it’s a unique place to play football. It’s a unique place to live and I loved every minute – it was the pinnacle for me.
My first game was Peterborough away and the fans took over the whole of Peterborough. I arrived there, my parents arrived, my wife, and I just saw black and white and that continued if we were playing Liverpool, Manchester United – the support you get is second to none. I never performed well in every game by a long way, but I always gave everything and if you give everything in the black and white shirt the supporters will love you. Also, you need to entertain them. I think with the Keegan era, teams have since suffered because the fans expect every one of their teams to play like that.
This was Kevin’s philosophy. He always used to say to us: “Listen football is entertainment, go and entertain people.” Teams have forgotten that, managers, too. It’s more a results business now than entertainment. People loved seeing the Ginolas and Asprillas and that’s what Kevin drummed into us. We also used to go out and meet fans. Keegan used to insist on this, on us signing autographs, and this has gone away a bit. I know there’s social media, phones and cameras, but fans don’t seem to be as much a part of the club any more.
What do I think of the owners being a Saudi Arabian-led consortium and that country’s human rights record? There are people owning clubs who I presume have done many things we don’t know about. I’m not going to mention names but we all know people who own clubs are not always squeaky clean. And I don’t know how much involvement the Saudi government have anyway – none of us will know what involvement they’ll have with the football club and the financial side of it. I don’t really get involved with this side of things but I do see a lot of, if you like, countries buying clubs – are they all squeaky clean?
I think we’ve been in the doldrums for more than 15 years since Bobby left; the club has been in decline from then. When I was there I was never involved in relegation – we were always involved at the top, in Europe, challenging. Ashley came in and it’s been disastrous really for Newcastle.