In July 2016, withheld pages from the official U.S congressional report on the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks were made available to the public. The commission had found that the then Saudi ambassador to the US, Prince Bandar bin Sultan al-Saud, had paid thousands of dollars to a man who directly funded the 9/11 hijackers. 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals. 
On 20 March 2017, 1,500 injured survivors and 850 family members of 9/11 victims filed a lawsuit against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The complaint alleged that Saudi Arabia “knowingly provided material support and resources to the al Qaeda terrorist organization and facilitated the September 11th Attacks” and the case is still ongoing.  In 2020, a U.S. judge directed Saudi Arabia’s government to make the former ambassador Prince Bandar available to the court for questioning on his possible knowledge of the role played by some of the attackers. 
In October 2016, a batch of Hillary Clinton’s private emails were leaked. They showed that she had written of the need “to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL [Isis] and other radical Sunni groups in the region.” It had already been widely speculated that Saudi Arabia was funding ISIS, but this showed that it was also believed at the highest levels of government in the most powerful country in the world. 
None of the above amounts to definitive proof that the Saudi government is actually directly responsible for the attack on the Twin Towers, the rise of ISIS, and their related atrocities. But it is certain that, over a period of decades, Saudi Arabia nurtured and spread the ideology that encouraged this Islamic extremism.
Wahhabism is an ultra-conservatist Islamic doctrine that originated in the 18th Century. Its aim is the ‘purification’ of Islam, to be achieved by enforcing a draconian way of living which recalls life in the sixth century. An alliance between the Wahhabis and the House of Saud in 1790 formed the foundation of what is now the state of Saudi Arabia. This pact meant that what may have remained an obscure desert cult became the official religion of a nation. The pact still exists today — the descendent of Abd-al Wahhab has control of the religious and spiritual institutions of Saudi Arabia, while Ibn Saud’s great grandson is the King. 
Oil money has enabled Saudi Arabia to encourage the growth of their extremist creed across the globe. Between 1982 and 2005, Saudi Arabia financed 210 Islamic Centres around the world, 1,500 mosques, 202 Islamic facilities, and 2,000 schools. In 2013, the Saudis earmarked $35 billion for schools in South East Asia, home to 1 billion of the world’s Muslims.  Hatred of infidels and purifying the Islamic world from “foreign ideas” is at the heart of Wahhabism, and has inspired al-Qaeda, al Nusra, and Isis. Without Saudi Arabia’s influence over decades, these groups could not exist. 
None of this has ever seemed to make much impression on the UK government, indeed our politicians have always seemed ready to bend over backwards for the Saudis.
In 2006, Tony Blair shut down a corruption investigation into payments made by BAE Systems to Saudi Arabia as part of the al-Yamamah arms deal, stating that “our relationship with Saudi Arabia is vitally important…. that strategic interest comes first”.  In 2015, David Cameron was criticized for ordering the flying of the union flag at half mast over government buildings to mark the death of Saudi King Abdullah. 
For decades, Saudi royalty has never had any difficulty in gaining an audience with our leading politicians and royal family, but there was often a sense of embarrassment about the relationship — witness David Cameron’s obvious discomfort during a Channel 4 interview with Jon Snow in October 2015, on one of the rare occasions when the topic has been raised by the media to a prominent politician.  In more recent years it became clear that a change in tone was being sought by some parties, as an apparent attempt was made to move Saudi politics in a new direction.
In 2017, King Salman deposed the 60 year old Mohammed bin Nayef from his role as Crown Prince, elevating his then 31 year old son Mohammed bin Salman to the role instead, meaning he became the country’s de facto ruler. Fifty years his father’s junior, he immediately sought to portray himself as a modernizer.
He had already unveiled a plan for the future of his country: “Vision 2030” outlines ambitions to diversify the Saudi economy and move away from a dependence on oil.  There was some indication that to fund the strategy, the Saudis might decide to float part of their oil company, valued at $2 trillion, on the London Stock Exchange. The City of London was accused of watering down governance rules specifically to allow this to happen. 
Legislation related to women’s rights was passed following bin Salman’s ascension, the most well publicized of which gave women permission to drive.  Some Western journalists thought that this could “herald national transformation”.  The 2022 Global Gender Gap Report indicates that there has been some degree of improvement, while still ranking Saudi Arabia as 127th out of 146 countries on gender equality. 
But Human Rights organization ‘Reprieve’ stated that: “while taking a step forward on issues like women’s rights which receive significant media attention, the Saudi government has taken several steps back on issues like peaceful protest.” 
And in many respects the regime appears more oppressive than ever: the rate of executions has doubled under bin Salman, with some victims killed for alleged crimes committed when they were children. 
There are other aspects of bin Salman’s erratic and murderous domestic and foreign policy that cannot be overlooked. He had already initiated the brutal intervention in Yemen in his capacity as Defence Minister in 2015. He blockaded Qatar in June 2017, and forced the resignation of Lebanon’s Prime Minister, seemingly by holding him against his will in November 2017. In the same month he detained hundreds of prominent Saudis in the Ritz hotel in Riyadh for weeks, only releasing them on payment of billions of dollars. While the Saudi government called this an ‘anti-corruption campaign’, witnesses and critics described it as a purge involving torture and coercion. 
“We are returning to what we were before — a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world.” declared bin Salman in October 2017.  But the country has never been a place of moderate Islam under the House of Saud. And is it realistic to expect the Crown Prince to democratise his country when Wahhabism is the basis for his legitimacy as ruler?
As you would expect, such questions have rarely seemed to trouble our media. When bin Salman made his first official visit to our country as Crown Prince in March 2018, many outlets welcomed him with open arms:
‘Stand aside for Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince’ was the headline in The Times on 5th March 2018. They also carried an advert showing the Union and Saudi flags with the caption “United Kingdoms”.
The Evening Standard and The Independent followed suit:
“Prince of disruption: who is the liberalising revolutionary Mohammed bin Salman?” — The Evening Standard, 5th March 2018
“We should welcome Mohammed bin Salman to the UK — his reforms in Saudi Arabia could benefit us all” — The Independent, 5th March 2018
The Queen was rolled out to press the flesh with yet another despot, and bin Salman also met Prime Minister Theresa May, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, and Prince William. 
The following month, bin Salman embarked on a more extensive tour of the US, where he met numerous influential individuals from politics and business: President Trump, Rupert Murdoch, Mike Pence, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and plenty of others. 
The fawning from media outlets continued, encapsulated by this BBC headline on 5th April 2018: “Saudi ‘Prince Charming’ Mohammed bin Salman comes to Hollywood”
By the end of April 2018, bin Salman must have felt that his reception in the West could not have been much better. But then in October 2018, news broke of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul. Turkish intelligence leaked details of the murder day by day, and for once our press gave a Saudi act of brutality the attention it deserved. Governments across the globe condemned the murder, with many pulling out of diplomatic engagements involving Saudi Arabia. 
Arms and oil continued to flow between the West and Saudi Arabia, but bin Salman could no longer command a public audience with Western leaders so easily, and the possible means for projecting a positive image of Saudi Arabia became more limited.
It was around this point in time that the country began to face regular accusations that it was hosting sporting events that attract large western audiences to try and improve its reputation. In the 15 months following Khashoggi’s murder, British boxers Amir Khan and Anthony Joshua both fought in Saudi Arabia, the Spanish and Italian football cup finals were staged there, as were WWE events, as well as other sporting events. 
And then in January 2020, we saw the first reports that the Saudi Public Investment Fund were interested in buying Newcastle United from Mike Ashley. Since then reports have emerged suggesting Boris Johnson’s government worked to facilitate the takeover, with bin Salman reportedly instructing Johnson via text message that the Saudis “expect the Premier League to reconsider and correct its wrong conclusion” when the deal appeared to have stalled. 
I have seen Newcastle fans claim that they are powerless to affect the ownership of the club, and I don’t think this is true. A government taking over a football club will be far more sensitive to criticism than an owner like Mike Ashley, meaning a certain level of consent from supporters is required for the project to achieve its aim. The Saudis have clearly demonstrated their inability to tolerate political dissent in other matters, with their courts handing down sentences of 34 and 45 years to 2 women who mildly criticised the regime last year. 
In 1980, the film Death of a Princess was shown on ITV. It related the story of a Saudi Princess executed for adultery. In response, the Saudi government asked the British ambassador to leave the country, banned Concord from its airspace, restricted visas to British businessmen, and threatened to cancel export orders. The film has never been broadcast again in the UK. 
There is also some precedent for football fans protesting against authoritarian states, sometimes with success:
In 2017, the Chinese under 20 national team was playing the first of a series of scheduled games in Germany, when officials noticed that six members of the 400 strong crowd were displaying Tibetan flags, which may have been visible to fans watching on Chinese TV. The game was only completed following a half an hour delay while the flags were removed, and the remainder of the games on the tour were cancelled. 
If fans mobilized against the Saudis to the same extent that they did against Ashley, then their project will fail. 10,000 empty seats with banners and marches outside the stadium getting media coverage drawing attention to the regime’s multitude of abuses would make a huge impact. The Saudi government’s extreme intolerance of criticism means that they would not continue funding an investment if it becomes a focal point for the worst excesses of their regime.
By the same token, if fans continue to turn up and treat the experience as if they are watching any other top football team, then you would imagine that this grubby project will succeed completely.
This is the crux of the matter for me - I do not want to spend my spare time actively assisting one of the most despicable regimes on the planet to achieve its aims. Every goal or victory celebrated is tainted by the knowledge that this is what you are doing.
Before the takeover it seemed that most fans held a different view, with many suggesting that they could back the takeover, while at the same time acting as a “critical friend” to the Saudi government. Newcastle United Supporters Trust chair, Alex Hurst stated that:
“we exist to be a critical friend of the club, and hold them to account” , while Northumberland County Councillor Richard Wearmouth said that the takeover “in no way stops us being a critical friend where we have disagreement.” 
There were many other politicians, supporters, and media figures who promised to take this stance before the takeover, but we’ve heard almost nothing from them since. Aside from the most cursory handwringing about ‘human rights issues’, very few interested parties have had anything to say about the ownership, and some fans even appear anxious to avoid upsetting them.
With so few dissenting voices, figures from the Saudi regime became very well placed to ingratiate themselves with the Newcastle public.
Prior to the takeover, the Saudi Minister for Sport, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki A Saud, followed the club’s twitter account, and the story was reported by local paper The Chronicle’s website on 25th April 2020. 
The sports minister’s father is Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud. He is perhaps most famous for resigning from his position as Director General of Saudi Arabia‘s intelligence agency — a post he had held for 23 years — 10 days before the attack on the Twin Towers. In 2002 he was named in a multibillion-dollar lawsuit by the families of 11 September victims, alleging that he may have funded the terrorists involved in the attack. The case was dismissed in 2003.  He has admitted meeting Bin Laden several times in his official capacity. In 2001, Robert Fisk wrote in The Independent that he was ‘the man who had done more than any other individual to cement the Taliban’s power in Afghanistan’.  In 2003 Prince Turki admitted on a live call-in show that 6 British men had been tortured by intelligence agents. In spite of the admission, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw refused to take any more than what he termed a ‘softly, softly’ approach to the issue, to the understandable frustration of the victim’s relatives. 
After the final home match of last season, local paper The Shields Gazette reported that the club’s director Majed Al Sorour had publicly thanked the Ambassador to the UK Prince Khalid bin Bandar for attending. 
The Ambassador’s father is Prince Bandar, who is yet to give evidence to the court in New York on his knowledge of the 9/11 attacks, and you would imagine that he is unlikely to do so. He had also been one of the main beneficiaries when Tony Blair closed the al Yamamah corruption investigation - BAE Systems had gifted him a £75m Airbus 340, which he used as his personal plane. It had also been alleged that he was paid more than £1 billion by BAE for his part in the deal. 
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is no longer shunned to the extent that he was four years ago, but he still seems unwilling or unable to fulfil diplomatic engagements in this country. On the other hand, reports that his brother Prince Turki bin Salman Al-Saud was in attendance at the Carabao Cup final, wearing a black and white scarf, passed almost entirely without comment from either fans or the media.  The Prince has been described as “his family’s money man.. second only in power to MBS.” 
Yasser al-Rummayan, the club’s new chairman, is also the governor of the Saudi Public Investment Fund, and he has recounted how he was personally selected by bin Salman for the role. The Guardian reported that in 2017, al-Rumayyan transferred 20 companies to the PIF in the aftermath of the “anti-corruption campaign” at the Ritz in Riyadh.  The Guardian’s reporter Jonathan Liew described the reception he received at St James’ Park:
“the rapturous welcome offered to Al-Rumayyan a few minutes before kick-off will probably remain the most enduring image of the day: the sight of grown men opening their arms and exalting this affiliate of a thuggish autocracy as if he were some sort of god: saluting him, praising him, shaking their fists in ecstasy.” 
These are the type of people who can now be associated with the club with almost no scrutiny whatsoever. And this is why this sordid, grubby deal is so disastrous, both for the club and the region. The city of Newcastle and its football club are bound together in a way that isn’t true of every other city in this country. Along with the Tyne Bridge, the football club is an institution that our city is renowned for.
I have always had the impression that Newcastle and its people were generally well thought of across the UK and beyond, but now we are pushing ourselves into the global spotlight as willing assistants to one of the most appalling regimes on the planet, and you have to expect that some people will judge us accordingly. It’s such a massive detriment to the region as a whole.
Politicians and journalists consistently poll as two of the most distrusted groups of professionals in the UK.  Just looking at their approach to Saudi Arabia over the decades, it is a status that they fully deserve. At least they get a career and a lifestyle in return for their lies, distortions, and omissions. If all it takes to recruit you to Saudi Arabia’s cause is the prospect of your football team improving, then are you really any better than them?
9/11 and the Saudi Connection (theintercept.com)
 U.S. judge says Saudi officials must testify in lawsuit related to September 11 attacks | Reuters
 Under the Black Flag: At the frontier of the new jihad — Sami Moubayed — p10
 Under the Black Flag: At the frontier of the new jihad — Sami Moubayed — p11
 Under the Black Flag: at the frontier of the new jihad — Sami Moubayed p10
 Global Gender Gap Report 2022 | World Economic Forum (weforum.org)
 Rate of executions in Saudi Arabia almost doubles under Mohammed bin Salman | Saudi Arabia | The Guardian
 'Night of the beating': details emerge of Riyadh Ritz-Carlton purge | Saudi Arabia | The Guardian
 Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud's “Historical” Visit to the United States - Borysfen Intel (bintel.org.ua)
 Newcastle’s Saudi takeover: The UK government’s emails revealed - The Athletic
 Saudi woman jailed for 45 years over social media use, says group | Saudi Arabia | The Guardian Saudi woman given 34-year prison sentence for using Twitter | Saudi Arabia | The Guardian
 25 Years Later - The 'death Of A Princess' Controversy | Death Of A Princess | FRONTLINE | PBS
 Majed Al Sorour makes Newcastle United promise after witnessing 'incredible' win over Arsenal | Shields Gazette
 BAE bought £75m Airbus for Saudi prince | The BAE files | The Guardian
 Revealed: Newcastle chairman’s links to Saudi ‘anti-corruption’ drive | Saudi Arabia | The Guardian
 Newcastle take emotional ride on day of unspeakable strangeness | Newcastle United | The Guardian