It was the first game of the new Saudi ownership, and on the pitch it looked much like the old regime. Off the pitch they have got some things right, but the spectacle of the PIF chairman being cheered to the rafter left some supporters uneasy
First the celebrations, then the reality check.
After 11 days playing fantasy football, speculating on which superstars could arrive, and director Amanda Staveley insisting the Saudi-Geordies are targeting the title in five to 10 years, the scale of the job was shown to the world.
Relegation, not the Champions League, is a possibility.
Spurs, inspired by resurgent Harry Kane who ended his six game league goal drought and made one for Son Heung-Min, made this an embarrassment for the new regime.
“You’ll always be sh*t,” sang the Spurs fans.
If the Saudi ruled Mohamed Bin Salman was tuned in, on his newly legal beIN Sports subscription, he’d have turned off early.
It took just 108 seconds for Callum Wilson to get the new owners off to a flier.
St James’ Park was alive with anticipation and hope. The party was soon over after just 22 minutes, and it’ll probably be 1,000 games and out for Steve Bruce.
The £305m Saudi funded takeover has stirred awkward, stomach-churning, head-spinning moral questions leaving some supporters feeling a bit uneasy. This result, and some of the crowd reactions, added to the queasiness.
Is it possible to believe that the people now running the club can do things right and get ‘it?’ While also believing that the source of the cash – the Saudi regime – is tainted by human rights abuses, their murdering of a journalist, their treatment of women and their criminalisation of gay people?
Or is it just simple public relations? Are Newcastle – and their fanbase – being used as a cheering, gullible sporting front for a dubious Crown Prince?
Outside the Gallowgate End, which last saw a public hanging in 1844, it was heaving two hours before kick off.
The statue of Jackie Milburn was brought alive with Mike Ashley’s head on the ball.
The noise was initially intense inside, as much for Mike Ashley’s departure, the years of mediocrity and lack of ambition, as for what might come.
Wilson nodded home from close range, after Javier Manquillo overlapped and whipped in a cross.
Up in the directors box new chairman, and Public Investment Fund governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan leaped off his seat to roar his approval holding up a scarf. Soon he’ll be writing the transfer cheques.
He’d arrived in the morning on a private jet from New York – a timely reminder that the PIF owned the two private jets that flew the 15 strong hit squad to Turkey to kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi – and was given the noisiest cheer of the day when introduced to the crowd before kick off.
Outside the ground, amid the happy throng on Strawberry Place, a billboard van circled carrying Khashoggi’s picture and a reminder he had been murdered.
There are things that the club – or 10 per cent stakeholders Staveley and Jamie Reuben – have got right off the pitch.
Like the fan who left his tickets at home, went to the box office expecting to be charged £2.50 per duplicate, but was told it was now free and “we don’t do that sort of thing here anymore.”
Or like Reuben announcing he’d be matching every pound collected for at the NUFC Foodbank until the end of the season.
The Wor Flags fan group were allowed into the ground during the week – after their self-imposed boycott after Rafa Benitez left – and put on quite a display.
Those small things make a club, create an occasion and let fans feel they belong.
A few supporters dressed up with tea-towels on their heads, homemade Saudi kaffiyeh.
Just daft bants? Or an unnecessary validation of the Saudi regime? Take your pick.
For all the protestations that the Saudi state and the PIF are separate – including by local Labour politicians rowing in behind the deal – that’s clearly nonsense.
But what has this all to do with us fans, said a large majority? How can the Toon faithful change anything?
How about stop selling the Saudis billions of pounds worth or arms to lob at Yemen, before criticising football fans for celebrating investment, and likely progress, in their club?
It was a day of many conflicting emotions.
At least there was a dreamy first, er, 17 minutes on the pitch, until Tanguy Ndombele curled home and reminded United why they remain 19th in the table.
Five minutes later it was Kane on the money to break his second longest Premier League goal drought.
A burst into space, a pass from Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg to the unmarked England man, and a neat lob, which ended the Geordie party.
Unusually, the game was delayed after a Toon fan sitting near the pitch needed emergency medical treatment.
When it resumed, Lucas Moura sliced open the Toon defence, sending Kane clear. He crossed, and Son had a simple finish.
It could have been more, Moura hit the bar and Spurs, up to fifth with back to back wins, were dominant.
“No noise, from the Saudi boys…” echoed from the away end.
Sub Jonjo Shelvey saw red, booked twice in his 22 minutes on the pitch. An 89th minute Eric Dier own goal made the scoreline more respectable.
“We want Brucey out…” sang the home fans, as thousands walked out early.