This week the world has been captivated by two tales of immoral billionaires exploiting decent people into abandoning their dignity and principles in pursuit of a dollar.
One was Netflix’s instant classic Squid Game, the other was the Saudi takeover of Newcastle United.
The latter is nauseating for reasons that are glaringly obvious to anyone who doesn’t look at the world through black-and-white-tinted glasses.
Saudi Arabia’s deplorable human rights record is not worth rehashing in this article – firstly because this is a sports forum, and secondly because it’s exposed by even the most cursory Google search.
As for Toon fans’ wave of whataboutism, that’s schoolyard logic peddled exclusively by those with the intellect to match.
Mike Ashley was a terrible owner for equally obvious (though less immoral) reasons.
But cheering his replacement by a Saudi consortium is like celebrating a doctor’s visit where you’re cleared of a cold but diagnosed with pneumonia.
If Newcastle fans were so desperate to get rid of Ashley, why didn’t they protest more effectively for the last decade and a half?
A more sophisticated set of supporters would have coordinated a boycott to make his ownership unviable and force him out the door. If Newcastle fans didn’t turn up, Ashley would’ve stopped turning up too.
England fans fawn over Germany’s supporter culture as if things like affordable tickets, standing terraces and alcohol within view of the pitch simply landed in their laps.
They didn’t. German fans fight for these things. Remember how the German Football Association ditched Monday night games after years of sustained, coordinated protest?
Ignoring the regulation that would prevent such a takeover from occurring in the Bundesliga, German supporters simply would not tolerate owners like Newcastle’s new ones. People power makes the very thought inconceivable.
Instead, Newcastle fans’ strategy – and ‘strategy’ is a generous description – was the occasional ham-fisted demo outside St James’ Park, a lot of whinging on Twitter and crossing their fingers Ashley would leave.
After 14 years they’ve finally got their wish. No wonder they’re raising a glass of bubbly without a whiff of irony that they’re toasting a regime that outlaws alcohol but has no issue with much more serious crimes.
Social media has been awash with pie charts comparing the Saudis’ wealth to rival club owners and portraits of Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland photoshopped into black-and-white stripes.
But let’s wait and see how they spend their dosh.
Headlines linking Steven Gerrard with the managerial after Steve Bruce will vacate made rival fans guffaw.
To steal a line from a much funnier friend, the Saudis approaching Gerrard is like a millionaire walking into a bottle shop, staring at the whiskey shelf and deciding he’ll grab the Johnnie Walker. And no, not gold label. Not blue. But red. And mixed with Coke Zero.
The cash will also create an expectation that’s impossible to satisfy. Think of England’s biggest clubs: how many of those fan-bases are happy right now?
City fans still pine over the Champions League, labour under a persecution complex, and don’t bother filling their stadium. United fans have been deprived of success by a decade of mismanagement. Arsenal and Tottenham have fallen off the map.
Liverpool fans are smiling again after a three-decade dry spell, and Chelsea fans can be happy too – check back in May once the Premier League season has concluded. Broadly speaking though, the cliche rings true: money doesn’t buy happiness.
In the final episode of Squid Game – don’t worry, no spoilers – one poignant moment discusses how people with excessive amounts of money invariably get bored.
It’s already happened at the Etihad, where the atmosphere could be politely described as funereal.
And it will happen in Newcastle too – when the Strawberry is demolished to make way for a luxury hotel, or when the international tourists swap their seats at Old Trafford for St James’ Park, or when the average ticket price soars out of the financial reach of the regular fan.
Or when local players, so cherished by a fan-base as parochial as Newcastle’s, are consigned to the dustbin of history alongside Sports Direct advertisements and Steve Bruce’s clipboard.
Who knows, maybe the winner of the Squid Game can invest his winnings to take over the club next.
The money would even drip with less blood.