The purchase brought to an end the deeply unpopular reign of owner Mike Ashley, who had long ceased to be a fan favourite over what most saw as a lack of investment at the club.

Newcastle United supporters celebrate outside St. James' Park in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England, on October 7, 2021.
Newcastle United supporters celebrate outside St. James' Park in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England, on October 7, 2021. (AP)

Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund has completed a buyout of Premier League club Newcastle, giving hope to fans dreaming of a first title in almost a century but concerning human rights activists that the kingdom had gained a foothold in the world's richest soccer league.

Supporters descended on the club's St. James' Park stadium on Thursday, some chanting “we are Saudis, we do what we want" and others singing “we’ve got our club back" amid the promise of long-desired investment.

The $409-million (300-million-pound) takeover had been pursued since 2017 but stalled and then collapsed last year over concerns about how much control the Saudi state would have in the running of Newcastle amid scrutiny over piracy of sports broadcasts and human rights violations in the kingdom.

It led to a protracted legal fight that only ended this week when the Public Investment Fund offered assurances to the Premier League that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and in turn the state, would not have any say in the team.

READ MORE: Saudi Arabia is about to buy N. United by lifting Qatar ban

Concerns over autonomy

PIF has bought 80 percent of the club – which is in the relegation zone after seven matches – with the wealthy British-based Reuben brother and financier Amanda Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners owning the rest.

“The big change was the control issue,” Staveley said. ”We needed to demonstrate there was sufficient separation between PIF and the Saudi state, and that has been determined that there is.”

But while the crown prince will not have a place on Newcastle's board of directors, he remains chairman of the PIF. 

The fund’s governor Yasir Al Rumayyan will be on the board at the northeast English club as non-executive chairman.

“The crown prince is chairman of a lot of entities in Saudi," said Staveley, who will also be on the club's board.

“PIF is very much an autonomous, commercially driven investment fund, and it does not operate as part of the wider state. So there is that separation.”

The Premier League's approval of the new owners and directors means 15 of its clubs are either owned or part-owned by overseas investors.

End of Ashley's tenure

The takeover ends the 14-year ownership by British retail tycoon Mike Ashley, who has widely been viewed as a figure of scorn in the one-club city.

His ownership has been marked by chronic underinvestment in the playing squad, his use of Newcastle as a vehicle to promote his business interests, and a general lack of ambition despite the club attracting regular home crowds of more than 50,000.

Newcastle has not won a major trophy since the 1955 FA Cup and its last league title was in 1927.

Source: AP