Chelsea-Newcastle tied by dismal owners

LONDON – The chants grew louder as Newcastle fans approached Stamford Bridge through the crowd of muffled Chelsea support.

“Chelsea is going bankrupt everywhere,” they rejoiced.

The chance to capitalize on a rival’s bad luck was an open target that supporters from the north east of England were not keen to pass up.

Aside from the taunting songs, there were few obvious signs at Chelsea’s stadium that hinted at the unprecedented situation the Premier League club now find themselves in – only allowed to operate under a special UK government license after owner Roman Abramovich was fired over his Connections to the Russian President was sanctioned Vladimir Putin.

The freeze on Abramovich’s assets will limit Chelsea’s ability to generate revenue. The club shops have remained closed, as they have been since Thursday, when the sanctions against Abramovich became known. No match day magazines were allowed to be sold. The only fans admitted in Sunday’s 1-0 win over Newcastle had to have bought tickets before Thursday.


The reigning European and world champions are trying to send the message that they are running out of money – becoming ‘skint’ in British slang to pressure the government to ease restrictions before the accelerated sale can be completed in order to Abramovich’s 19th year of ownership.

“Chelsea’s skint,” came another song from the Magpies fans, “and the Mags are rich.”

Newcastle certainly has the richest owners in football. But it’s a property that denies Newcastle fans the ability to embrace moral superiority. And yet, during one game where the chants were the most memorable, they roared, “Abramovitch is a war criminal.”

Abramovich was targeted in the third week of Ukraine’s invasion of Ukraine, which was condemned by the Premier League, to crack down on Russian oligarchs’ fortunes in the UK.

And yet in October, despite protests from human rights activists, the same league officials approved the sale of Newcastle to the Saudi sovereign wealth fund led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.


On the eve of that game against Chelsea – dubbed the “Sportswear Derby” – Bin Salman’s regime carried out the largest known mass execution in the kingdom’s modern history, killing 81 people convicted of crimes ranging from murder to membership in a militant group.

“In an era of global sports laundry and given the horror of what is currently unfolding in Ukraine,” said Sacha Deshmukh, CEO of Amnesty International UK, “The Premier League has a clear moral responsibility to change its ownership rules to reflect the best in class.” put an end to English football being used as a publicity vehicle for those involved in gross human rights abuses.”

Newcastle fans were unmoved, still waving Saudi flags in the away area in west London.

“I’m sticking with football,” said Newcastle manager Eddie Howe when asked if the country was funding his club conducting the mass executions.

It’s an attitude that overlooks how clubs can be used as political tools in world football.


“I made my position clear,” Howe replied curtly.

It’s an awkward situation that even some Newcastle fans admit has clashed, despite spending more than $100m in the first transfer window under Saudi ownership helping the team move away from the relegation zone . While Newcastle is showing solidarity with the Ukrainian victims of Russian aggression, the Saudis are locked in a war against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen that has produced the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.

For now, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warm ties with Saudi Arabia, and the country’s ambassador to Riyadh celebrated the Newcastle purchase. But the moves against Abramovich’s British deals serve as a cautionary tale for Newcastle fans, who are celebrating their newfound investment and how geopolitical tensions can impact a Premier League team.

“Boris Johnson, he’s coming for you,” were Chelsea’s heckling to the guests from Newcastle.


Outside, Newcastle fans listened as Angie Conlon, a Chelsea fan who had traveled from the north-east city, reflected on how authorities have a broader responsibility to assess the source of owner funding in light of Abramovich’s ouster.

“That could easily happen because the Saudis are doing terrible things to the people of Yemen,” said Conlon, who has been coming to Chelsea games since the 1970s. “It only shows when we have a (new) owner – we have to have billionaire owners or you can’t afford this club these days – anything can happen that could change that in a week. Really, we won’t reach the end of the season if we don’t sell this club.”

Perhaps it was recognition of the seriousness of the situation Chelsea are now facing that ensured Sunday’s chants of Abramovich were not repeated, which disrupted Ukraine’s support from last weekend during a game at Burnley.


However, the ‘The Roman Empire’ banner still hangs on Stamford Bridge, dedicated to the owner who has funded 21 trophies since 2003 for a club that had won just 10 in the previous 98 years.

“You will never change a Chelsea fan’s opinion of him,” said 64-year-old fan Kim Clark. “Never for what he did for this club.”

Just as he has done for three decades, Clark occupied an unofficial booth near Chelsea Stadium. There were a few books on Abramovich on sale and old matchday magazines – the only ones on sale as the government banned the club from selling new books.

“We know there will be sanctions, we understand something needs to be done,” Clark said. “It’s going to be petty… but it’s all the knock-on effects that are happening now. It affects the fans.”


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Jaclyn Diaz

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