Newcastle United owners must be challenged on alleged state-sponsored Neom killing

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
Allegations have been made against Saudi Arabia amid their building of the Neom development

Newcastle United are expanding; expanding the realistic scope of their continental ambitions, expanding their appeal as a global footballing brand, and - if various whispers are to be believed - potentially expanding the capacity of their fabled, historic St. James’ Park dwelling too.

The specifics on how exactly the club plan to go about the latter remain befittingly foggy. Moving away from St. James’ entirely has been floated as one prospective solution. Two sites - one on a vacant plot of acreage nestled down near the banks of the Tyne, one next to the existing stadium planted in neighbouring Leazes Park - have been methodically considered, but it is understood that those helming the project would ideally prefer to modernise the infrastructure of the current ground on the site which it occupies presently.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

This, in turn, creates headaches. While the club have already purchased the land required to rebuild the Gallowgate End, St. James’ writ large is part of a city centre conservation area that includes a number of Grade One listed buildings behind the East Stand. Being granted planning permission may, therefore, be incredibly difficult, especially when complicated further by vocal opposition from locals. Then again, if the naysayers protest too loudly, Newcastle’s grubbily rich Saudi owners could just have them silenced. After all, they do, according to those who know them best, have previous.

You see, this article is not really about St. James’ Park and the simmering desire to add a further seven-and-a-half thousand seats for those poor, devoted Geordies who struggle to find a ticket on match days. This article is about Neom.

For those unfamiliar, Neom - with its name like the Doppler Effect and its blueprints like a co-inhabited wet dream of George Lucas and Wassily Kandinsky - is the latest hare-brained architectural flex from a kingdom rapt by oil and with more money than decency. In the simplest of terms, Neom, nicknamed ‘The Line’, is a city entirely unlike anything mankind has ever seen. Housing a proposed population of 9,000,000 in a perfectly straight tract, piercing through the desert like a hyperdermic needle into the sandy flesh of the wilderness, the metropolis will bustle between two skyscrapers encased in a mirrored glass facade; 500 metres tall, 100 miles long, and just 200 metres apart.

Imagine a yassified Berlin Wall with a colony of Borrowers living inside it and you’re about a quarter of a smidgen of the way there. It is an idiom-defying sci-fi dystopia, a line in the sand that represents not the curtailment but the catalyst for lunacy. The first phase of the project alone is expected to cost around £265 billion (there has been no official word just yet on how much of that budget is dedicated to scraping dead birds from the unexpected, borderline invisible, Eiffel-Tower-dwarfing hurdle they will now have to navigate in the skies above the Red Sea shoreline) and is due for completion in 2030 - although you suspect that particular deadline may come and go unheralded. The brochures glossily boast that, when finished, it will be the world’s ‘most liveable city by far’.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Unless you happen to already live where Saudi Arabia are breaking ground on their affront to logic and reason, that is. In an interview with the BBC last week, Colonel Rabih Alenezi, an ex-intelligence officer who worked closely alongside the Neom project for a while, spoke candidly of how he was ordered to evict villagers from a tribe in the Gulf state to clear a path for The Line. One person was subsequently shot and killed for protesting against their displacement. In a further statement, Alenezi claimed that the Saudi government had ‘licensed the use of lethal force against whoever stayed in their home’. These grim revelations come in the wake of a report from October 2022, which suggested that three men had already been sentenced to death for challenging their enforced expulsion.

The region in which Neom is being constructed has been described by Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, Saudi leader and chair of the Public Investment Fund who own a controlling stake in Newcastle United, as the perfect ‘blank canvas’ for a mega-city. But his own government openly states that, at the time of writing, some 6,000 people have been unceremoniously shunted aside, while outside research estimates the figure to be even higher; BBC analysis of satellite images appear to show that three villages - replete with homes, schools, and hospitals - have been soundly demolished. Presumably more will follow.

In private, the Crown Prince has allegedly told aides and planners alike that he wants his kingdom to have its own version of Egypt’s great pyramids. It would appear that he is willing to take a bloodily pharaonic stance towards the rights of those far beneath him to make it happen.

There can be no excuse for the murderous whims of a brattish autocrat. That may seem like an incontestable, almost facile truth, but here we are, leafing through the 3D-rendered mock-ups and successful bids for Asian Winter Games - yes, really - while communities on the ground are being coerced into submission. It is despotic stuff; unimaginable cruelty in the name of arrogant grandeur. And all the while, the bulldozers keep bulldozing and the investors keep on investing.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Back on Tyneside, Bin Salman and his PIF are revered as messianic influences by many - the vanquishers of Mike Ashley, the deliverers of Champions League football. But just for a second, let us indulge the ludicrous. Let us envisage a scenario where the residents of those pretty sandstone townhouses on Leazes Terrace, hunkered in the shade of the East Stand, with their justifiable objections and their reams of red tape, were not met with council hearings over tense planning permission proposals and other such bureaucratic machinations, but were instead greeted by brute force, intimidation, gunfire, and death. If it happened in Newcastle, it would not be okay. Just because it is happening in Saudi Arabia doesn’t make it any more forgivable.

Related topics:

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.