Newcastle United Steve Bruce. | PETER POWELL


Poor Steve Bruce! The sacked Newcastle United manager says he was really upset to be described as “a fat waste of space and a stupid, tactically inept cabbage-head.” He should count himself lucky. At least he left with £8 million and wasn’t tortured, then murdered and dismembered on the orders of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, the club’s new owners, like the American journalist, Kamal Khashoggi.

Newcastle’s long-suffering fans got so excited by the Saudi takeover that they dressed themselves as towel-heads, to the embarrassment of the club, who have told them not to do this anymore. The fans were probably too ignorant to know about Khashoggi’s fate, and probably wouldn’t have cared about it anyway.

Or not as much as winning the Premiership and the Champions League under their new multi-billion pound desert saviours.

Bruce is a decent man who deserved better treatment by the unforgiving Geordie fans. He achieved huge success with Manchester United as a rugged defender and was a good coach who succeeded in keeping the Magpies in the Premier League with minimal financial help in the transfer market from the previous owner, Mike Ashley. It is a mark of his essential decency that he said on leaving: “I am excited by the club’s future.”

The Premiership has been so extraordinarily successful that it is doubtless shouting in the dark to protest that too much of it is already owned by men with a criminal past - “built on dirty cash and blood money,” as one critic put it. If Fifa can give the World Cup to the slave state of Qatar, reform of the concept of a “fit and proper” person to own a football club seems unlikely.

For me the rot began with Roman Abramovich’s purchase of Chelsea in 2003. Until then they had been one of my favourite clubs, with memories stretching back to the great days of Peter Osgood, Alan Hudson and Charlie Cooke. But however shady his background, at least the Russian oligarch clearly loves his football.

A previous owner of Manchester City – and former Prime Minister of Thailand – was convicted of corruption. A Leeds United owner was described by an Italian court as a man “with marked criminal tendencies and capable of using every kind of deception to achieve his ends.” Birmingham City had an owner with criminal convictions and suspected connections with Chinese gangsters.

Saudi Arabia were initially turned down as putative owners of the Newcastle club. But a call to Boris Johnson from the Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, seemed to clear the way to a deal.

The Crown Prince was described in the Sunday Times as “an authoritarian thug straight out of the Middle Ages, a man who presides over the murder, torture and repression of his opponents,” who has launched a new crackdown on women who try to improve their lot.
Some of the Newcastle fans strike me as thugs from the Middle Ages too, so maybe they are well suited to each other.

Time to stonewall Stonewall

Until I read about a podcast by a BBC journalist, Stephen Nolan, I hadn’t realised how tight a grip the lobbying group, Stonewall, has on British public life in persuading various major institutions to support their approach on gender issues. These institutions include the BBC, Ofcom, the National Health Service and various government departments.

Of course, Stonewall was a powerful influence in legalising homosexuality 54 years ago, but the issues around gender are more complex and deserve a rational public debate, which is the very opposite of what is happening at the moment, with people losing their jobs, even in universities, for daring to say, for example, that women are women, not “people with vaginas.”

It is because institutions like the BBC and the NHS (who, incidentally paid £500,000 to Stonewall last year, money that might have been better spent on nurses’ wages or patient care) are so afraid of the so-called Woke Brigade that they are prepared to swallow Stonewall’s radical agenda, such as legalising the right to self-identify on gender, whatever body as person was born with. They would also abolish the words “boy” and “girl.”

Stonewall have every right to their opinions on gender and to lobby for them, even though I personally disagree with them and reserve the right to do so without being abused. But it saddens me that so many British organisations have simply imported Stonewall’s diversity programmes, such as their Workplace Equality Index, and are prepared to accept and enforce them without any internal debate.

It isn’t just that they prescribe the wording that must be used in describing gender issues, but reward their clients with public praise, such as their Diversity Champions scheme, when they do something that Stonewall has proposed. Nolan maintains that the BBC have even hired staff specifically to ensure that the Corporation remains in Stonewall’s good books.
Much of the money paid to Stonewall is public money, so it is perfectly proper that it should be made public and accountable. Time to stonewall Stonewall, say I.

Solskjaer must stay

As a Manchester United supporter, I follow their ups and downs with special interest and frequently with some sadness or annoyance. But I am not joining the demands, mainly from the media but also from an increasing number of fans, for the manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, to be sacked.

Of course, the Norwegian was lacking in top level managerial experience when he was appointed less than three years ago. And it is true that the team are inconsistent, as well as occasionally brilliant.

He has made some very good signings in Harry Maguire, Bruno Fernandes and lately with Christiano Ronaldo, and the new centre-back, Raphael Varane, looks to be a steady performer. He has also brought on some local youngsters, such as Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood, whom he coached in the United’s academy.

Against that, he has mostly failed to bring out the best in Paul Pogba and it might have been better, and more energising to the side, to have signed Jack Grealish rather than Jadon Sancho when both were on offer (though Grealish’s strong personality might have clashed with Fernandes as the team’s mid-field general.)

I can remember when Alex Ferguson came very close to being sacked at Old Trafford when he didn’t bring immediate success. I would certainly persevere with Solskjaer, though it might be good for him to have a wise old footballing head alongside him to offer advice.
One man who is available for a job like this, and might do it very well, is Steve Bruce, once a great United stalwart.

Isle of Discussion

Have you heard of the Scottish island of Eilean ‘a Chambraidh, otherwise known as the “Isle of Discussion”? It is where the MacDonald clan sent people to sit by Loch Leven and sort out their disagreements over cheese, oatcakes and whisky.

The agreements were then signed into law. It has apparently been a great success. It sounds like a great place to go to settle disputes like some of those raised in this column.