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Ideas & Observations

‘This is an exciting storyline; we want to deliver on the opportunity we have’ – Newcastle United’s new chief executive Darren Eales on club’s exciting future

There’s real momentum building at St James’ Park. With Newcastle United’s new regime having recently celebrated its first anniversary, and the team performing on the pitch, confidence and a sense of enjoyment has returned to the stadium, replacing the dark days of the Mike Ashley regime. Here, national football journalist Ian Murtagh, who has covered the Magpies for almost 30 years, sits down with the club’s new chief executive Darren Eales to discuss his vision, business plan and methods to deliver success for the club’s loyal fanbase.


Darren Eales wants to tell you a story.

Once upon a time, there was a sleeping giant that was awoken from its long slumber, and after being revived, nourished and cared for, became a mighty force across the world.

Newcastle United’s newly-appointed chief executive is a master strategist, who describes himself as the club’s facilitator in its mission to become a sporting superpower.

But it’s when he talks the language of football fans that the 50-year-old’s eyes light up and you understand why the owners headhunted the former chief executive of US Major League Soccer club Atlanta United.

When he rules out the possibility of the Magpies’ moving away from St James’ Park, he doesn’t reel off a list of financial figures, instead factoring in the Geordie social scene.

“Where the stadium is located, there are 108 pubs within half a mile,” says Darren.

“The next best is Wolves with 34 – and only one for away fans.

“Here, it’s party city. Everyone has a great time.

“We’re in a great place, with 52,000 packed in every week.

“That’ s part of the magic of Newcastle United.”

With more than £200 million invested in the first team squad, the Benton training ground having been given an expensive makeover and the women’s team now very much playing a key role in the club’s future, Darren has an enviable set of tools at his disposal.

But financial fair play means Newcastle aren’t able to replicate what Chelsea and Manchester City have done, and splash the cash so they can compete with the elite immediately.


  • Picture: Hazel Plater/


That’s why Darren must box clever.

Being the wealthiest club on the planet is one thing, possessing a magic wand, quite another.

He says: “We haven’t got a blank piece of paper where we can just spend what we want.

“There are regulations in place where we have to get from A to B in a smart way.

“It would be easy to think, ‘crumbs, this is difficult to solve’, but part of my role is to be a facilitator.

“Yes, we’ve got a vision and a strategy, but there are constraints too, so it’s always evolving.”

And if financial fair play acts as a brake, momentum and ambition keep pushing the accelerator.

He says: “This is an exciting storyline.

“I had a great time in Atlanta; to build a club from scratch, you don’t get that in English football.

“So to have it with a club like Newcastle, with the history, heritage and potential, is fantastic.

“People have been saying for years it’s a sleeping giant.

“Having this opportunity with an ownership that’s engaged and well resourced, that can put in a strategy to take the club forward, is a huge honour and responsibility.”

The source of Newcastle’s vast wealth, though, is an issue which divides opinion.

While supporters have widely welcomed the Saudi-backed ownership, separating football from geo-politics, the club’s critics claim the Magpies have become pawns in an unseemly sportswashing project launched by a country with an appalling human rights record.

Head coach Eddie Howe and sporting director Dan Ashworth have both argued that once the takeover bid last October passed the Premier League’s owners’ and directors’ test, they had no issues.

Darren chooses to dead-bat questions on the Saudi’s 80 per cent stake in the club, other than to explain how the kingdom’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) and its worldwide contacts can only benefit Newcastle moving forward.

He says: “From my perspective, I am obviously going to be out there in discussions with companies.

“I think the important thing for me is to speak about the club, what we stand for and the exciting journey we’re on.

“We tick a lot of boxes in terms of what companies and brands are looking for in the Premier League.

“It is the journey of a club that can really create something special.

“Like everything, when you are talking to brands, everybody has different priorities but from my perspective, from what I have seen already, there is a heck of a lot of interest, not just in the brand, but the storyline too.

“I think that’s the bit that has really overwhelmed me.

“I knew in a way this was a crazy city for the fans, but we went to the ECA (The European Club Association), where you’re talking in the world of global football, and people were really excited about what Newcastle can become.

“That gives me great encouragement; we can really deliver on our ambitions.”


  • Picture: Gordon Bell /


Revenue streams, which under the Mike Ashley era became a trickle, will be flooding through very soon.

Darren says: “Everyone understands that at a fundamental level, we need to bring increased commercial revenues to give Eddie and Dan what they need to put the best team out on the pitch.

“In the year since the takeover, you have seen all the changes there have been under the new owners in terms of infrastructure, so we have already laid the bedrock for what we need to do in terms of delivering on commercial.

“We have a long way to go.

“But we have something here that is going to be attractive to commercial sponsors because it’s a one club city and a club that hasn’t won a trophy since 1969, and a domestic one since 1955, yet the fans still turn out in numbers and that is unique.

“Part of the attraction for commercial brands is coming on our journey and saying they were on board at the start and then became part of our continued success.”

Darren doesn’t rule out St James’ Park’s naming rights being handed over to a Saudi company or Saudi advertising emblazoned on shirts, shorts and billboards.

He adds: “It would make sense in terms of some of the doors that could be opened by the PIF.

“They invest in a number of countries globally, and I think, when you look at a country like Saudi Arabia with a young population – 35 million and growing – with football the number one sport, then there is some natural affinity in terms of having the commercial value of an association with Newcastle.

“For us, we are looking globally.

“The reality is the Premier League is the best in the world with incredible reach, which is a great advantage when you’re talking to brands.

“When you layer on top of that the exciting journey we’re on with Newcastle, it really does give us some great opportunities.

“But we’re going a little bit from a low bar.

“It’s going to be incremental, not just a case of flicking a switch.”


  • Picture: Tanasut Chindasuthi /


Mike Ashley infamously renamed Newcastle’s home the Sports Direct Arena, much to the fury of the fanbase.

If naming rights are sold, Darren says it will only be after consultation with paying customers.

He says: “There is sometimes a danger if you’re just chasing revenue.

“If you do that, it can slip through your hands.

“One of my big learnings from my time in the States was building a club from the ground.

“We wanted to be competitive on the pitch, have the best fan engagement and wanted to be out in the community.

“It sounds simple, but every decision we made was with those three rules.

“Our aim wasn’t about getting the biggest crowds in the MLS, it was about pursuing our goals through that lens and creating a club averaging 50,000 fans with incredible commercial revenues.

“If we’re up front and engaged with our fans, the revenue follows.

“All our decisions have to be strategic, but we have to bring supporters with us.”

It didn’t take Darren long to realise Newcastle United is the heartbeat of the city, and its success – or otherwise – invariably influences the mood of its citizens.

And he believes club and community feed off each other.

He adds: “It’s about what we can do for the region.

“There are so many opportunities here to make a real difference, for me as leader of the club, and the employees.

“That’s why we come to work, it’s that passion for the club.

“That’s what energises us, and I think that’s what makes a difference.

“You wake up and it’s a privilege and a great honour.

“Our job is to deliver on this opportunity we’ve got.

“Our vision is a stable, top-six club competing for trophies consistently, and we want to be quick getting there – but it has to be sustainable.”


  • Top image: Lee Bryant Photography /