JUST a Brian Kilcline clearance behind St James’ Park’s iconic Gallowgate End stands The Strawberry Pub, a fine hostelry in which to enjoy a couple of jars.

It gets crowded on match days, ridiculously so, but if you manage to find a spot there are many worse ways to spend an hour before a game, especially when it’s Newcastle United at home, which so often is a trying chore of duty for the locals.

In 2013, Newcastle’s recruitment policy centred on buying cheap and mostly average French players, five arrived in the January alone, which took the French-speaking contingent in the dressing room to 13.

That this plan didn’t work came as a surprise to nobody except those recovering from serious brain trauma.

The fine people in charge of The Strawberry changed its name to ‘'La Fraise’ for a few weeks, which to this day I think is just magnificent.

What might be even more canny, as they do say down there, would be the chance to ask: “Fancy a pint in the الفراولة?


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And, yes, the question mark is in the right place.

What we know is talks have taken place between representatives of Sheik Khaled bin Zayed Al Nehayan, a senior member of the Abu Dhabi royal family and distant relative of Manchester City owner Sheik Mansour, and Newcastle United regarding the club’s hated owner Mike Ashley selling up.

According to journalists in that neck of the wood who I know, the interest is genuine but there is some way to go before a “£350m deal” is done.

The Sheik has money. Probably. As someone who lived in the United Arab Emirates for a short time, I can confirm he does come from a ridiculously wealthy family, but it was reported last year that Liverpool dismissed a take-over by the group because they failed to provide proof of funds.

It must be said that we are talking £2billion. Just because you can’t show that doesn’t mean those at the table were skint. Although it would be typical of Newcastle United if they were to be bought over by the only Middle Easter Sheik who as a bit short of cash.

After a spell in Abu Dhabi, I moved to Newcastle and stayed for three years. In many ways, I wish it was still there.

It is a fantastic city. Warm, funny, kind with so much going on. I wrote about football, United in particular, but it always annoyed me when Geordies spoke about how the football club was the city. What nonsense.


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Sure, the stadium sits on top of a hill like a cathedral and 52,000 people pack into the stands every home match to watch a team which never wins anything. I watched a lot of seriously bad football, performed by players who wouldn’t get a game for Stenhousemuir.

However, there is so much more to the city and surrounding area. There’s a wonderful art scene, great pubs (not all of them filled with stags and hens), top end restaurants, concerts, gigs, great walks. It’s ten minutes from the beach and even closer to the countryside in the opposite direction.

It’s neither too big, nor too small. Newcastle is the perfect size.

You will struggle to find a nicer population in England. Good folk, slightly mad, occasionally impossible to understand to the Scottish ear, but people you would happily hang about with.

I fell in love with Newcastle. I didn’t even fancy Newcastle United.

It had a lot to with Ashley owning them, some, not all, who worked for the club were awful, they could be terrible to watch, and they banned me and three, that’s three, newspapers I worked for because of something I wrote.

I’m pretty proud of that, to be honest.

However, I would love this club to be given a new life by a new owner, even if I personally feel uncomfortable with a Sheik from the UAE owning this institution which hails from such a working class area.


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Abu Dhabi is pretty liberal but type ‘UAE’ and ‘Amnesty International’ and it doesn’t make for easy reading.

However, as one Toon Army conscript said to me: “Everyone else is doing it, why not us?”

If I had billions, I would buy Newcastle United because so much is already there. The passion of supporters, the sheer numbers of them, stadium, history etc. If that club was run normally, which it has never been under Ashley, they would have been a top-10 team with a cup final appearance to boast about.

Since the Sports Direct owner took over in 2007, Newcastle have been relegated twice and involved in two further relegation battles. He even changed the name of the stadium and hired Joe Kinnear. Twice.

I want to see a Newcastle United connect once again with its city and region. Winning a trophy would be great, trying to get to a semi-final would be a start. They need to bring through their own players after years of watching Geordie lads making their breakthrough somewhere else, when all they want to do in that neck of the woods is put on the famous black and white.

More than once, I would joke in print that I hoped there was a rich Sheik out there who was a fan of Jossy’s Giants. Maybe this is the guy. We will need to wait and see if this is genuine or not. I hope it is.


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As the great Sid Waddell, who wrote Jossy’s Giants, once said: “He's as happy as a penguin in a microwave." That would be me if the supporters of Newcastle at long last get a club and a team which reflects England’s finest city.

Because to quote Sir Bobby Robson: “What is a club in any case? Not the buildings or the directors or the people who are paid to represent it. It’s not the television contracts, get-out clauses, marketing departments or executive boxes.

“It’s the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride in your city. It’s a small boy clambering up stadium steps for the very first time, gripping his father’s hand, gawping at that hallowed stretch of turf beneath him and, without being able to do a thing about it, falling in love.”

The great man put it better than I ever could, pet. Anyway, how do you pronounceالفراولة?