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A massive hug from Rafa Benitez was all it took to fall in love

5 years ago

So two years ago I brought my five year old daughter to the last game of the Newcastle United Premier League season.

She was excited, but nervous, because she didn’t know what to expect. What she didn’t fully realise was it was a massive relegation defining match against West Ham!

For me, it was the end of my 10th season as a season ticket holder and, at the time, my last game…

This was because, as a resident of Bromsgrove, 225 miles from Newcastle, I had agreed with my wife that I’d end my foolishness. What none of us had realised is the effect that one game would have on my daughter!

Over the summer the only thing she talked about was Newcastle United and so, against the wishes of the ‘boss’, 2015/16 saw myself and my now six year old daughter taking up season tickets in mine, and my mate’s, seats in the Gallowgate/Strawberry corner.

Her expectations were high. She’d just seen us escape and loved it. What she actually got was Steve McClaren and a road to relegation!

Despite this, she loved the 4 hour road trip each way and the joy when a goal (rarely) went in, high-fiving the lads that sit around us. She is not really a Geordie (though her Nan is), but she has been welcomed in such a way that she declares loudly and proudly that she is.

When Rafa Benitez arrived she was delighted, not because she knew who he was, but because of the buzz at games.

She was delighted when we had the pleasure of bumping into Rafa before the Spurs game and he gave her a massive hug. From that moment she fell in love with him and the Toon. We were down but, despite my concerns, she was positive because of Rafa!

This season she has been a beacon of faith, ever positive despite awful officiating and some challenging results.

Throughout, she has declared that “if we sing really loud they will play better” and she’s right!

Last night, and with Leeds, when we’ve got behind the lads they’ve been so much better. Yes we’ve been conservative, yes we’ve not always killed off weaker sides, but look at other teams that have come down and how few have gone straight back up.

Sadly, due to Sky changes and us living in the Midlands, she was robbed of the opportunity to enjoy the promotion party at St James Park. Naturally I let her stay up though. We partied like we were there and afterwards I took here up to bed, before she came back down ten minutes later.

She had wrote this in bed:

“Newcastle news 2017 – Rafa Benitez is our manager. We have Dwight Gale. We have Matt Richie. We have Yedlin. We have Atsu. We have Murphy and Darlow, but most of all… WE ARE PROMOTED TO THE PL.”

For me, football is about pure and unbridled hope, her words sum it up. This is Newcastle and, no matter how much Mike Ashley hating or moaning there is, there is no greater feeling than the pure and untarnished view that yesterday brings to an end a year worth of hurt and next season we are back.

Well done Rafa and the boys but shame on SKY for causing a seven year old dedicated fan to miss a small piece of joy, something that as a Toon fan she’ll rarely have the fortune to enjoy.

Sing loud, sing proud and enjoy the fact we’re back!!

Howay the lads!

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