Phew, what a day that was to be a Newcastle United fan. It’s difficult to know where to start.
After being packed like sardines on the 10:58 train from Durham to Newcastle central station, the whole day just seemed to take off on a delirious journey of mixed feelings and ever-changing moods.
Before kick off, arriving into St James’ around 11:30 to down a hastily ordered (and hastily drank) pint of Guinness, conversation turned briefly to what needs to happen in the coming days, weeks and months. With general opinion being that there are a fair few players that need to be sold and a fair few need to be bought in order to sustain a good Premier League campaign.
With pint finished and pew taken, the game kicked off and meandered into unusual territory. It started the way most games have done this season with the away side looking the more dangerous and at certain stages Barnsley certainly looked to be up for spoiling the party.
The first real moment of madness was the ‘false alarm’ where a large amount of fans near Strawberry Corner seemed to have incorrectly heard that Aston Villa had scored against Brighton. There was certainly a generous amount of cheering while nothing was happening on the pitch. After which time we took the lead, all present were content in the knowledge that we were currently Champions, but that Brighton would still probably nick the three points down at Villa to deny us the trophy and that’s the way it stood at half time.
Going 2-0 up through Mbemba settled the nerves for a few minutes and allowed me and those nearby a moment of satisfaction that the result was probably no longer in doubt. Cue a few ‘Going up, going down’ chants aimed at our nearest and dearest from Wearyside, all attention turned to mobile phones and pocket radios. Then disaster..
Confirmation came through via social media that Brighton had not only scored but had a man advantage for the rest of the game. The disappointment was tangible but the mood wasn’t helped by the odd reaction from those Barnsley fans present. From where I was sat, it wasn’t clear what the commotion was about however, I could certainly hear the chants aimed at our ‘plight’. Then there was the reaction of our supporters..
Quite simply, brilliant!
The mood instantly changed. Chants were aimed back in the direction of Barnsley fans with yet more ‘Going down, going up’ and ‘Premier League, Premier League’ chants, with most people happy in the fact that getting promoted was the only objective and we had achieved it at the first attempt. Enjoy the Championship next season Barnsley fans.
In the closing stages Dwight Gayle was allowed a cameo and scored the final goal of a successful promotion campaign and that was that. Or so we thought..
Suddenly one Toon fan shouted ‘Villa 1-1’ which was met with a dozen cries of ‘You’re joking’ and only when it was put in front of me in the form of a score update did I actually believe what was materialising. Cue pandemonium. Calm down everyone, they’re still playing down in Birmingham and this is Newcastle United, these things don’t pan out in our favour.
Collectively the whole ground seemed to hear that the Brighton game had finished which sent everyone bananas. Strangers hugging, fists in the air, bouncing up and down and dancing in the aisles were the order of the day as the title was confirmed on the big screen. Now, now the party could start.
Players and management were warmly applauded and the main man responsible for the glorious scenes was roundly serenaded. Quite simply, thank you Rafa Benitez, thank you for Sunday May 7th 2017.
Getting served in Nine Bar was written off after four failed attempts at making it to the bar and the plan moved on to toasting success at bars further away from the ground. Expensive rounds were had in numerous bars in the city where chants rang long and hard for the club, players and once again Rafa Benitez. It’s been a long time since the town has been this happy or united.
With thirst quenched, time moved ever closer to our ‘taxi’ for the day, a S********D supporting mate. Well that was a schoolboy error on his part if ever there was one.
I’ll hold my hands up and say that I offered to buy his Sunday dinner before he even turned out. The one thing I didn’t promise is that I wouldn’t repeat the chant that I’d heard, used and repeatedly revelled in over the previous three hours – such a silly boy, but what an entertaining car journey all the same. ‘Going down, going up’ etc, etc. I didn’t feel the least bit sorry for him as I downed the whiskey at 10pm as a final salute for Wor Rafa.
The common theme over the course of Sunday was that of unity, friendship, achievement and familiarity. The ground seemed ‘as one’, probably more so than I’ve ever experienced in my time going and I include Alan Shearer breaking Jackie Milburn’s record and his subsequent Testimonial in that as well. Everyone was buzzing.
Listening to comments and reaction (whilst sober) in the 24 hours or so after the match, the initial response is worry of what will become of Rafa’s meeting with Mike Ashley in the coming days.
Personally I’m not too concerned, for the simple reason that it would take unreasonable figures to make this side into a side that can be competitive in the Premier League next season. Figures of £150m+ can be written off immediately, it simply won’t happen and nor should it, it’s not required.
Someone wiser than me remarked this week that ‘I’d rather see £50m spent wisely, than £150m wasted’ and this is where Rafa will excel if given the chance. In the coming days we will find out if this meeting with Rafa Benitez is a watershed moment, or our manager having being given false promises from those out of his control. Anyway, Rafa will be our manager in a couple of weeks time, or not. That will tell us what went on at the summit of May 2017.
In the meantime, let’s look back on the final game and the season as a whole as a learning curve, one we don’t want to have to go through again. We can look back at a club in disarray, broken, with anger and resentment at the whole set-up not functioning to please the rank and file who keep the club running.
On Sunday, people united to show that the whole stadium and city can bounce as one with one goal in everyone’s minds. Rafa has done that. Since coming in at the back-end of 2015/16 he has changed the mindset of every Newcastle United fan around. Gone are the drudgery, the negativity, the bleak future that was present under previous managers.
I’ll say it again, “Thank you Rafa Benitez.”
I can’t speak for every Newcastle United fan, that would be overstepping the mark, but what has been achieved is overwhelming. What I would advise Mike Ashley is not to throw this current situation away. He was present at the ground on Sunday and saw the feeling, the emotion, the success that the city enjoyed. Only an idiot would dismantle such a position.
Thank you to the Newcastle United squad, Rafa Benitez and his coaching staff for a quite magnificent day out and here’s hoping that the 2016/17 Championship trophy isn’t the last one Rafa lifts as our manager.
The future can be bright. Here’s to that.
(All contributions from Newcastle fans welcome, send articles (as well as ideas/suggestions) to [email protected])