The 25th of May 2016 was a turning point for me as a Newcastle United fan.
This was the day that saw Rafa Benitez, the man who earlier that same year was at the helm of Real Madrid, agree to stay on as our manager to oversee NUFC bouncing back to the Premier League.
Just over one year later and it still doesn’t quite feel real!
Without a second thought I decided that I would travel to as many matches as I possibly could throughout the season. It didn’t matter that I live in London, almost 300 miles from St James Park, and that our rip off rail network would end up costing me about £100 a pop to get to the Toon and back.
I’d take the Megabus for a fiver and stay in a twenty quid shack for the night if that’s what it took!
Prior to this my match attendance record was shameful to say the least. To say I could count the amount of games I’d been to on one hand would be ambitious. I could count them on one finger – the 4-0 defeat to Tottenham in the 2014 League Cup. Time to unstick my backside from the armchair and make up for all that lost time.
This newly instilled optimism and enthusiasm I felt for the season ahead appeared to be contagious, sparking last year’s season ticket sales to rocket before a ball had even been kicked. With the fans all too aware how important it was to demonstrably vindicate Rafa’s decision to stay and give him and his players as much support as possible during this pivotal promotion campaign.
Now the season has come to its dream conclusion and we prepare for our return to the big time, I can take time to reflect on some of the terrific highs I was lucky enough to witness (9 wins, 29 goals scored, 7 clean sheets) and one or two not-so-terrific lows (1 loss, 1 goalless draw and 7 goals conceded).
There were moments that I’ll never forget – the first of which being the 6-0 demolition of QPR. An absolute joy to behold, our biggest win in what feels like a lifetime, with 4 of the goals being smashed in directly in front of us to chants of ‘Geordie boys are taking the….!’:
Then there was that injury time comeback against Norwich. So many mixed emotions that night – disappointment at going 3-1 down in the 70th minute, anger at the fans booing our players, hope after Gayle makes it 3-2, relief at Gouffran’s injury time equaliser.. and then sheer elation as Gayle nets his hat-trick and rounds off arguably our biggest comeback since that 4-4 against Arsenal. The agonies and ecstasies of a Newcastle fan summed up in one night!
The 2-1 fightback against Brighton was phenomenal, and looking back was arguably the pivotal game of our season, with the Mags going on to pick up 7 points out of 9 from what promised to be our toughest trio of fixtures.
Pandemonium ensued in the away end when that Perez winner went in – strangers embracing and collapsing into a heap, leading to a few bruised legs!
Of course, the highlight of highlights has to be that thriller of a last day – the moment we somehow achieved the impossible of coming back from a 7-point deficit to pipping Brighton to the title.
That historic 90th minute that saw Gayle cap off his season with yet another goal, followed by the brilliantly cheeky celebration moments before news of a Villa equaliser started to trickle in.
It’s a tired cliché but being a football fan really is about moments such as this!
So, an accumulative 3,756 miles on the road, a backside-numbing 42 hours sat on a Megabus and a few nights in some dodgy hotels – and I can’t wait to do it all over again.
Bring on the Premier League!
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