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Opinion

Sometimes you get a reminder of just what our football club can be

2 months ago
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The 29 January 2019 will go down as one of the craziest days in Newcastle United history.

Even in our ridiculous recent past, few days have summed up in such a short period what it means to be a Newcastle United fan.

I awake to the news we all dread, we all expect. ‘Rafa Benitez unlikely to see out Newcastle contract, no guarantees he will still be here at the end of the season.’ Ahh. Protests planned for the game against City. An attack on Ashley, an attack on everything rotten with our club. We desperately need some hope. Something to cling onto. Anything. This ship is sinking.

Finally 6pm arrives and the pub is calling pre-match. As I sit down with a pint in hand, I see news Almiron is apparently signing.

I still find it weird to get excited over transfers but my god it’s something. It shouldn’t have had to come to this. Getting excited over a playmaker from the MLS who has not played in Europe yet, but I can’t help but feel a pinch of hope. It’s something. More signings on the way apparently. Now the beer tastes better. Now the game tastes better. Walking up from the Strawberry past the Sir Bobby Robson statue, things actually seem exciting. Then that voice pops up telling you to stop kidding yourself and to wrap up warm for the four or five goal tonking we are about to take.

Newcastle United have not beaten Manchester City at St James Park since 2005. Michael Owen scored the goal and Graeme Souness was our manager. Yes, a long time ago. That Manchester City team was not like the team of today. The unstoppable force under Pep Guardiola, that have not conceded a goal so far in 2019. Even in the warm-up they look frightening. This could be a long night.

Genuinely, a comment cropped up earlier in the pub, “if we kick off, at least we won’t concede for a minute.”

That theory sounded logical at the time but is about to be smashed to pieces. We kick off. Launch the ball long and lose possession. Sterling runs at our defence, chaos ensues. A second of scrappiness. And then Sergio Aguero scores. Of course. Of bloody course he does. And now we are 1-0 down against quite possibly the best team in Europe. After 24 seconds. Really? It felt quicker. Game plan gone in half a minute it seems. Great start lads.

I am at pitch level and that low I realise how City are even quicker at moving the ball than I already knew they would be. Every time the crowd urges a mini-press they pass out at the speed of lightning. I am scared just watching, imagine being Hayden and Longstaff…but actually they seem to be holding their own. Fernandhino is still running the show of course but we don’t look that intimidated. I think it’s nearly half time and check the clock. Oh dear. 22 minutes have passed. Yes it’s going to be a long night.

Half time eventually arrives and somehow it’s still only 0-1. Even though Schaar had to clear one off the line, it’s not been that bad. The levels of protest are consistent and although not exploding, they are bubbling away in the background. A constant reminder of our frustration and tiredness of the situation this club is in. Dubravka saves brilliantly from Silva. We cling on with everything we’ve got but still it seems a matter of time. The ball flows when City have it. We have it, Atsu is wasteful and Rondon isolated. The anti-Ashley chants get a little bit louder

We continue to not have much of the ball as the second half begins but seem to be slowly growing into it. ‘But come on Aguero will probably blast one home in a minute, and I’ll be curtains’ says the negative voice in my head. Then just as I think that, things change.

Kevin De Bruyne clatters into a tackle that he will never get to in a million years. Miles away. He was booked in the first half and should be walking. Perhaps thinking he harshly booked De Bruyne first time around, the referee doesn’t show a second card. SJP goes berserk. Howling injustice. I have always thought nothing fuels the fire at this place like howling injustice. It feels like the coals are stoked now. It should have been a red and everyone is about to know so. Guardiola, the referee, De Bruyne. Everyone. Pep immediately takes KDB off, to avoid the risk of getting a man sent off. Another little moment to give us some hope.

Then it happens. Ritchie hangs a nothing cross but the previously peerless Fernandinho can’t clear his lines properly. He chooses his moments for those rare errors, the Brazilian. Hayden keeps it alive and boom. I can’t see what happened properly but I and 48,000 odd others are going nuts. Rondon is knee sliding and somehow we have the game at 1-1. Hope. There’s still 25 minutes to play but I want full time now. Suddenly this old place is rocking.

It may not as often as it should these days but now it really is rocking. Rafael’s black and white army are making things very difficult for Man City, all over. In the stands and on the pitch, things are difficult for City and we are loving it. They don’t lose often and it shows, whinging about every little tackle, every little pull. Yedlin crunches into Sterling and the ground shakes. The crowd buzzes. I shout encouragement at Yedlin, who almost certainly can’t hear me. Does funny things to you football.

More tackles. More buzz. More energy.

Suddenly Hayden and Longstaff are all over the pitch, ball-winning. It feels genuinely like the unthinkable could happen. Surely not? Don’t kid yourself. Even Atsu is now worrying the City defence. They try to play out from the back but it doesn’t really work. Fernandhino, for a split second, looks unsure of what to do. He pauses and Longstaff is on him. In the blink of an eye Longstaff is down and the referee points to the spot. At this point I am not quite sure what I am seeing.

This can’t be happening surely. Surely not. But yes Ritchie has the ball and the Gallowgate is waiting like a beast about to explode. The gap between the whistle blown and the ball hitting the net has never felt longer, but it’s in and the net is bulging. Strangers jumping on each other, one of those nights.

In the remaining ten minutes I can’t remember the ball going out of play. I mean it must have multiple times but all I will remember those ten minutes as is a wall of noise. Every time City get the ball anywhere near our goal the noise gets louder. Even now I am thinking the draw would be an incredible result. The Blaydon Races blares out. At last the hope has returned- if only briefly. If only for a minute it doesn’t matter. We needed this. I needed this. The crowd swells and the final whistle is blown. At last some hope.

Tuesday night shouldn’t, and of course won’t, paper over our current situation and eleven years of under investment. Sometimes though, you just need a reminder of what our football club can be.

Bigger than one person and something that can you offer you hope and excitement.

From getting up on Tuesday morning to leaving the ground, I think I experienced the complete range of emotions most fans go through in a lifetime, including apathy for a large part. When staring over the turf at full time, all I could think is that supporting Newcastle United is bloody exhausting sometimes. Wouldn’t have it any other way mind.

You can follow the author on Twitter @JackLaceySport

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