On Sunday, February 26, in the north-east of England, an entire city will be coming to a complete and utter stand still.
A city obsessed with football. A city whose intensive gaze transfixes firmly onto their one sole football club. A city that for 54 years has been tormented by its beloved team’s failure to repay their adulation with a trophy.
Newcastle. A city built upon the mighty River Tyne. A city forged and shaped by its ship building and coal mining history, that was the life blood of the area for so many decades.
On the banks of the Tyne, as these industries flourished, so did its football team. Up until 1969, when Newcastle last won a major trophy, the club had amassed four league titles and six FA Cups. Then, just as the pits began to close and shipyard gates were locked forever, the club’s fortunes began to mirror that of its city’s. As the 60s became the 70s, Newcastle United went from being one of the countries most decorated clubs, to nothing. For over 50 years, nothing.
Over half a century of baren, trophyless seasons have now passed, with many who now filter into St. James’ Park on a regular basis, never seeing any form of significant silverware during their lifetimes (this writer included!).
They have come close, of course. Two Cup Finals in both the 70s and 90s, along with Kevin Keegan’s rampaging Entertainers falling so agonising close to Premier League glory, teased the fans with a taste. But it was never to be.
Then, in 2021, following the club’s takeover by the Saudi PIF, the game completely changed, with Newcastle United becoming the richest club in the world almost overnight. Most foresaw the club’s fortunes changing for the better following takeover, but no one could have foreseen what was to happen this season.
In just over a year, Eddie Howe has taken a wreck of a team, a team who were certain for relegation, and made them into one of the best in the Premier League.
Many will point to the takeover and try claim that this turnaround is due to the money now being invested in the club. To do this would not only be a disservice to Howe, but it would also be borderline offensive.
Of course, the new owners have invested in the playing staff, but nowhere near the wild and erratic spending that was predicted to mirror that of Manchester City and Chelsea following their takeovers. Newcastle’s spending over the last year is pretty much on par with most mid-level Premier League clubs, with the club choosing to spend shrewdly and wisely, staunchly refusing to indulge other clubs in the so-called ‘Newcastle tax’ when looking to sign players. The signings of Nick Pope (£10 million), Kieran Trippier (£12 million) and Bruno Guimaraes (£35 million) in particular, highlighting the brilliant work done by Newcastle in the transfer market over the last year.
Let’s also not forget here, that for 14 years under Mike Ashley’s criminally neglectful ownership, the club was run on peanuts. Players picked up for cheap in the bargain basements, and if by chance one did turn out to be any good, they’d be soon sold off, with proceeds far more likely used to enhance to Mike’s High Street monopoly, than the club.
Yet, it is in the ashes of the Ashley Empire, where we perhaps find Eddie Howe’s finest achievement. The resurrection of players that Eddie inherited who were written off, deemed not good enough, and in some cases, even mocked.
Joelinton. The misfit centre-forward who couldn’t hit a bull’s arse with a banjo, transformed into one of the Premier League’s most dominant and consistent box-to-box midfielders. Miguel Almiron, written off a headless chicken with no end product. This season, with confidence now oozing from that big smiley grin, Almiron has been one of the players of season, scoring goals for fun.
Then there is Sean Longstaff and Joe Willock. Players, who as young stars seemed to have the world at their feet, but both seeming written off as ones who perhaps where never going to fulfil the promise that their early careers alluded to.
All four are now mainstays and cornerstones in Eddie Howe’s new Newcastle. A team as organised, as structured and as hard working as any Newcastle side in recent times. Of course, Keegan and Robson’s teams were as great as they were exciting, but neither come close to Howe’s when it comes to tactical nouse and working as a cohesive unit.
So, here we are in 2023, back at Wembley, with club once again on the precipice of ending its trophy hoodoo, twenty-four long years since Newcastle’s last ill-fated shot at silverware. The city had already fallen back in love with its team since the takeover but getting to Wembley has just taken it to another level. The city is alive.
After fourteen years of football purgatory, with the club openly frowning upon the cup competitions, seen as worthless distractions from the main goal of finishing seventeenth each year, win or lose, this time the fans are going to enjoy it.
Those of us who have spent our entire lives seeing the club achieve absolutely nothing. The kids in their teens/20s who have known nothing but Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct FC. And those who were there in 1969, but with each passing season, gets a dimmer and more distant memory.
There is hope on Tyneside that following the takeover, that this will be first of many trips to Wembley in the years to come. But there is also a feeling that this is the club’s last chance to win a trophy on its own merits, before the full force of the Saudi wealth fully kicks in and really drives the club to any future success.
Many of the playing squad were there pre-takeover, so to see them bring the trophy home would make it all the sweeter. The sight of Jamal Lascelles and Kieran Trippier jointly lifting the trophy, representing the past and future of the club, would perfectly encapsulate Eddie Howe’s current day Newcastle United.
As Jimmy Nail once said, ‘this is a mighty town, built upon solid ground’, and maybe, just maybe, 2023 could just be the year that Newcastle United and the ‘Big River’ that it famously sits upon, finally, rises again.