Compare and Contrast – Newcastle United, what a difference a year makes

Yesterday, Newcastle United hosted Manchester City in what would turn out to be the game of the season so far. A 3-3 draw at St James’ Park had neutral fans across the globe purring, but midway through the second half, it occurred to me just how altogether different things are now, to how they were at the same stage of the season last year.

Game 3 of last season – Newcastle 2-2 Southampton

The third game of last season, Steve Bruce’s Newcastle United were winless from the opening two games having lost to West Ham on the opening day and Aston Villa away from home in game-week 2. Both were pretty feeble efforts and it was clear to see the squad weren’t ready physically or mentally for the challenge ahead.

Then came the Southampton game. With the ownership situation at the club still up in the air and not looking likely to be resolved anytime soon, fans were desolate. I remember taking my seat at St James’ Park for that game and realising that there were empty spaces either side of myself and my mate. Then looking up and gazing around the stadium, it became very clear that it wasn’t an isolated situation as the sad sight of thousands of empty, grey seats ruined the aesthetic of a once glorious footballing cathedral.

The official attendance for that game was 44,017 – which is as low as I have ever seen for a Premier League game at SJP. The game itself was alright, but Newcastle lacked the guile and tactical nous that we see from our team today. We took the lead early in the second half, before being pegged back in the 74th minute. Allan Saint-Maximin then broke the tie with what we thought was a late winner, only to then be denied the three points in the 96th minute as Jamaal Lascelles gave away a penalty, which James Ward-Prowse put away.

James Ward-Prowse fires home his penalty to share the points at St James’ Park last season

I remember distinctly walking away from the ground, feeling as low as I ever have done as a Newcastle fan. The future looked bleak. Failing to win games like that at home is a sure fire sign of a relegation threatened team. Steve Bruce didn’t seem to know his arse from his elbow and kept asking us to “look at the positives” after every game, despite knowing full well we’d just delivered another pathetically sub-par performance.

But, on October 7th 2021, all of that changed as the PIF, PCP Capital Partners and RB Sports & Media announced they had completed the purchase of 100% of Newcastle United Football Club.

Back to the future

Fast forward to yesterday, as Manchester City roared into town as the defending Premier League champions, and very nearly went home empty-handed. The stadium was packed to the rafters, the atmosphere was electric from the second the game begun and for the umpteenth time in 2022, we all left that ground smiling from ear-to-ear having watched our team put on a thoroughly gritty, hearty and most importantly, entertaining display.

Steve Bruce is a thing very much of the past and now, with Eddie Howe at the helm, the future of the club looks bright. Since the takeover and since the appointment for Eddie, we’ve recruited well both on and off the field, we’ve turned our home ground into a fortress and I think perhaps most impressively, the club have reconnected with the city… in quite a major way.

I’m not old enough to remember the Keegan days. My Dad tells me stories of the entertainers and some of the outstanding games he was able to watch back when he had his season ticket – a luxury he decided was no longer worth the chunk of his wages it took to afford a year into the Ashley era. He tells me what seem like fables of players like Les Ferdinand and David Ginola. Matches wherein we put top, top teams to the sword with St James’ Park physically rocking due to the sheer noise of the then 30-odd thousand fans inside the ground.

Given that the Ashley era begun when I was only nine, all of that has always felt a long, long way in the past for me. Something I wasn’t sure I would ever have the luxury to see and experience. And yet, yesterday, as I was walking through the city having seen us put on an outrageous display of guts, heart, desire and genuine footballing excellence against the best team in the world, I felt more connected to the club than ever before. Is what supporting Newcastle United felt like in the mid-nineties? It certainly feels like it.

Now, for the first time in my life, when I hear my Dad tell stories of Keegan’s Entertainers, it doesn’t feel like a myth. It doesn’t feel like it’s some long-forgotten memory, lost in the history books of Premier League seasons way back in the archaic eras of English football. It feels very real. I understand what he’s saying for the first time. I understand why, when he speaks of players like Rob Lee and Philippe Albert, he can’t help but grin like a Cheshire cat. I understand because I feel the same way about this crop of Newcastle United stars.

What am I getting at here? Am I saying this is the start of a new breed of Geordie entertainers? Well, I’m cautiously optimistic that it could just be. Eddie Howe has spoken a lot this week of the Keegan era at the club and how he and the boys have been doing their history lessons on the bygone eras of Newcastle United. He told us he wants to play attractive football. He told us he wants us to go home having been entertained every week, regardless of whether we win, lose or draw.

Yesterday’s game was testament to that I think. With Eddie at the helm and with Dan Ashworth, Darren Eales and the NUFC board overseeing matters, I feel more optimistic about this club than I have ever done in the past. There was a time not that long ago when I genuinely felt as though I would never see my team win a single thing throughout my life. Nowadays, I’m beginning to wonder if there’s anything I won’t see us win throughout my life.

A bold statement? Perhaps. A little big tongue-in-cheek? Absolutely. However, when you consider where we were just 12 months ago, it feels like absolutely anything is possible now.

Thank you for reading my thoughts. If you’d like to read more, visit the opinion segment of the website. Be warned – I haven’t uploaded a whole lot lately. However, if you would like to see more of my thoughts and opinions, and perhaps have a debate or two about our great club, check out my Twitter page.

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