Ant and Dec, kebab with garlic, house on fire — things that get along less than Newcastle United Football Club and its city.
It’s a bond that has the centre on lockdown (of a different kind) every second weekend, with a flash flood of black-and-white shirts and horse-mounted coppers on every corner, and one that sees 52,354 turning up for a fourth-round FA Cup tie with Oxford United.
That level is shared by fans and the club itself, however, not those who currently run it.
In the 12-and-a-bit years that owner Mike Ashley has sat in the driving seat, albeit dozing at the wheel, they’ve had little to mount a footrest and head a chandelier over — more on that in a bit.
But, with whispers of a Saudi-backed buyout building behind the St James’ Park gates, we can only imagine what state the Toon, and its Army, will be in if the keys change hands.
Visit any other ground in the country, perhaps even the world, and you’ll not find another like it. Newcastle is a one-club city, that’s small enough to walk across in an hour, but big enough for a biblical jolly.
And St. James’ Park sits right in the middle of it all; there’s no avoiding it. You’ll need the patience of a saint and blood pressure that’s near-on single digits if you’re shopping or, god forbid, driving in the centre before kick-off.
On the other hand, if you’re among those causing the frustration — crossing the road during the red man and clearing the Gallowgate Greggs of its steak bakes on the way up to the stadium — it’s an event like no other.
It’s also something that’ll be belted up to ten on the chart if this rumoured takeover goes public on a verified, blue-ticked NUFC account.
“People would be over the moon!”
Of late, folk up North have been living on dregs, only the odd unexpected win to get them through. An eight-goal thriller at home to Arsenal aside, many have had to cling to memories of the 90s and early 00s.
One who’s a regular starter in such dreams is Nolberto Solano, or as this lot call him, Nobby.
“When I arrived in Newcastle, I had players like Shay Given, Steven Harper, Alan Shearer — local boys — talking about the passion of the people,” he tells me on a late-night WhatsApp call. “That’s why I really liked it in Newcastle, why I enjoyed it so much.”
Asked what a takeover and returned success would mean to the city, his reply was genuine of a man who’d been accepted as one of Newcastle’s own, with a phrase he could have only picked up during his time there: “Oh! People would be over the moon! Newcastle fans have always been very faithful; even if you don’t have a good result, you still have people turning up… To me, I think that will be the best present the fans could get.”
“We’ll see what happens, my friend!” he laughed, when invited to play the Blaydon Races on trumpet in celebration of a takeover. “We hope that these guys take over first, and after that we can make a deal.”
Get your head on it
This latest consortium — made up of Amanda Staveley, the Reuben Brothers, the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia and a bank account with so many characters it’s almost a Saturday evening on the Bigg Market — is believed by a growing number to be the one that’ll stick.
And if it does, perhaps none of us can predict the celebration that’d follow, regardless of who it is that signs the dotted line; the return of hope and excitement would, at least in the short term, bring cheers, tears and any amount of clinking glasses.
Newcastle’s is a fanbase that, after the Championship-winning 3-0 over Barnsley in 2017, turned a city-centre trebles bar into a lager-fuelled training drill.
To cut a long story fairly short, the highlight of the occasion came within an hour of full-time, when a group of fans were trying to replicate a Jamaal Lascelles clearing header with a light fitting above the dancefloor.
Many tried and failed, before a pouffe was rolled out and the next hopeful took a run at it and salmon-leaped into the light; it quickly turned out that said fitting was in fact glass, littering the floor and temporarily calling a halt to Queen’s We Are the Champions.
The ‘victor’ jumped up, finished the chorus and made for the exit, his Toon shirt decorated in true Stuart Pierce style, covered in maroon.
Return of Rafa?
Some minds have already moved to who the would-be owners would put in the hot seat, and one name in particular. “I think there is a degree of unfinished business when it comes to Benitez and Newcastle,” says Chris Waugh, NUFC writer for The Athletic. “But it doesn’t necessarily mean a return is inevitable.
“I am always sceptical about someone returning to somewhere they are loved for a second stint, and in Benitez’s case the expectations would be so huge that it may be difficult for him to realise them, but I also think he is an excellent fit for the club because of the connection he has with supporters.”
Quizzed on the effect this speculation is having now, Chris believes it’s warranted: “I think we’ve already seen the immediate impact; it’s been a mixture of elation, relief and positivity. They have immediately felt reconnected to a club from which they have felt distanced for a long while.”
After several failed attempts in ousting Ashley, a heavy cloud of cynicism had settled, and each subsequent rumour was written off almost as soon as it entered the football Twittersphere.
But with each passing day, this latest effort seems less of a merry-go-round and more like the midweek early-morning Metro from Cullercoats; you never know when it’ll arrive, but the last stop is inevitable — St James’ Park.
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