Once upon a case of Newcastle Brown Ale, the Toon Army had a football team that they could be truly proud of. Certainly during my early years, there was a lot of success around the club. St James’ Park hosted fairly consistent European football during the early 2000’s, they had a crack at the Champions League and the UEFA Cup, an achievement that seems well beyond the current outfit.

The Premier League’s greatest ever goalscorer graced the city for so many years, Alan Shearer scoring goals that young lads didn’t dare to dream were possible as they feasted their eyes on their first taste of live football. Shay Given was an immovable rock between the sticks on numerous occasions, and Nolberto Solano could ping a ball onto a five pence piece from the opposite bank of the Tyne. Blindfolded. I’m sure Laurent Robert could have done the same, but he’ll always be best remembered for picking out the face of Olivier Bernard (an achievement no less deserved of applause, might I add).

Nowadays, it’s an altogether different story. Mike Ashley bought the club, and promptly killed it. The footballing home of the North became just another marketing exercise, and I’m almost certain I saw a ‘Buy one mug, get Lee Bowyer half price’ advertisement in my match programme. Let this be quoted by pundits and your mate Steve down the local, Newcastle United are a fallen giant.engel

Following my exploits in Greece the weekend before, I was very much looking forward to getting back into the swing of the domestic game back home. Having been through school in Bournemouth, a few of my mates support the Cherries, some through loyalty in the darker days, some for, well… their own reasons. As it so happened, an invite to Newcastle away wasn’t an opportunity I was ever going to turn away, and so up North we went, via a night in Coventry to split the journey. Grim.

​My weekend on the continent had left me somewhat poorer, so there wasn’t a night out to be enjoyed for our Coventry pit stop. I’ll let you guys decide if that’s a good or a bad thing. Instead, we sank a few beers whilst enjoying the lack of Wi-Fi that our hotel could provide, before settling down ready for the early departure further north.

We arrived in a drizzly Newcastle just gone midday the next day, and, as I’m told is custom for Premier League away days, Jamie quickly wandered off in search of an away pub. We weren’t to find one sadly, but that wasn’t to stop us sampling some of the local drinking holes anyway. I forget what the pub was called, karma for me writing these blogs so long after, but our first stop of the day included some of the best food I’ve had on my travels this season. A grilled sandwich and some soup. Vague, but like I say, specific details are eluding me here. If you’re a culinary expert, have a look at my photo and get back to me. It was incredible.

Having announced my location via Twitter, I was quickly inundated with messages exclaiming their love for the city, and I have to say, you lot weren’t wrong. Despite my mere few hours within its boundaries, Newcastle was a good laugh. There’s a buzz around the city that you don’t get elsewhere, and despite being evidently out of place and at the other end of the country, everyone we met was friendly, which is always nice in an unfamiliar city. It’s certainly a place I want to return to sooner rather than later, for a chance to explore some more. Instead, we had more pressing matters, Newcastle United vs AFC Bournemouth being our principal priority.
St James’ Park can be seen from almost wherever you stand, it really is a fantastic megastructure within the town centre. Holding more than 50,000 spectators, it was one of the many grounds I had on ‘to-do’ list when I was growing up. In all honesty though, my presence had one main reason, other than of course the football. I was going to be in THAT away stand. You know the one I mean, the away stand that means climbing what feels like the stairs to heaven, before taking in the game from a vantage point at a higher altitude than most commercial flights. It’s fantastic.
On the pitch however, United are a lot less impressive. Two relegations in the last ten seasons, albeit split with a brief return to European competition, is a far shadow of where the club were just over a decade ago, and truthfully, there’s no surprise in that. There’s an ill feeling at St James’ Park. A feeling of injustice, of horror that the club has been turned into a laughing stock.

Just over a decade ago, AFC Bournemouth were on the brink of extinction. If you could have put money on them falling out of the Football League and into the abyss of non-league, or just folding altogether, you would have done. Those were dark times for the club from the South Coast. On this drizzly afternoon in early March however, you wouldn’t have known that. You wouldn’t have even entertained that piece of footballing history as being anything other than fairy tale.

Little Bournemouth played the former giants off the park, and for a good 90 minutes as well. The 3,000 travelling fans certainly enjoyed their day, and who can blame them. Writing this now, we know that Newcastle United will be playing second tier football in 2016/17, and that is genuinely no surprise. They were awful. The booing began early, and it continued. It was a joke of a performance, lightened only when Ayoze Perez gave them a glimmer of hope, but Charlie Daniels made no mistake in dashing those dreams with the final kick of the game. The ground quickly began emptying when his left-footed strike nestled in the bottom corner.

I didn’t know how to feel on the drive back down south (via another night in Coventry, which, trust me, was equally as grim the second time round). I almost feel sorry for the club, it’s died a death and is still being kicked. Necastle United will never be what they were unless something changes at the top, soon. The Toon Army love a boo, but they have a lot to complain about. 50,000 people sang ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’ that Saturday, aimed in the direction of Steve McLaren, but in the end, even Rafa Benitez couldn’t keep them up. For now, the glory days are long gone.