Every year the UEFA Champions League produces magical moments and stories for fans across the continent. Last week marked Newcastle United’s return to Europe’s pinnacle competition, giving fans who travelled to Milan memories that will last a lifetime…
The last time Newcastle fans made the trip to Italy for a European competition was in 2003. That day they were up against Inter Milan in a game that finished 2-2 with The Magpies’ goals coming from none other than Alan Shearer. It was a memorable night for many Geordies as 12,000 of them took over the stands of the San Siro.
Unfortunately it’s been roller coaster for fans from the North East since, with controversial ownership and heartbreaking relegations that made nights like that one in Milan feel like a distant memory.
That was until Eddie Howe gave fans something to believe in once again last season. A fast start in the Premier League turned the unimaginable into a reality for Newcastle fans: a top four finish and the return of Champions League football to tyneside.
So fast-forward twenty years and Newcastle are unbelievably back in Milan to face European giants AC Milan in their first fixture of this year’s Champions League campaign. 4000 Geordies and I were there to take it all in.
Arriving in Milan, I felt nerves similar to the League Cup final. I hopped onto the metro to the Navigli Canal where a sea of black and white shirts greeted me. Flags from across the North East lined the waterway, while chants of ‘Anthony’ interrupted the peaceful Italian streets in tribute to the English winger.
Only 12 o’clock but the Geordies were already in good voice and by the time we reached the local bars they were already running low on beer (it was probably a good thing it was an early kick off!)
If you were a local, you picked a bad day to come down to the canal especially if you were a delivery driver. As the DPD vans slowly made its way through the crowds numerous Newcastle fans reached in to sound the horn as others labelled the van with Newcastle branded stickers.
On the other hand, if you were a rower going down the water you were met with a wall of noise cheering you on while one fan even jumping in to race the boats. It’s safe to say he lost, both the race and probably 50 euros in the form of a fine!
It was agreed that all Newcastle fans travel to the ground at 4pm so that we travel in numbers and in plenty of time for kickoff. After drinking the pubs of Milan dry, we set off to the famous San Siro.
4000 Geordies jumping about on the metro was never going to end well and right enough after only a couple of stops, the metro came to an abrupt halt. Off the train, out of the station where we were greeted by a police escort to take us the rest of the way to the ground.
After what felt like a marathon of walking, the magnificent San Siro Stadium came into view. No other ground I’ve ever visited compares to this historic monument in European football.
Having made it in, we found out how away fans feel when they come to St James’ Park as we climbed the never-ending spiral to the away section with views over the city. Eventually, the players came out to the famous Champions League anthem, nerves and excitement filled the away end with the passionate cries of ‘Howay Lads’ interrupting the iconic music.
The game kicked off and as expected we were under the cosh; chances galore for Milan but they couldn’t seem to find a way to score thanks to some good Newcastle defending. It remained that way for much of the game until one last attack from Newcastle, nearly saw a Sean Longstaff last minute winner but it was tipped over the bar by the Milan keeper. I can only imagine the pandemonium that goal would have caused in the away end and back home in the pubs.
It ended in a 0-0 draw but more importantly a point away at the San Siro. A point that any Newcastle fan would have taken before kickoff and a point on Eddie Howe’s Champions League debut as a manager. So with our heads held high the Toon Army made their way back to the Navigli Canal much to the dismay of the pub owners who had only just restocked their beer!
And so the trip was over but what a few days it had been for us fans. Although I write this in a random French airport, on 4 hours of sleep and the possibility that I may miss the last train back from Edinburgh, it is still the best trip I have ever been on. Seeing my team on Europe’s biggest stage in one of the most iconic stadiums in World Football, I couldn’t be prouder to be a Geordie.
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