What started as a party ended in sombre mood as events on and off the pitch cast a pall over Newcastle’s new dawn.
Excited fans turned up to St James’ Park on Sunday afternoon ready to celebrate a rebirth of the club under ambitious, fabulously wealthy owners, but left with undeniable problems on the pitch having been been put into perspective by a serious medical emergency in the crowd.
Hours before kick-off, director Amanda Staveley’s husband Mehrdad Ghodoussi tweeted: “So excited and hopefully 3pts. But remember, today is bigger than that, today is about a new beginning, a new hope and a brighter future. Let’s enjoy it and celebrate a UNITED NEWCASTLE.”
Non-executive chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan was greeted by rapturous applause when he was announced to the crowd as a banner proclaiming the message, “’cause this is a mighty town built upon solid ground and everything they’ve tried so hard to to kill, we will rebuild” – a line from the Jimmy Nail song Big River – was unfurled ahead of kick-off.
He left having seen at close hand that the rebuilding job Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund – of which he is governor – has taken on as the majority shareholder in the consortium which bought out Mike Ashley last week, has on its hands simply to stabilise the club let alone transform it into one which can compete for silverware.
Foremost in the new owners’ thoughts will be the future of head coach Steve Bruce, whose 1,000th game as a manager after his widely-predicted departure failed to materialise quickly turned sour.
The city had been buzzing since it emerged on October 6 that a deal might finally be done, and conformation the following days sparked ongoing celebrations despite general discomfort over the debate about Saudi human rights issues the takeover has sparked.
Joy at the end of Ashley’s contentious reign, which brought self-sufficiency and austerity rather that the riches supporters had anticipated from a billionaire owner, was unbounded and a packed house, many wearing traditional Arab dress – or at least a nod towards it – gathered inside the cathedral on the hill overlooking the city to herald a new beginning.
Skipper Jamaal Lascelles captured the mood in is programme notes, writing: “For so long now – for so many years – I know the fans have dreamt of seeing Newcastle play at the very highest level and challenging for trophies.
“This is what you’ve been after and now there is a belief that it can be achieved. And for Newcastle as a city, I think this can bring nothing but good.”
Callum Wilson’s second-minute header simply increased the temperature, although strikes from Tanguy Ndombele and Harry Kane before a stoppage for treatment to a spectator and Son Heung-min after the resumption quickly dispelled the sense of optimism despite Eric Dier’s late own goal.
Such is the state of disrepair into which the club has been allowed to fall, its rehabilitation is likely to be a lengthy process, and a comprehensive 3-2 defeat by Spurs provided a stark reminder of the work which lies ahead.