Gazette writer Miles Starforth is off to the Ukraine with Newcastle United. Keep in touch with him on his travels via his tour diary.
I’M writing this diary on what would have been the late, great Sir Bobby Robson’s 80th birthday.
Ten years ago to the day, I was in the BayArena watching Newcastle United, then managed by Sir Bobby, play Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League on a bitterly cold night in Germany.
It proved to be a comfortable victory for Newcastle, who were missing Alan Shearer and Craig Bellamy, on what was Robson’s 70th birthday.
Two goals from Shola Ameobi – and another from Lomana LuaLua – saw United win 3-1. It was as comfortable a European away win as I’ve seen.
What was even more remarkable was that the average age of the team that night was just 23.
Thankfully, Sir Bobby’s influence lives on at Newcastle.
Ameobi is still an influential figure on and off the pitch – only Shearer has scored more European goals for the club than the 31-year-old – and manager Alan Pardew is assisted by John Carver, Robson’s trusted No2.
Goalkeeper Steve Harper – the club’s longest-serving player – was on the bench at the BayArena that night.
The European experience of Carver, Ameobi and Harper is invaluable to Pardew, whose team take on Metalist Kharkiv in the Ukraine on Thursday night looking to qualify for the last 16 of the Europa League.
And it would be fitting if United marked the birthday of Sir Bobby – who turned the club into a European force – with a win.
I’VE always thought there aren’t any colder grounds than those found in Blackburn and Stoke.
The micro-climates around Ewood Park and Britannia Stadium are unforgiving at the best of times.
But I might have to revise my opinion later this week.
A Europa League campaign which kicked off in 40 degree heat in Athens hinges on 90 minutes – or more – of football to be a thousand miles away from the Greek capital.
When Newcastle United run out at the Metalist Stadium in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on Thursday night, the temperature will be well below zero.
Needless to say, the thermals are already packed.
And for once, I wouldn’t blame the players for wearing gloves.