Miles Starforth’s Lokeren diary: Newcastle’s unforgettable last visit to Belgium

Rafa Benitez
Rafa Benitez

I’ll not forget Newcastle United’s last visit to Belgium in a hurry.

And I doubt Bruges will either.

It’s almost four years since around 5,000 fans travelled to the city to watch the club play Club Brugge at the Jan Breydel Stadium in a Europa League tie.

It was a memorable trip, though memories will invariably be hazy.

That’s Belgian beer for you.

Newcastle drew 2-2 on the night, and it was a long night for some.

European football, for a time, was the norm for the club, but it seems a long way off now.

Maybe, just maybe, Rafa Benitez can take the club back to the continent.

For the moment, the club’s only forays into Europe come in pre-season.

United, then managed by the late Sir Bobby Robson, played tomorrow’s opponents Sporting Lokeren in the Intertoto Cup 15 years ago.

Newcastle won 4-0 that day, but the result isn’t all-important at the Daknamstadion.

What is important is that Benitez knows more about his players – and his team – by the full-time whistle.

After all, the start of the Championship season is less than a fortnight away.

It’s a low-key game in a deliberately low-key pre-season organised by Benitez, who is more used to high-profile fixtures from his time at Real Madrid and Liverpool.

But he’s doing what he feels is best for the club in footballing terms.

In the future, if the financial case is strong enough, the club will play in more glamorous warm-up fixtures at home and abroad.

Wednesday night’s 2-2 draw against League Two Doncaster Rovers at the Keepmoat Stadium wasn’t a footballing spectacle, but it was competitive.

And, above all else, we know the the next nine months will be competitive.