Miles Starforth’s Lokeren diary: Why Sporting were almost TOO hospitable

Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez, right, during the press conference after the 4-0 victory over Sporting Lokeren.
Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez, right, during the press conference after the 4-0 victory over Sporting Lokeren.
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Sporting Lokeren rolled out the red carpet for Rafa Benitez and Newcastle United.

The club were also welcoming to the journalists that travelled to cover Saturday’s friendly at the Daknamstadion, which United won 4-0.

Maybe they were too hospitable.

The stadium’s new Press room hadn’t been completed in time for the fixture, so reporters were housed in a corporate lounge before and after the game.

And here’s the thing.

There was Belgian beer on tap. And it was free.

The only problem was that there was no food, so it would have been unwise to fully take advantage of the hospitality, especially when there was work to be done.

Of course, journalists covering Newcastle are used to going without food.

After all, it was only Benitez’s arrival in March that ended a longstanding ban on food in the St James’s Park Press room which went against the spirit, if not the letter, of Premier League regulations.

Fortunately, relations between United and the media are improving now.

Anyway, the handful of journalists at the Sporting game paced the stadium looking for food stands before the game.

Eventually, a handful of chocolate bars and bananas were brought to Press box seats.

But the club’s hospitality didn’t end there.

Lokeren’s amiable Press officer even took it upon himself to ask questions to Benitez and Georges Leekens, the opposition manager who once managed Belgium and last came up against United during his time at Club Brugge.

Thankfully, that’s not something that ever happens in England.

But the last word goes to Leekens, who said after the match: “I think we played against a team and a club that will be very fast back where they belong. When I see the quality, I’m sure I put my money on Newcastle.”