AC Milan send powerful wordless message to Newcastle United upon Champions League return
A hazy pilgrimage to Italy climaxed with a baptism of fire for Newcastle United on their Champions League return against AC Milan.
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After being washed out on Monday, Milan was hot and humid on Tuesday ahead of the group stage opener. Difficult conditions for Eddie Howe’s side to adapt to against their seasoned European opponents as they held them to a goalless draw at the San Siro.
More than a game for Newcastle United
During the build-up to Newcastle’s first Champions League away day in over 20 years (finally something I can stop writing) the match itself seemed to be almost in the back of people’s minds with the focus simply on enjoying being in one of Europe’s most iconic city destinations.
The Naviglio Grande Canal was draped in black and white felt and like Tyneside’s very own piece of Milan as swathes of Magpies fans enjoyed a good drink and a chant which even captured the imagination of the locals who beeped their horns in sync with the sing-along and even joined in with the Sandro Tonali chant.
Canal rowers weren’t safe from Newcastle fans either with those making good pace cheered with every stroke while those faltering were told ‘you’re not fit to row a boat’.
As much as the ugly side of football reared its head during the trip with the assault on Newcastle fan Eddie McKay, the sport’s ability to bring people together was also on full display for the majority.
But this was still merely the pre-show to the main event at the San Siro on Tuesday evening. As kick-off grew closer, the Naviglio Grande congregation thinned out as supporters made their way to the ground.
AC Milan take things to another level
Milan may be veterans of the Champions League having won it seven times previously but their supporters pulled no punches in giving Newcastle a hostile reception.
There may be a language barrier, but the message was clear from Milan - ‘you’re back with the big boys now’.
The flag display was as intimidating as it was awe-inspiring as the best part of 60,000 home supporters created a sea of red and black, whistling and jeering their English counterparts at every opportunity.
But that tension was cut instantly as the recognisable Champions League theme music burst onto the San Siro PA system.
A spine-tingling moment of catharsis for the Toon Army after years of built-up frustration and years of wondering whether nights like this would ever happen again.
And a ball was still yet to be kicked.
A long night before returning to Newcastle
After receiving an off-field reminder that they’re back amongst Europe’s elite, Newcastle soon received one on the pitch too as AC Milan dominated the match in terms of chances, leaving Eddie Howe’s side looking slightly flustered.
But after the initial bombardment which saw Nick Pope make six saves within the opening 15 minutes, Newcastle didn’t let themselves become shell-shocked and remained in the game with some resolute defensive work.
It was a long night watching The Magpies under the cosh for extended periods while lacking in front of goal once again. But that made the hard-earned point seem all the sweeter come full-time.
For now, it’s back to reality and the grind of domestic football before the Champions League comes to St James’ Park next month against Paris Saint-Germain on October 4 (8pm kick-off).