Building can begin at Newcastle United as Amanda Staveley delivers on women's football pledge
Long before kick-off time, the queues were building outside St James’s Park.
Inside the stadium, the excitement was building ahead of a historic first home game at the venue for Newcastle United Women.
The club was hoping for a big crowd – and it got a very big one.
The kick-off time had to be delayed to allow 22,134 fans to click through the turnstiles yesterday to watch Becky Langley’s side play Alnwick Town Ladies in their penultimate FA Women’s National League Division One North game.
The fourth-tier gate, remarkably, was the biggest in the country for a women’s game this season.
Second-placed United – who were welcomed on to the field by a massive “Howay the lasses" banner – won 4-0, but Liverpool Feds’ 6-1 victory over FC United of Manchester ended their promotion hopes.
That disappointment, however, couldn’t take the shine off of a momentous day for Newcastle Women, who Amanda Staveley pledged to bring into the “heart” of the club following last October’s takeover.
Men’s head coach Eddie Howe watched the game with co-owners Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi, and that kind of support was unthinkable under the previous administration, which didn’t invest in women’s football.
Consequently, United are playing catch-up. Women’s Super League (WSL) football is the aim for Langley, who lapped the pitch with her players after the game against Alwnick.
“There are some fantastic female role models on the pitch, and that’s really what I want to focus on,” said Newcastle Women’s head coach.
“The girls that were playing in front of 22,000 fans have inspired other females.
“We want equality. We want women to be shown in a fantastic light, and there are some great female footballers who are great girls off the pitch, but they’re also fantastic players and a lot of young girls and boys are very inspired by that.”
Speaking about Staveley’s vision earlier in the week, Langley had said: “She’s so genuine, so high energy. She just wants to help support myself the players as much as possible.
“They want us to do well, they want to see success – and enjoy it with us. She is just a normal woman with real passion and drive to help everyone succeed.”
No.9 Katie Barker opened the scoring, and, appropriately, mimicked Alan Shearer’s famous celebration. Captain Brooke Cochrane, set to retire at the end of the season, converted a penalty, as did Beth Guy. Georgia Gibson was also on target.
Reflecting on the day, Barker said: “Obviously, I had to do a Shearer. It would be rude not to, wouldn’t it? It’s such an iconic celebration.
“He sent us a message of good luck, and he had said ‘if anyone scores, I want to see it’, so I had to do it for him.”
The arrival of Dan Ashworth later this year, on gardening leave at Brighton and Hove Albion ahead of his appointment as technical director at Newcastle, will help Langley.
Ashworth played a key role in the development of Brighton’s women’s team, who now play in the WSL.
And, as the excitement of the first St James’s Park game subsides, building can begin on the pitch ahead of a renewed promotion challenge.