Newcastle United Austria tour diary – A PR fail from the Mike Ashley era, and a pre-season 'buzz'

It’s almost a decade since Newcastle United last played a game on Austrian soil.
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Newcastle United, then managed by Alan Pardew, played Fenerbache in a small village close to the Hungarian border.

The game itself was unremarkable. Mehdi Abeid, now at Al-Nasr, was on target in a 1-1 draw for Pardew’s side, who had kicked off their pre-season campaign with low-profile games against Chemnitzer and AS Monaco in Germany.

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The club, which had finished fifth in the Premier League the previous season, would only sign one player - Vurnon Anita - ahead of a return to European competition.

Pardew’s stretched side would go on to play at some big stadiums, notably Benfica’s Estadio da Luz, that season as they fought on two fronts.

The Fenerbahce game was staged at the plush Sonnenseestadion, which was incongruously located in Ritzing, a village with a population of less than 1,000.

However, the game had been due to be staged across the border in Sopron – and that’s where I’d been booked to stay.

Miles Starforth's tour diary.Miles Starforth's tour diary.
Miles Starforth's tour diary.
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Sadly, nobody at the club, then-owned by Mike Ashley, thought to tell the two journalists out there reporting on the tour of the impending change.

And the first we heard about the change was when United posted an update on its website.

Fortunately, media relations at Newcastle, following the takeover late last year, are slowly improving.


Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe.Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe.
Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe.

Austria, of course, wasn’t Newcastle’s first-choice destination this summer.

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The club had agreed to take part in the Ohio Cup in the USA, but the proposed tournament was cancelled late last season.

“It’s a huge disappointment to see it cancelled at the last minute,” said head coach Eddie Howe at the time.

Officials at the club were left scrambling to arrange an alternative pre-season campaign at a time when most training facilities were booked and most clubs had already arranged summer fixtures. Howe had no idea where his team would end up following the cancellation of the tournament.

And, eventually, a tour was confirmed in Austria, where the club’s players have been hard at work for a few days.

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There’s also been some downtime – the squad has been karting and cycling this week – and the mood around the camp is very different to what it was a year ago ahead of a series of domestic friendlies.

At the time, the outlook for the club – and the team – looked bleak under Ashley’s continued ownership.

And then-head coach Steve Bruce, reluctantly, confirmed after a pre-season friendly away to Burton Albion just over a year ago that his contract at the club would not expire at the end of the season.

Bruce had signed an “initial” three-year deal in the summer of 2019. Asked by the Gazette if his contract expired at the end of the 2021/22 campaign, Bruce simply said “no” – and turned away.

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It all seemed never-ending, but within months, Ashley and Bruce were gone. For good.

And the excitement we’ve seen on Tyneside ahead of the new campaign is unlike anything we’ve experienced since Sir Bobby Robson’s time as manager.