Newcastle United fans finally get a welcome glimpse into the future
Newcastle United fans have missed a lot, though not all of it has been good.
It’s been 445 days since the turnstiles last clicked at St James’s Park. They will open again tonight for the club’s final home game of the season, the visit of Sheffield United, following the easing of coronavirus restrictions.
Newcastle, 17th in the Premier League, but safe from relegation, will surely have fared better St James’s Park had the home games not been played behind closed doors.
That said, Steve Bruce – who has welcomed the return of up to 10,000 socially-distanced supporters for the final two rounds of games – may not have fared so well.
Bruce hasn’t been spared scrutiny online – and in print – over the past 15 months, and especially over dire few mid-season months, but he has been spared scrutiny inside St James’s Park.
In that sense, United’s head coach has been fortunate in that sense, but, unquestionably, the team has missed the backing it gets inside the stadium. So Bruce has been unfortunate too.
Just imagine how a full stadium would have reacted to last week’s 4-3 home defeat to Manchester City, the Premier League champions. Maybe, just maybe, the outcome would have been different.
Fortunately, the club’s Premier League status is secure for another season
Maybe some fans unhappy with Bruce’s management will want to make their views on this season known tonight – and they’re quite entitled to do that. But, for me, this is less about Bruce, and more about what we’ve all come through – and what we can hopefully look forward to next season.
It’s another stepping stone to normality, a time when every seat can be filled. A time when fans can mix freely, celebrate freely and commiserate freely.
None of us had any idea on February 29 last year, when Newcastle drew with Burnley, that the stadium would be closed to fans for so long.
It’s been silent aside from the shouts of players, instructions from the two benches and the occasional scream following a heavy challenge. We’ll hear less of Matt Ritchie, arguably the team’s loudest talker, and more from the loudest fans in the Premier League.
And I, for one, can’t wait for it.