Steve Bruce and his Newcastle United players are stepping out of their bubble
For 90-odd minutes, Newcastle United fans did what they do best. They backed their team.
The 10,000 or so fans inside St James’s Park last night for the club’s final Premier League home game against Sheffield United had waited a long time, almost 15 months, for this opportunity.
Fences which had ringed the stadium each matchday had came down – and supporters, once more, clicked through the turnstiles in hope and anticipation following the easing of coronavirus restrictions.
It was an emotional evening for those inside – and those watching at home.
The stadium, by necessity, was only a fifth full, but those inside made their voices heard. Newcastle’s players ran out to a chant of “Toon, Toon, black and white army” – and so it went on. The skies had brightened after a day of downpours, and there were bright spells on the pitch, too.
There were moments of brilliance from Allan Saint-Maximin before his second-half withdrawal, notably the pass to Jacob Murphy which led to the only goal of the game, scored by Joe Willock.
United have played better this season, but the return of fans made it a memorable evening.
The stadium has been sanitised, literally and figuratively, since football restarted last summer, and it was another small step forwards on the pitch, and a big stride towards normality off the field. Hopefully, many more fans will be inside the stadium at the start of next season.
Bruce reiterated his determination to stay in charge last week, despite a challenging first two years at the club which have seen him heavily criticised online and in print.
Newcastle’s head coach, however, had been spared scrutiny inside St James’s Park – until now.
The club’s players and coaching staff set out on a lap of appreciation after the final whistle – and Bruce followed them. The lap, while warmly applauded by fans, was punctuated by boos aimed at Bruce.
“As I’ve said from day one, I won’t be everyone's cup of tea, unfortunately, but that’s the way it is,” said Bruce. “Everyone’s entitled to their opinion.”
Bruce and his players have been insulated in their Covid-secure bubble this season. They’re now stepping out of that bubble – and the scrutiny will be even more intense.