The moment Newcastle United ‘officially’ returned to the Champions League - without kicking a ball

Newcastle United finally landed in Milan late on Monday night ahead of tonight’s Champions League group stage opener at the San Siro.

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As Newcastle supporters splashed, slid and chanted around the Navigli District of Milan amid the torrential conditions in Italy, Eddie Howe’s squad were left grounded at Newcastle International Airport for that very reason.

Newcastle United delay frustration

Howe and former AC Milan midfielder Sandro Tonali were due to face the media at the San Siro from 7pm on Monday evening but didn’t land at Milan Malpensa Airport until around that time, delaying the press conference until after 9pm.

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For over two hours, the press room at the San Siro waited with frustration as print deadlines fast approached. UEFA regulations state pre-match press conferences must take place no later than 8pm on the day before the game.

Newcastle can’t control the weather, of course, but their decision to train at Darsley Park on Monday morning prevented them from jetting out to Italy earlier, with a San Siro training session offered to the club. Still, United were in regular contact with UEFA during the process and will likely escape with nothing more than a slap on the wrist.

Howe apologised to the media for being late but felt ‘not a big deal’ ahead of the club’s first Champions League match in over 20 years.

The moment Newcastle ‘officially’ returned to the Champions League

The press conference itself was surreal to those inexperienced in covering Champions League football like myself. Questions asked in both Italian and English and journalists handed live audio translators - without Newcastle having kicked a ball this felt like the moment the club officially returned to European football in a physical sense.

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After the press conference, it was time to head back into the city centre. At this point it is around 10:30pm at night and there’s a haunting beauty to the San Siro Stadium in the dark.

It’s hard not to marvel at the sheer scale and significance of AC Milan’s home stadium, one of the most iconic in world football.

As some Newcastle fans will know from their previous visit and others will find out upon their arrival later today, the stadium itself is a concrete behemoth with its imposing pillars and steel roof that evoke all sorts of footballing memories, from Italia 90 to classic European nights.

You’ve probably seen it on television plenty of times, but nothing can quite prepare you for the real thing. It is a footballing relic, crumbling around the edges and brutalist in appearance but Newcastle’s taste of the stadium this evening should certainly be one worth savouring for the 3,900 travelling Geordies.

Hopefully the result will be too.