Remember when fans stood, sat, shouted and sang side by side at St James’s Park – and in away ends up and down the country?
If you need a timely reminder of what we’ve all missed after months of behind-closed-doors football, then “We Are The Geordies”, is a new documentary feature film which charts the club’s successful 2016/17 Championship promotion campaign under Rafa Benitez, is film is for you.
It’s described as a “love letter to the fans” – and it’s been lovingly filmed, written and edited by Zahra Zomorrodian and James DeMarco.
It kicks off at the start of what would prove to be a memorable campaign under Rafa Benitez, who stayed on at Newcastle following a potentially-catastrophic relegation to English football’s second tier.
And it ends with a dramatic triumph, with a late strike from Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish against Brighton and Hove Albion at Villa Park ensuring a title win.
“We did get lucky,” said Zomorrodian. “We called it the ‘Hollywood ending’, Grealish’s goal, the equaliser for Villa when they were down to 10 men.
“If you said to somebody ‘what would be the most exciting ending for this film?’, winning the Championship in the 89th minute of the season would be up there.
“Then all the hoo-ha about the January transfer window, which is the midpoint of the film, works really well to build that sense of jeopardy from a dramatic point of view.
“Apart from the opening two losses, really, Newcastle United kept their side of the bargain, so it was important for us to keep our side and try to tell a compelling story.”
Newcastle, rebuilt by Benitez on the back of the sales of Georginio Wjinaldum and Moussa Sissoko, won the division, but that season was never a foregone conclusion. It was a tough, tortuous campaign which started with back-to-back defeats.
There were highs and lows – and everything in between. There was optimism and pessimism on Tyneside in varying measures, and the film follows the ups and downs through the eyes – and camera phone lenses – of a number of fans.
“Derby was the first away game we went to,” said Zomorrodian. “The stadium was actually vibrating with Newcastle fans – you could feel the energy and power.
“I thought ‘this could be a really good film if we can capture that energy that comes from Newcastle supporters’. I think, for the most part, we did capture that.”
United were “supportive” of the film, according to Zomorrodian. She and DeMarco had access to press conferences, and interviewed Benitez, but the club, importantly, didn’t have any editorial control.
“He (Benitez) was really, really good to us,” said Zomorrodian. “To be fair, the club was really supportive in a hands-off way, which I quite liked. They weren’t trying to take editorial control.
"It was a bit of an understanding that we wouldn’t make it a hatchet job, which you wouldn’t in that season anyway as things were positive, but it was important for us to represent the fans and the season as honestly as we could with affection.
“It was important to us to have an element of honesty in the film.”
Part of the film focuses on Benitez – and his exasperation at a lack of January signings. It was a sign of things to come.
Zomorrodian filmed one explosive press conference in which Benitez laid bare his frustration at the situation.
“The atmosphere was horrific – I really thought he was going to go,” said Zomorrodian.
St James’s Park, closed to fans since March due to the coronavirus pandemic, was sold out week after week that season.
“Talking to fans, you can feel how distressed they’ve been not being able to go to games and watching the games themselves, which are a bit of a training exercise,” said Zomorrodian. “St James’s Park, when its buzzing, is electric – it’s like nowhere else.”
The season also showed what can be achieved when the club is united in more than just name.
“There was always this thing of ‘we’ve got Rafa, maybe now the ownership can see the value of investing in the club’,” said Zomorrodian.
“Like Sir John Hall used to say, you’ve got to speculate to accumulate. If the club does things right, and the club and the fans are going the right way, you can feel it in the city. It’s something I hope we’ve captured in the film.”
Zomorrodian and DeMarco had to get the financing right so they could make the film they wanted to make.
“Because we wanted to dispel some myths about Newcastle fans, it was important for us to be careful where we got the finances from, so we could tell the film we wanted to tell, not somebody’s else of what we wanted to do,” said Zomorrodian.
Will owner Mike Ashley – who hopes to sell the club to a consortium backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) – watch it?
“I doubt it – and that’s a shame,” said Zomorrodian.
However, many will watch “We Are The Geordies”. The trailer has been well received by fans.
"Overwhelmingly, it’s been positive,” said Zomorrodian. “It’s an honest film, and it’s not a ‘lads, lads, lads’ film. That’s why we cast a wide cross section of types of fans.
"It wasn’t going to be all big Geordie blokes crying on telly – not that there’s anything wrong with big Geordie blokes crying on telly! The fanbase is a bit more diverse than that.”
"We Are The Geordies” is released digitally and on DVD on December 11.