Newcastle United’s last home Champions League marked beginning of the end - now a new chapter will be written

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
Tyneside is preparing for Newcastle United’s return to the Champions League and another big night lies in wait at the Gallowgate.

It was an opportunity that should have represented the end of the beginning - but in reality, what played out was the beginning of the end.

After enjoying a record-breaking run in the previous season’s Champions League, where their supporters enjoyed trips to the San Siro, Camp Nou and Stadio Delle Alpi, Newcastle United were on the brink of securing a third stint in the group stages of UEFA’s elite club competition.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The hard work seemed to have been done when a Nobby Solano goal gave Sir Bobby Robson’s side a narrow away win in the first leg of their qualifying round tie against Serbian club Partizan Belgrade.

Newcastle United enjoyed some famous European nights in the Bobby Robson era Newcastle United enjoyed some famous European nights in the Bobby Robson era
Newcastle United enjoyed some famous European nights in the Bobby Robson era | Getty Images

The home leg was viewed as a mere formality, as a Magpies side containing the likes of Alan Shearer, Kieran Dyer and Jonathan Woodgate were odds-on favourites to complete the job at St. James’ Park and prepare themselves for another crack at some of European football’s greatest names.

But what played out was something very different as Ivica Iliev got the only goal of the game to force the tie into extra-time and a penalty shoot-out. Shearer, Dyer, Woodgate and Aaron Hughes all missed their spot-kicks to allow Milivoje Cirkovic to fire home the winner and sent Partizan into a group that would contain the likes of Marseille, Porto and Real Madrid. It remains St. James’ Park’s last experience of Champions League football.

Newcastle’s consolation prize was a place in the UEFA Cup and ties with NAC Breda, FC Basel, Valarenga, Real Mallorca and PSV Eindhoven before a semi-final defeat against a Didier Drogba-inspired Marseille ended thoughts of delivering that long-awaited - and still-awaited - silverware to Tyneside.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The dark mood that enveloped St. James Park’ in the aftermath of that Partizan defeat proved hard to shake off as an underwhelming season played out. Newcastle would miss out on a place in the following season’s Champions League, ending their league campaign in fifth place in the Premier League following a final day draw at Liverpool.

Getty Images

At the time, the reaction felt understandably negative, but now, with the benefit of hindsight and the knowledge of the dearth of progress that followed, perhaps a more measured approach was required.

Yet regression, rather than the rapid progression that had been witnessed, felt prominent and the poor decision-making implemented at boardroom level started a rot that would lead to challenging seasons once Robson had departed just one month into the 2004/05 season.

The following years felt draining as a youthful side full of energy and excitement was dismantled by Robson’s successor Graeme Souness and any hope of challenging at the top end of the table was quickly dismissed. The financial impact of missing out on the Champions League took hold and limitations in the transfer market meant United watched on as their Premier League rivals strengthened beyond recognition.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Even now, two decades on from that fateful night at Gallowgate, it seems beyond belief that Newcastle’s European participation in the aftermath of Robson’s reign were limited to two Intertoto Cup campaigns and runs in the UEFA Cup and Europa League before the Magpies experienced a decade-long absence from competing on the continent between 2013.

For comparative purposes, Newcastle competed in European competition across the Champions League, UEFA Cup, Intertoto Cup, and Cup Winners Cup in all but two seasons between 1994 and 2004.

Getty Images

Yet now, they are back, and Tyneside is being whipped into fervent expectation by Wednesday night’s St. James’ Park meeting with Ligue 1 giants Paris Saint-Germain as Kylian Mbappé prepares to walk out at Gallowgate on matchday two of this season’s Champions League.

As you will know, Eddie Howe’s men opened up their group stage campaign with a hard-earned draw against AC Milan as a performance of discipline, organisation and a little bit of luck helped the Magpies scrap their way to a San Siro stalemate.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The experience gained by Howe, his coaching staff and their squad during a difficult night against one of European football’s greatest names will stand them in good stead and lessons have been learnt by all parties.

No matter what the result may be, Wednesday night’s meeting with PSG will not bring the clouds of doom that shrouded St. James’ Park in darkness following that defeat against Partizan two decades earlier. The historic home of the Magpies will be glowing with a heady concoction of excitement, tension and near disbelief as the Gallowgate hosts one of the biggest nights in its recent history.

The Wor Flags display before Newcastle United's semi-final against Southampton at St James's Park.The Wor Flags display before Newcastle United's semi-final against Southampton at St James's Park.
The Wor Flags display before Newcastle United's semi-final against Southampton at St James's Park.

The Wor Flags supporters group will provide another memorable display to mark such a momentous occasion and the sight of what they will provide will bring a lump to the throat and a tear to the eye as the likes of Kieran Trippier and Bruno Guimaraes walk out in black and white and that famous Champion League anthem reverberates around the ground.

This will be a moment that will be passed down from generation to generation of Magpies supporters, when tales of glorious European nights are recounted and recalled in great detail in the way the modern day supporters have been brought up on the memory of the Fairs Cup win in 1969.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Unlike that night against Partizan, this will not be the beginning of the end, nor the end of the beginning, but it can be the start of a special chapter in the history of Newcastle United.

Related topics:

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.