Nights To Remember
Newcastle United 4-1 Paris Saint-Germain (UEFA Champions League Group Stages)
I’m straight from the game at Gateshead to St James’ Park where the biggest most keenly awaited match in the last twenty years of Newcastle United’s history is taking place.
It’s the first home Champions League tie since 2003 and the fans have been talking about this one for a while, the toon had a respectable goalless draw in Milan to open their group F campaign whilst PSG beat Dortmund on matchday one and sit top of the group.
It’s a game I just had to do… Those who remember speaking of ‘special nights’ like the time they beat Barcelona thanks to a Tino Asprilla hat-trick, you feel something of similar ilk is brewing in the air, the traffic as I attempt to cross Tyne Bridge at little after 5pm already at standstill.
I park up at the Grosvenor Casino and walk up St James Boulevard where there’s already huge numbers of black and white shirts making the same journey north. The pubs and eateries are packed as I get close to the corner of Gallowgate, the huge cantilevered roof of the Jackie Milburn Stand is daunting, imposing, domineering on the top of the hill in front of my very eyes.
I’ve got time so walk around the stadium perimeter, the queues outside Shearers bar already building, fans everywhere as I walk down the famous Strawberry Place, the well-known pub opposite the ground full to the door, they all are, people are getting their pints of Newky Brown in before getting to the ground ahead of the game, as I hear in the background a charging bull like roar of PSG fans en-route to the stadium in droves of a thousand or so police guarded, all in black shirts, ultras walking through the enemy lines chanting like soldiers.
I’m off out of trouble as I walk up behind the Leazes Terrace for a browse, the classic East Stand backs on to Georgian style houses where it seems more serene and quiet as a student walks out of his digs in pyjamas for his Uber eats. Back in the thick of the action on Strawberry Place the crowds ever more busy as a band starts up on the corner, I’m heading for the UEFA Office which is opposite the players entrance already packed with fans as I battle through to pick up my accreditation from floor two of the impressively swanky Milburn Suite.
It’s all a bit carnage, I have pity as I know it’s Newcastle’s first Champions League match in a while but I’m upstairs, downstairs, through doors and through crowds back asking the same faces the same questions as I stand for some time in the press room waiting, packed with photographers and journalists an hour and a half before kick off to be told where I’m sitting. It’s a hub of anticipation and excitement though as the press guys pick up a souvenir programme to take home, I’m asked if I want one but for some knee jerk reason decline.
Finally, Mr UEFA takes me to my seat, tall suited and Swiss he’s walking me through the press centre to the stadium concourse and out into the open where the huge stadium mostly empty in black and grey takes my breath away.
The magnitude of the Leazes Stand on my left which drops down to the East Stand bearing the words Newcastle United along its roof opposite, whooping to the right and the Gallowgate End and back up to my own seating position in the press area, it’s huge, cauldron like, certainly daunting, deafening too as I’m about to find out.
The fans are all here inside a good half an hour before kick off but I’ve got bigger issues. I can’t get an internet signal and my phone won’t connect due to a congested network. It’s all very problematic but I’m finally online, by this time I’m looking up to flag waving partisan fans singing Hey Jude. The roar impeccable just to hear the players come out for their warm ups.
The atmosphere is insane, never previously have I experienced anything like it and I probably never will… The two teams are out as every seat has a black and white flag waving it feels like the world’s largest tifo, then the music drops.
The Champions League theme tune ends with a roar heard as far as Sunderland as Newcastle and PSG are about to do battle, the first fifteen minutes are frantic, fast paced, electric, every tackle is cheered and when Blyth born Dan Burn celebrates giving a throw in away the crowd go wild. I’ve never heard such a roar when players put the ball out for opposition throw ins.
That roar however notches up tenfold as a sloppy mistake in the PSG backline has Marquinhos give the ball away. His pass intercepted on the edge of his own area the ball finding Isak who’s hard shot is saved and Miggy Almiron follows up to start the scenes of joyous celebrations.
It’s the least Newcastle deserve, the aggressors on the front foot, positive in everything they do whilst Luis Enrique’s outfit caught between two swords, trying to play out they often go back to where they’ve started without any real conviction of game plan. Mbappe is subdued, well marshalled by Kieran Trippier, Dembele their bright spark offering a threat on the break as he flashes wide a chance he should have scored.
It all looks good for a slender half time lead and an intriguing second half to come but a Newcastle free kick just three minutes before half time plays havoc inside the PSG area, Donnarumma is called into action as the ball is played back inside the box where Dan Burns heads goalwards and a huge roar is heard but it looks like the goalkeeper has palmed it out from crossing the line. Confusion as VAR checks the goal, it had apparently crossed the line but a Newcastle player may have been offside? A long wait as fans agonisingly look on, most unexpectant of anything better than a PSG free kick, then suddenly the verdict… GOAL! The roof again comes off.
That second goal is a killer blow for PSG it seems, they start the second half sluggish, now it’s Sean Longstaff’s turn to get through on goal as another local hero blasts home onto the scoresheet. 3-0 up as the Geordies sing “He’s one of our own”.
Paris do get one back as Lucas Hernandez gets on the end of Zaire-Emery’s delicately chipped dink into the box. Arguably PSG’s two best players on the night combining for the only thing they have to celebrate.
Dembele races clear with five minutes to go and should have reduced the deficit further, although I never fancied him as I didn’t when he was a Barcelona player when he did the same and fluffed his lines when 3-0 up against Liverpool at the Nou Camp (we all know what happened at A field after). Had he scored that it would have been an agonising last ten minutes of nail biting tension as even with two goals Newcastle fans were getting twitchy, but the icing on the cake was layered when Fabian Schar hit a stoppage time thunderbolt into the roof of the net. ‘What even was he doing 30 yards out from the opposition goal’ I cried.
Man for man Newcastle United simply wanted it more. From goalkeeper to centre forward they were exceptional, although I would argue Nick Pope’s kicking is the worst I’ve ever seen from a Premier League goalkeeper. Man of the match for me was England right back Kieran Trippier who not only kept Kylian Mbappe quiet but also had a hand (like he usually does) in a couple of Newcastle goals.
Sean Longstaff and Dan Burn incredible themselves the thoroughbred of this great club, local boys netting but proving they’re more than involved on merit, Jamaal Lascelles also worthy of a mention, he’s still skipper and has had a tough time in recent seasons at the club, but proving his asset in stopping one of Europe’s meanest attacks when called upon.
For Paris, I get the feeling it was a night they simply didn’t fancy? They looked laboured and lacking ideas, not really buying into the Luis Enrique game plan.
Perhaps youngsters Zaire-Emery and Manuel Ugarte can revitalise a club that is in transition? Ousmane Dembele looked lively but he’s still searching for his first goal, whist for Kylian Mbappe the only thing he’s searching for it seems, is the exit door.
Can Newcastle United win the Champions League? Well I doubt that’s possible but they can now certainly win the group, and with qualification the luck of the draw could point them to a decent run as dark horse? After all nobody but Geordies would fancy going to St James’.
For PSG I fear for Enrique, currently sitting fifth in the French league all be it only two points behind Monaco, he’ll be tested further in weeks to come but if he can survive the test, he’ll be best placed to rise this phoenix through some serious fire of late.
Newcastle United: Nick Pope, Kieran Trippier, Jamaal Lascelles, Fabian Schar, Dan Burn, Sean Longstaff, Bruno Guimaraes, Sandro Tonoli (Elliot Anderson 65), Miguel Almiron (Jacob Murphy 71), Anthony Gordon (Matt Targett 90), Aleksandr Isak.
Paris Saint-Germain: Gianluigi Donnarumma, Achraf Hakimi, Marquinhos, Milan Skriniar, Lucas Hernandez, Manuel Ugarte (Vitinha 64), Warren Zaire-Emery, Ousmane Dembele, Randal Kolo Muani (Bradley Barcola 57), Goncalo Ramos, Kylian Mbappe.
8:00pm Kick Off. Wednesday 4th October 2023, St James Park, Newcastle (att 52,009).