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  • Writer's pictureJourneyman

United's Day

Manchester United 2-0 Newcastle United (EFL Cup Final)

It was 1987 when I remember watching ‘Champagne’ Charlie Nicholas score two goals for Arsenal to overturn an Ian Rush opener in the final of the Littlewoods League Cup at a sun-kissed Wembley Stadium against Liverpool. It’s about the first final I remember watching on TV. I wasn’t too bothered about football during my initial eight years on the planet, then it exploded! Stickers, replica kit, Subbuteo, scarves, tracksuits, VHS cassettes of 101 great goals, I even had Nottingham Forest bedsheets and curtains.

So fast forward thirty something years when I could finally call myself financially stable enough, to go to Wembley and watch regular cup finals… I pinch myself every day I'm at a big event like this… I’ve seen four ‘Carabao Cup’ finals in the last five years (the one I missed was played behind closed doors due to covid) and I’m back, with the wife, heading down on the train, and we’ll make a weekend of it!

She only comes for the food… A corporate affair all singing and dancing with Club Wembley, first class tickets on EMR but no snacks or drinks trolly on a Sunday, we’ve overpaid £50 each for basically, a seat with a plug.

By lunch we’ve arrived at the stunning St Pancras and you can spot the Geordies a mile off… There’s loads of them, everyone on the train from Nottingham seemed to be a Manchester United fan but now in London, I see no red, it’s all black and white scarves, young lads in tight jeans and white trainers, dark hair, trimmed beards, it’s like Geordie Shore meets Corrie as I browse through the window of Fortnum & Mason whilst I wait for the wife who’s having a wee in the train station toilets.

We’ve booked in at the Citizen M opposite the Tower of London, it’s cheap (for London) and modern, great views, outside a tube stop and has a rooftop bar with bloody good cocktails. She loves it, and it saves me a fortune from staying in Mayfair.

We can’t check in til’ two but drop the bags off as she does hair and makeup in the hotel toilets whilst I’m given a free pint of Brew Dog Punk IPA by a friendly Chinese waiter.

Swiftly drank, it’s 1:30pm, we take a walk to Tower Hill Station where we hop on the Circle Line for one stop to Aldgate, then the Metropolitan Line straight to Wembley, we’re on nice and early before the carnage at St Pancras and Baker Street so get a seat, before the Toon Army hop on with all their booze filled songs.

It’s a good twenty minutes or so on the train, the fans are singing nasty songs about Mason Greenwood and ‘we’ve got Bruno Guimaraes’ before annoying me with a usual Liverpool number which starts ‘we hate Nottingham Forest’ I keep schtum as they substitute the words Everton & Man Utd for Sunderland and weirdly, Leicester City? No idea why they hate the Midlands so much?

The train arrives finally at Wembley Parkway as the herd of cattle that is a few thousand football fans scurry up the steps with more sing songs. It’s 90% Geordie with a small minority of Mancs.. The banter now reverts to belting towards them “Alan Shearer, he turned you down” as the quirky response from the North Westerners is swift and amusing “Alan Shearer, he won fuck all”

The Venue

No matter how busy it is, every fan does it, that first glimpse at the top of the steps at Wembley Parkway, photo time, stop, get the phone out, capture that first glance of the iconic stadium Arch.

It’s always manic as people walking forward crash into those who stop off for a selfie. Jolting back you try and avoid the congestion as you head under the bridge and walk down what I would call, Wembley Way.

There’s always a man preaching god to a microphone on the left, tack stands selling hats and scarves, the Boxpark on the right, media and TV crew posing, waiting to get an interview with a fan for their thoughts on the day. I’m running through the crowd like Lionel Messi, darting in and out, left and right, holding hands with the wife so I don’t lose her, before walking ‘under’ the new Wembley steps towards the swanky VIP entrance.

We don’t even set sight of the pitch until fifteen minutes before kick-off, these days spoilt by the number of times we come here, instead, straight up the escalators, to the top floor Venue, a restaurant that serves steak and chips, but before then, the wife has a chance to sip a couple of complimentary free prosecco’s.

The Game

We walk out to our seats a good fifteen minutes before kick off to soak up the atmosphere, behind the goal which the Newcastle fans are congregated, the black and white flags are waving as the two teams come out, a magnificent sight, anticipation and excitement for both sets of supporters, the crowd has a real energy, a real buzz, cup finals are a celebration of the game, a showpiece that allows you to be true to your local identity, passionate and loud about the team you love.

God save the King is sang, I’m still getting used to it, before the game is underway to a roar of noise where Newcastle impress, they keep the ball well, are organised, solid, hardworking, but I’ve noticed in recent weeks, lacking that bit of panache, they struggle to create real opportunities, look slightly predictable in the final third.

Allan Saint-Maximin is perhaps the only one who’s unorthodox style has him confusing defenders, along with himself and his own team-mates, at times, it’s he, on half an hour, who shows hips to confuse Diogo Dalot before shooting at De Gea, the rebound is fired over.

A soft free kick however is conceded by Newcastle which gives Luke Shaw the chance to put the ball in the box. He curls left footed onto the head of Casemiro who evades his marker to open the scoring. Easy.

That goal is quickly followed as United, Manchester, that is, attack again. Another unorthodox footballer Wout Weghorst, sends Marcus Rashford through who’s shot deflects over Loris Karius and into the net, the better side has been Newcastle, but they find themselves two down. Fans silenced where I’m sitting as Manchester United supporters wave their scarves.

The Score

The boards gone up for five minutes of added time in the first half which is our cue for heading upstairs where our pre-ordered drink is already waiting.

I drink a bottle of Budweiser as the wife makes herself a coffee, it’s toasty in the warmth of the restaurant and we don’t rush back, down the steps just a couple of minutes into the second half, we walk through the Lionesses Bar towards the concourse and to our seats, the Geordies less enthused themselves for rushing out to kick off, now sipping on beer dejected, not really believing that their side can turn this one around.

Bruno Guimaraes huffs and puffs with intent, Miggy Almiron looks to make things happen without luck, Saint-Maximin is by now falling over his own feet, he’s subbed for Jacob Murphy who does well when he comes on, but at the other end, Manchester United look more likely to add a third, than concede, as Marcus Rashford tests the palms of Karius with a low drive from range.

There’s a further chance in the final minute as Newcastle throw players forward, Bruno Fernandes races through on goal but is denied by Karius to save what would have been an embarrassing heavy defeat, in the end, the Red Devils too strong, too ruthless, too savvy, Newcastle’s long wait for a major trophy continues.

The Stars

Not many players in world football are in better form that Marcus Rashford right now. He controversially had his goal taken off him, then given back to him again, I feel the right verdict was called by the dubious goals panel, as Sven Botman certainly has no interest in claiming it.

Casemiro was man of the match and for me, the best player on show. Raphael Varane a close second, also superb, it seems when it comes to finals, players like Varane and Casemiro, who are used to winning, start to come alive.

For Newcastle, Guimaraes is no question their star asset, whilst the hard working labourers like Joelinton, Kieran Trippier and Dan Burns, should also get special mention for going about their jobs in unspectacular, but efficient manor, the talisman tag so nearly belonging to Saint-Maximin, if only he wouldn’t trick himself into sometimes having two left feet, he does have something about him, he just doesn’t provide enough of those ‘wow’ moments which he's more than capable of.

The Verdict

A first piece of silverware for six years could be a defining moment for Erik ten Hag’s improving side, they still have three more trophies to play for, and I wouldn’t write them off a surprise league title, the Premier League form team and the most solid of all looking right now, in my eyes. Even better than City, of recent weeks, more substantial in all areas than Arsenal too.

For Newcastle, the search goes on for silverware, and whilst it’s widely predicted it won’t be long for the toon fans suffering since 1969 to finally have something 'major' to celebrate, I do worry that their team has became a little predictable, a little stagnant, a little flat of late, they don’t score enough goals at the minute, and that may pose a problem as they now look towards regaining their spot in the top four.

The Teams

Manchester United: David de Gea, Diogo Dalot (Aaron Wan-Bissaka 46), Raphael Varane, Lisandro Martinez, Luke Shaw, Fred (Marcel Sabitzer 69), Casemiro, Antony (Jadon Sancho 83), Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford (Harry Maguire 88), Wout Weghorst (Scott McTominay 70).

Newcastle United: Loris Karius, Kieran Trippier, Fabian Schar, Sven Botman, Dan Burn, Sean Longstaff (Alexander Isak 46), Bruno Guimaraes (Joe Willock 79), Joelinton, Miguel Almiron (Elliot Anderson 90), Callum Wilson (Matt Ritchie 90), Allan Saint-Maximin (Jacob Murphy 78).

4:30pm Kick Off. Sunday 26th February 2023, Wembley Stadium, London (att 87,306).

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