Reduced expectations from the 1990s
18 March ~ As a Newcastle United fan who began following football in the mid-1990s and regularly going to St James' Park in 2000 my early experiences were of relative success. A long-awaited trophy always seemed imminent while two ventures into the Champions League, two FA Cup finals and the stadium redevelopment had me convinced me that supporting my local team was not only the right thing to do, but it would be a very rewarding experience. By the time I became an adult things had changed.
After losing to a Didier Drogba-inspired Marseille in the UEFA Cup semi-final in 2004, Newcastle then collapsed away at Sporting Lisbon in the following season's UEFA Cup quarter and were embarrassed by Manchester United in the FA Cup semi. What followed was a period of decline culminating in relegation.
In the same week as that loss in Marseille, Newcastle drew their last home game of the season against Wolves. Most fans opted to snub the lap of honour and streamed out of the stadium in protest. Newcastle finished fifth and the atmosphere ultimately led to Bobby Robson's sacking early the next season. It seems unbelievable now, but it demonstrates the expectation levels and desperation for success which the fans had.
Things have changed now and even during our worst spells this season there has hardly been a "Pardew out" movement. Possibly because it has now been over ten years since we were in the Champions League, nearly 20 since throwing away the Premier League title in 1996 plus the fans have experienced a year in the second tier. Combined with Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur breaking into the top four, expectations are lower.
After the highs of last-minute victories over Stoke City and Anzhi Makhachkala, yesterday’s late loss at Wigan came as a reminder that Newcastle are not quite safe from the drop yet. Despite the aforementioned decline in expectations, a relegation struggle or low finishing position still represent a downturn for the club, especially after last season's impressive league campaign.
Although the domestic season has been disappointing, Alan Pardew has guided Newcastle to their first quarter-final since a League Cup defeat by Chelsea in 2006. Even the draw itself was a stark reminder of Newcastle's transformation since their previous European quarter-final. It was conducted by Patrick Kluivert, one of many "star names" who contributed little at St James' Park in the mid-2000s. The signings of Kluivert, Michael Owen and the like are in stark contrast with the clever acquisitions of Yohan Cabaye, Davide Santon and others.
Kluivert did at least provide Newcastle with the advantage of a second leg at home, albeit against tough opponents in Benfica. A few days after that game Newcastle play the other tenants of a Stadium of Light, Sunderland, at home. The chant "Have you ever seen a Mackem in Milan?" is a little old now, given Newcastle played Inter over ten years ago. Hopefully in May the song will have evolved to include a reference to Amsterdam, the venue of the Europa League final. Simon Meechan