SO to Lisbon, venue of so many broken black-and-white hearts.
Newcastle United touched down in the Portuguese capital yesterday with a dual mission: To keep next week’s home leg against Benfica in the balance and to banish those dark Magpie memories of getting their wings clipped in Lisbon under Sir Bobby Robson.
Sir Bobby’s team were stronger contenders for the Uefa Cup that year but were unceremoniously dumped out of the competition by Sporting Lisbon before suffering the same fate at the hands of Manchester United in the FA Cup a few days later.
United have a similarly important double header looming on the horizon in 2013 and travel to Portugal with their eyes open about the size of the challenge mapped out for them at the original Stadium of Light.
You would be forgiven for allowing the mind to drift to that low point in the Sir Bobby era – after all, it gave Alan Shearer chills when the draw was made in Switzerland a fortnight ago.
He said: “It brought back all those memories.
“To be honest though, the first thing I thought of was they were lucky to have the second leg there because that is to their advantage.
“Ahead of that game against Sporting, I thought that was our best chance of winning silverware for this club.
“When you look at the teams who were left in the competition, there was no one who stood out so I have to say, that was a great opportunity missed. It just wasn’t to be.
“We won the first leg and went ahead there so were two up on aggregate.
“I remember in the first 15 minutes and Kieron went through one on one with their goalkeeper and missed, and had that gone in, it might have been a different story – so let’s all blame Kieron Dyer!”
For Shearer – who famously came so close yet so far from picking up a winner’s medal during his career at St James’ Park – to say it was the best opportunity he had of winning a trophy is quite some claim.
To lose one game was bad enough – to then fluff their lines in the FA Cup was just as galling for United’s all-time top scorer.
Shearer added: “No one has to remind me what happened the last time Newcastle played there.
“We travelled over to Lisbon with high hopes of going all the way but not only did we go out to them we lost to Manchester United in the FA Cup just a few days later.
“That was hard to take, one of the worst weeks I had as a footballer.
“Fortunately, they have the home leg second this time, which is a big bonus.
“If they can come back with a decent result, then there will be a full house at St James’ Park and that is bound to help.”
While the very act of having their passports stamped in Portugal might prompt worries for United fans, Shearer believes there is every chance it will be different this time around.
For a start, they’ve already knocked out one of the best teams in the competition in Anzhi.
The Russian side illustrated at St James’ Park they had the attacking arsenal to trouble the very best in Europe yet Newcastle – by hook or by crook – managed to make progress.
It has been one of the great ironies of United’s season that, while they are shipping goals to an alarming degree at Premier League level, they have been able to cope with European away games.
Four successive shut-outs in this competition puts Newcastle on the verge of a Europa League record if they manage to carve out another clean sheet in Lisbon.
It is for those reasons Shearer gives United more than a puncher’s chance of booking a place in the final four of the competition.
He insisted: “They have a good chance.
“It is a decent chance, especially with the second leg being at home. That could prove absolutely crucial. It definitely helped in the previous round against a very good Anzhi side.” Despite the relegation concerns United still harbour after a disastrous weekend which plunged them back into the scrap at the bottom, Shearer shares the rest of Tyneside’s enthusiasm for European football. After a slow-burning start, it feels as if Newcastle have really taken to a Europa League campaign which has taken them all over the Continent.
Some venues have been more glamorous than others but next month’s final in Amsterdam is whetting Magpie appetites already.
The boyish enthusiasm is shared by Shearer and his son to the extent the former number nine would cancel every engagement and shell out for tickets for himself and his son Will to drink in what would be one of the club’s biggest days.
He said: “I’d have to look at my schedule but would try to clear everything so that I could be there.
“I would try everything in my power to clear the decks and make sure I go. My lad would love to go too.
“He is a huge Newcastle fan now. It would be great to go out there with him.
“No-one knows more than me what it would mean if this club could finally get some silverware. It would give the city and the surrounding areas a huge lift and huge boost.
“It would send it bonkers, it really would – so we’re all hoping.”