They say you can’t put a value on loyalty but last night, Newcastle United’s supporters did a pretty good job of it.
Steve Harper’s 20 years of unstinting commitment was worth the Wednesday nights of 50,937 Newcastle fans last night – and a heck of a lot more to the fine charities hand-picked by the long-serving United goalkeeper.
To frame that into some sort of context, it is more than both of Newcastle’s Premier League fixtures mustered last month. It is conclusive proof that a burning desire remains on Tyneside to be free of the cynicism and poision of the Mike Ashley era.
They came to salute their former heroes, with Alan Shearer and Les Ferdinand reunited for presumably the final time in black and white for the occasion. A huge cheer was reserved for the galloping David Ginola while Faustino Asprilla and Nobby Solano were lauded by a nearly capacity St James’ Park.
For AC Milan’s Glorie, the combined class of Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini - who hasn’t lost it, by the way - was a sight to behold. Paolo Di Canio, to his credit brave enough to turn out at St James’ Park for the occasion, played the role of pantomime villain to a tee by blowing kisses as he was roundly booed by the home supporters.
The score? A very Italian 0-0, with the English team predictably losing 2-1 on penalties. To compound matters for the home side, Di Canio managed to stroke the ball effortlessly past Pavel Srnicek as the visitors lifted the Sir Bobby Robson Shield.
Even man of the night Harper blasted the ball straight at goalkeeper Massimo Taibi’s legs as a fine night ended without the flourish that the home crowd craved.
It didn’t really matter. This was about bigger issues and when Kevin Nolan and Peter Beardsley replaced by Gary Speed’s sons Ed and Tommy in the final moments, it was an appropriately warm gesture on a night that you reminded you of the generosity of the black and white family.
It seems a shame to turn any positive occasion into a negative but you just wish Ashley would pay attention to the clear dormant potential of the club. When more than 50,000 can be encouraged by word of mouth and loyalty to pay ten pounds to see their former favourites in action there can be no doubting the appetite for good times on Tyneside.
The game was played for 45 minutes at the pace that suited the visiting team AC Milan Glorie side. Di Canio looked the fittest player on the pitch for a long while and was presented with a fine chance to score, but failed to pull trigger.
For Newcastle it was Asprilla, whose bicycle kick nearly broke the deadlock, who looked lively - even if his gait has hardly got any smoother.
Predictably, the combustible Barton’s appearance sparked the contest into life in the latter stages. Having Tweeted during the afternoon that Di Canio could get “emptied out” on the lush turf of St James’ Park, the QPR midfielder then proceeded to take it on himself to have a whack at the Sunderland manager’s leg.
It was an unashamedly crowd-pleasing move and Di Canio, to his credit, responded with only mock indignation to a pretty industrial challenge.
Newcastle’s old boys moved into the ascendancy when the two current Premier League players came onto the pitch. Ex-Celtic assistant manager Alan Thompson rifled a long range shot that had Massimo Taibi - yes, he of Manchester United ‘fame’ - peddling back towards goal to tip over the bar.
Taibi then made a fine save from Andy Cole’s header before the striker - who has cheered onto the pitch - clattered the post. It ended in penalties and a wonderful reception as Harper said his farewells. He will be missed.