The Uefa Cup reunion tour hits St James' Park

WHO said they couldn’t sell some old-fashioned, irrelevant entity, well past its sell-by date to the point that it isn’t taken seriously by anyone in the game that really matters, to the good people of Newcastle?

Newcastle player Mike Williamson (l) beats Bordeaux player Jussie to the ball
Newcastle player Mike Williamson (l) beats Bordeaux player Jussie to the ball

WHO said they couldn’t sell some old-fashioned, irrelevant entity, well past its sell-by date to the point that it isn’t taken seriously by anyone in the game that really matters, to the good people of Newcastle?

However, fair play to George Michael. There wasn’t a single spare seat to be had at the Metro Radio Arena on Wednesday night for the 1980s sensation’s concert. The Uefa Cup, as it once was called, was big in that decade as well.

Well, certainly bigger than it is today judging by highlights from last night’s matches from around the Continent. There were more empty seats than people at almost every game. Apart from St James’ Park, that is.

I will be honest and admit that 20 minutes before kick-off I thought this would be a piece about why even the most loyal supporters a club could wish for had turned their back on football’s equivalent of Andrew Ridgeley.

Nobody is quite sure why the Europa League is there these days and what it’s good for.

However, a healthy crowd of 30,987 proved that it still matters to Newcastle fans – and it matters a lot. This number was bolstered by maybe 1,000 that had travelled from France and were packed into their small section a good 40 minutes before the game began.

Have they never heard of having one last pint for the road? Actually, considering the behaviour of some of them after the second goal went in they had maybe had quite enough.

Newcastle as a club could hardly claim they did the hard sell for last night’s game. Alan Pardew had not really talked up the club’s first European campaign since the 2006/07 season, or at least not to the extent that any fan wondering whether they would go along or not would be convinced that this was a game not to miss.

Weakened sides and continual quotes about Europe being third on a list of his priorities is not going to inspire the troops.

I am old school and believe that any European game is worthy of our full attention, certainly for a club such as Newcastle that can’t guarantee even the Europa League every season. Thankfully, I’m not the only one who believes that having a crack at actually winning something and giving Johnny Foreigner a run for their money is still important.

Last night showed that the good people of Newcastle are starved of two things: regular European football and a trophy.

If you put two of them together, you could come up with the Europa League, which may not be the Champions League, but a competition Alan Pardew’s team could win.

It’s why they turned up and filled three quarters of the stadium. Good on them. In the last 10 years Celtic, Rangers, Fulham and Middlesbrough have all reached the final. So why not Newcastle? On the evidence of last night’s performance, the players themselves fancy a proper crack at this tournament because they played really well against a tidy side who were, give or take a few injuries, at full strength.

Pardew sent out a fairly strong team with Papiss Cissé, Cheick Tioté and Yohan Cabaye all starting.

But it was a man who knows all about what European nights on the Tyne are like who made his mark first.

Just 16 lively minutes had passed when Gabriel Obertan skipped past Bordeaux right-back Mariano before sending a low cross across goal and Shola Ameobi said thank you very much.

The big man raised his arms into the air as the supporters raised their voices in unison to the local hero.

But Bordeaux are no mugs. They played some decent stuff as well.

The home fans thought for a second a goal was coming in the wrong end when Yoan Gouffran shot was blocked by Mike Williamson and for a moment it seemed the ball was going to drop in the goal, but decided to stay out.

However, all nerves were settled when Henrique got himself in a mess and score a quite fantastic own goal to make it 2-0. And then just after the break Papiss Cissé got a third and the night was done.

So Newcastle have four points from two games, with two more to come at home. You would bet them qualifying for the group stages.

This was a proper midweek European night at St James’ Park.

A strong Newcastle team, good crowd and all played out in a passionate atmosphere.

More of the same would do nicely.

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David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer