United deserve to be back in big league - now they must stay there

FOR some, Newcastle United’s promotion is nothing more than a successful damage-limitation exercise, the necessary and required response to right so many previous wrongs.

FOR some, Newcastle United’s promotion is nothing more than a successful damage-limitation exercise, the necessary and required response to right so many previous wrongs.

With the biggest wage bill in the division and a squad packed with top-flight and international experience, Newcastle have merely matched expectations and gone some way to repairing the damage done during the Mike Ashley era.

That is their prerogative and promotion from the Coca-Cola Championship, for a hardcore disgruntled minority, still does not heal old wounds, the scars left by Kevin Keegan and Alan Shearer on a regime which is still striving to convince it has good intentions.

For others, it will be far more than that. For a new generation of United supporters, this season has a been a magical and wondrous journey.

It has been a rite of passage, the memories and stories of which will help steel them against the disappointments which will surely come their way in the future, just as they must for every fan who falls for football’s alluring charm.

It may not have the same euphoric optimism which followed promotion under Keegan back in 1993, but it is every bit as significant for those who have travelled the length of breadth of country to follow their team and the 40,000 or so people inside St James’ Park who have made a mockery of those who still feel the need to question the loyalty and passion of Newcastle supporters.

It will also mean just as much to the players as any other promotion campaign of old, that resilient, stubborn, hardworking bunch who have found such strength and unity through the adversity of relegation. They will come out of this experience with enormous credit because wage bills and reputations do not win promotion, just as they did not shield Newcastle from relegation.

Promotion was not a given, far from it. Newcastle United were a mess back in August, divided, manager-less, up for sale and still reeling from the knockout blow which sent them tumbling out of the top flight.

They were either a joke or a tragedy. While the rest of the country failed to stifle their laughter, Newcastle’s supporters could only cringe and lash out at those responsible for the humiliation.

After nine months of hard work and heads down determination, those jibes no longer sting. For once, Newcastle have not fanned the flames of their own destruction.

Even the altercation between Andy Carroll and Steven Taylor has failed to break the promotion push, even if it has broken the latter’s jaw.

Through it all, Chris Hughton has been a firefighter, extinguishing a forest fire of problems. He is the calm, steady hand on the pump.

He will never be a media darling, his press conferences are too bland for those who like spice in their quotes, but he is precisely what Newcastle needed in the circumstances.

There have been far bigger names, bigger personalities and bigger men in the manager’s chair, but none have done so with more dignity and diligence than he.

Like Newcastle, Hughton’s biggest test as manager is yet to come because, having won promotion, Newcastle do not expect to do it all over again in 2012.

We will all be keeping our fingers crossed relegation was one step back to take two steps forward, not that promotion is one step forward only to take another two back next year.

The club looks a leaner, fitter business operation than it did 12 months ago, hacking off the over-priced dead wood – but we want prudent ambition, not a cut-price operation trying to survive on the cheap. Newcastle are back in the big time, now the challenge is staying there.

Journalists

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