Wednesday evening saw the return of Newcastle United supporters to their cathedral on the hill, for the first time since "New normal" became a regular saying.
When football returned to empty stadiums, there was a sense of relief that supporters could still have a form of escape by watching their team play, albeit through a TV screen. That relief, quickly turned into boredom, numbness and in Newcastle United supporters' case - An even greater feeling of disillusionment. Mike Ashley has owned the club for fourteen years and in that time, thousands of supporters have walked away from the club. The treatment of supporters over season ticket refunds, placing staff on furlough despite Ashley's personal wealth increasing, has left an incredibly sour taste in the mouths of supporters.
From top to bottom, Newcastle United is a club that's severely broken, in need of an injection of passion, ambition and dedication. Three words that have been alien to the club for the majority of Ashley's reign. Steve Bruce has been rightly criticised for the job he has done since replacing Rafael Benitez. Bruce took charge of a Newcastle side that were in reach of a top half finish, In fact, Benitez had guided the side to a 10th placed finish during their return to the Premier League. A 13th placed finished followed in what turned out to be Benitez's final season. Bruce has turned a side on cusp of being a top half team, to one battling relegation, despite having more to spend than his predecessor.
Despite all the despair and feelings of impending doom, a chink of soul returned to St. James Park on Wednesday. Fire, passion and noise engulfed the cathedral on the hill as 10,000 supporters returned to their rightful place. Finally, a chance to be heard up close and personal. "Who's that team we call United, who's that team we all adore" echoed around the stadium, a song that hadn't been heard from the terraces in over a year.
Picture Credit: Serena Taylor, NUFC.CO.UK
The period of empty stadiums has had a major impact on all football clubs, however, to see an empty and soulless St. James' Park epitomised Newcastle United under Ashley's ownership. Bare, a stadium without a voice, unloved and slowly rotting after years of abandonment. You only need to walk around the outside of St. James' Park to see the lack of care shown to such an iconic stadium.
To hear the roar and to see the joy on the faces of those 10,000 supporters, restored some faint hope that not all is lost at Newcastle. Supporters will remain through the good and the many, many bad times. There will always be a sense of hope that Newcastle will rise again, and it certainly won't be down to the current regime. It will be thanks to the supporters who have had to watch their club be torn apart and brought to its knees by an owner, who doesn't and has never had the clubs' best interests at heart. Through every awful decision Ashley has made, the supporters remained and continued to show their passion and love of the badge on the front of the famous black and white striped shirts. That hope of a brighter tomorrow, will also be because of the loyal staff who've been at the club for many years. It won't be down to Ashley, Bruce or Charnley.
The day Newcastle escape the clutches of its current owner, will see the return of its diminished soul. Passion, ambition and dedication will return, along with some much-needed TLC, not only for St. James' Park but for its unwavering supporters.