This week, we had been planning to visit Seaham Red Star but with the weather all but wiping out football in the northeast, we decided it would be a good time to go and check out St. James’ Park, home of Newcastle United.
Although we have been to Newcastle United before, we had been lucky enough to be in hospitality last time out. (Hoppers Tale #07)
This time from a normal matchday perspective and with no free Guinness involved!
Newcastle United – Journey and Pre-Game
Not a lot to say in this section of the blog!
Normally, we would tell you about the long journey, the pre-game lunch in the pub etc.
With Newcastle being just one bus ride away and the game kicking off at 12:30 pm, there was no time for any of that. We took the bus from our home town just before 10:00 am with the intention of at least getting a drink before the match.
Once again, the bus was delayed by Christmas shoppers and we arrived at Eldon Square bus station well after eleven. Theoretically, this still left us with time for a quick drink in The Strawberry across the road from the stadium but the club shop had other ideas.
Newcastle United Club Shop
Mrs Hopper has taken quite a shine to Newcastle and wanted to add a scarf to our little collection. After a brief wander around the two-floor club store, she found what she was looking for and we joined the queue.
Around thirty-five minutes later, we got served!
It looked as though they may have been having some technical difficulties with the tills and with just two machines working, the queue was growing instead of getting shorter. When it was our turn to be served, they gleefully revealed that the other tills were now working, so I hope the people behind us didn’t have to wait as long as we did, at least.
So, it was now heading towards 12:00 pm and with us still needing to collect our tickets, we headed off to get them.
Before doing so, I took some pictures of the statues outside the ground.
Newcastle United – The Stadium
Now resigned to not getting a pre-game drink, we headed off up the steps behind the Gallowgate End and above Shearer’s Bar, to the ticket office.
Luckily, there was no queue here and it took just a minute to get our tickets. We had bought them online the night before via the Newcastle United ticket website.
Newcastle has a massive fanbase throughout the northeast of England and despite the capacity of St. James’ Park being 52,405, games are regularly sold out and tickets are hard to come by. This meant that a friendly game against Rayo Vallecano in the middle of December was a good opportunity for us to watch a game here.
For anyone who hasn’t been to Newcastle, the first thing you notice about the ground is its size… it’s huge!
When you come in from the Gateshead side of the River Tyne, St. James’ Park dominates the Toon skyline, with the two elevated sides of the stadium looming high.
Also looming large was the steep climb to our seats!
We had tickets for the Gallowgate End, the traditional ‘home end’ for the Magpies faithful and it is no longer the old open terrace of days gone by.
Nowadays the Gallowgate is a large all-seater stand and our seats were right up on the back row. After a little puffing and panting, we took our seats.
Celtic Park Comparison
As I had been when we were in Glasgow a few weeks ago, I was reminded of the similarity between this ground and Celtic Park.
Like Celtic, there is a traditional Main Stand off to the right and to the far end and left of us, a hulking double-tiered run of continuous seats.
The Gallowgate End is the major difference between the two, as this one is at the same elevation as the main stand, whereas Celtic have raised this end of their stadium, too.
The players were out warming up and the ground was slowly filling as kick-off time approached. The view from our seats wasn’t the best to be quite honest. Being on the very top row, the view of the goal furthest from us was only just visible, due to the roof of the stand we were in. It almost gave the impression of peering through the letterbox of someone’s front door.
This was a minor gripe though and there was no restriction to our view of the match itself.
There is a wonderful segment on the Newcastle United website that chronicles the history of St. James’ Park, which you can read here. The photographs contained show it rising from a terraced field to the powerhouse of world footballing stadia that it is today.
Newcastle United – Stadium Gallery
Newcastle United v Rayo Vallecano – The Game
Despite the impressive turnout of 34,596, this was merely a friendly game and the atmosphere reflected this. The normally raucous Gallowgate was a mere shadow of its normal self.
With the World Cup being played in Qatar this winter, the Premier League has had to take an enforced break and this game was part of the Magpies’ mini pre-season warm-up before the resumption of normal services.
The Opposition – Rayo Vallecano
Located in Madrid, Rayo Vallecano are currently in eighth place in Spain’s La Liga and their squad boasts the figure of one of Colombia’s greatest-ever players in their ranks, Radamel Falcao. Now 36 years of age, he isn’t the player he once was but it was still good to get to see him play live, if only briefly.
Also in the Rayo squad are Spanish international forward Raúl de Tomás, Atletico Madrid loanee Sergio Camello, left-back Fran García, centre-back Alejandro Catena and former Newcastle player Florian Lejeune.
From our vantage point, we had no idea if there were any Rayo Vallecano fans in attendance but it seems there was a small number of them. Around thirty of them made their presence felt at the opposite corner of the stadium.
It seems that while small in number, Los Bukaneros were dancing and singing throughout the game.
The game nearly started badly for Newcastle.
Vallecano had a couple of chances early on to take the lead, starting when Newcastle tried to play the ball around at the back and succeeded only in freeing Raúl de Tomás. His fierce shot was superbly turned over the bar by Nick Pope in the Newcastle goal.
The early scares seemed to wake the Magpies up and the next move was a lovely flowing one that resulted in the opening goal.
Starting with a Rayo corner that was caught by Pope, the ball was rolled out to left-back, Matt Targett. The former Aston Villa man carried the ball to the halfway line before passing it off to Joe Willock. Willock switched the ball to the right side of the pitch where Kieran Trippier was racing forward.
Trippier’s crossed ball was headed clear but only as far as winger Jacob Murphy who played the ball to Sean Longstaff. Longstaff received the ball on the angle of the six-yard box and turned and shot in one movement from the tight angle. The ball flew over Stole Dimitrievski and into the roof of the Vallecano net.
1-0 Newcastle United!
This was the precursor to some nice football from the home side. Another superb move down the centre of the pitch saw Jonjo Shelvey play Allan Saint-Maximin through on goal but after ASM passed unselfishly to Chris Wood, who applied the finish, the assistant’s raised flag meant that the goal was ruled out for a close offside decision.
Jacob Murphy had a shot well saved by Dimitrievski but the game started to dull down as the half wore on and Willock should have done better when presented with a free header from eight yards out.
Kieran Trippier was outstanding on the right-hand side throughout the game and his influence in this Eddie Howe Newcastle team shouldn’t be underestimated. Both defensively and on the attack, he is involved heavily and was my clear man of the match today.
Shelvey didn’t look his normal assured self in passing the ball today, despite the slide-rule pass that put Saint-Maximin through for the disallowed goal and he will have to hope this was just a bad day at the office with the transfer window on the horizon and rumours of big-money signings incoming.
As for ASM, what a frustrating player he is!
On his day he is unplayable, yet on other days he looks awful. Today was a mix of the two, with some good and bad moments from the Frenchman. You just never know what to expect from him from one moment to the next and there aren’t many players like that anymore.
I like him.
Half-time – Newcastle United 1 Rayo Vallecano 0
Mrs Hopper disappeared for her customary halftime cup of char but returned empty-handed saying “I’m not paying £3.00 for a teabag or staying in that queue to get one!”
I’m guessing, given her love of hot drinks that it was the queue that really put her off…
The Second Half
The second period was a pretty dull affair, to be honest, punctuated by two further goals – the first of which came from the penalty spot.
The ball was played down the left wing for Willock who took it into the box before being brought down. Clear penalty and the referee agreed.
Chris Wood stepped forward to take the spot-kick and confidently smashed it to the keeper’s right and into the top corner of the net in front of the Gallowgate End.
Perfect for a Hoppers Guide video, you say?
2-0 Newcastle United!
Rayo Vallecano found a way back into the game via an unlikely source – Matt Targett!
The ball was played down the left flank where Fran García found his namesake, Alvaro García. His cross was aimed low across the goal and the unfortunate Targett slid in to clear the ball, only to see it go straight into the back of his own net.
2-1 Newcastle United!
Rayo were having more possession than they had had throughout the game up to this point. However, despite Eddie Howe making substitutions and bringing on some youngsters, Vallecano couldn’t find an equaliser and the game played itself out without too much action of note.
Sixteen-year-old Lewis Miley replaced Trippier and we got a brief glimpse of Radomel Falcao before the end of the game. Twenty years separate the two players!
A good workout for both teams as they look to fine-tune their squads’ fitness before the resumption of their respective campaigns.
You can read a Match Report here from the Newcastle United website.
Full-time – Newcastle United 2 Rayo Vallecano 1
Attendance – 34,596
Entrance Fee – £21.00
Programme – £3.50
Next up for Newcastle is Carabao Cup action with a home tie against Bournemouth on the 20th of December. This is followed up by a return to the Premier League with a Monday night fixture against Leicester City at the King Power Stadium.
Meanwhile, Rayo Vallecano will travel to Atlético Saguntino for a Copa del Rey tie on the 21st of December, before getting their La Liga campaign back underway on the 29th with a trip to Girona.
Newcastle United – Match Highlights
Newcastle United – Post-Game Video of St. James’ Park
Newcastle United – After the Game
By the time the referee blew his whistle for full-time, quite a lot of the spectators were already on their way home and a lot of empty seats greeted the half-hearted applause from the players who walked around the pitch.
This was all a far cry from a normal matchday here and the roar and passion will be back next time the Toon Army flock to the ‘Cathedral on the Hill’.
We walked back to Eldon Square bus station and joined a long queue. Luckily, two buses arrived pretty much one after another and the line cleared, leaving us at the front for the second one.
We were home just as the winter skies were starting to darken.
Onto the next!