Bridge building day at St James' Park
The doors of St James` Park were opened to the public for a half term treat. Are the club starting to get their strategy right?
It seems strange turning up at St James` on a Friday morning, the streets around relatively deserted but with a steady milling of people moving towards the stadium. Once there, crowds had already gathered by 8.30 with the doors being thrown open an hour later.
Host to a posse of 3 ToTT aficionados was Matchday Programme Editor, the affable and diligent Dan Sheridan. He had already been co-ordinating efforts under the Milburn stand players` entrance before coming to escort us from reception shortly after 9.
The sense of history at the club is marked by a bust of the legendary Sir Bobby on the right hand side, facing an awe inspiring collection of 1950s FA Cup medals under the bust of Jackie Milburn. This was the backdrop for greeting club staff.
Cheik Tiote had already arrived, seemingly for intensive physio work in an effort to be available for Monday. Next to come was another injury victim, met with the words "I only recognise you because of the mask in your hand, hi Shola". Steve Taylor took it very well flashing a brilliant white smile in the direction of the young lady in our midst as well as spending some time handling banale questions.
Similarly affable, radiating a natural enthusiasm was Haris Vuckic, getting stuck into charity t-shirt signing with a vengeance. The youthful Abeid had a similar cheerful demeanour. Guthrie and Elliot, also among the fringes of the squad impressed with their early arrival.
Jonas appeared pleasantly surprised to find himself facing questions in Spanish, the smile becoming broader when requested to autograph a Jonas 18 shirt. Smith and Perch soon followed.
In quick succession, in came the scorers of exactly 100 competitive goals for Newcastle United. Peter Lovenkrands was full of bonhomie, whilst Shola`s physical presence is immense and he did seem genuinely appreciative of the various tribute articles that have been published on ToTT.
It is easy to be star struck when the imposing figures arrive, Ba is impressive, Colo the ultimate professional and adept at diplomatically defending against awkward contract questions as well as deigning to smile at the comment "lo siento, mi esposa no esta aqui". Youngsters like Gosling and Ferguson come across as being genuinely thrilled to be at the club whilst the gallic contingent had difficulty in comprehending the level of attention here.
With his own travel issues the subject of media attention, Danny Simpson just made it in time, with our apologies if he was subsequently fined due to our own excesses. Neon Leon and Ranger had already sliced through the reception committee as easily as Jonas cuts inside a left back.
A Gallowgate end and Platinum Club were treated to a youngsters` penalty competition whilst more mature aspirants to the black and white shirt attempted to hit the cross bar.
So to the training session, the warm up closely resembling the one seen on match day for those who turn up early. Following that, the outfield players displayed intricate pass and move routines whilst Andy Woodman put the goalkeepers through their paces with saving and distribution exercises.
Members of the squad then divided into a game which demonstrated their competitiveness and skills, not always evident under the pressure of a match situation. The sides were generally evenly balanced with Obertan impressing with two goals either side of a Ranger strike for the opposition to open a flurry of scoring and excellent saves from both keepers.
Those players who played on Wednesday subsequently withdrew early, before another display of crossing from Ferguson and Abeid, the rest of the fringe players testing the keepers at either end of the mini pitch. Those who attended even witnessed the hard working Alan Smith scoring at St James` Park.
Last up before the final supporter competitions was a further competitive display of free kick taking, Ryan Taylor replicating his Sunderland effort against Tim Krul. Those two, along with Peter Lovenkrands, who could easily have left earlier following his strike against Blackburn, were the last to vacate the pitch. All morning, Lovenkrands demonstrated what he could be capable of with some stunning touches when playing off the last man.
The assembled crowd left happy. In the meantime, some of the North East`s most eminent journalists compared notes and analysis on everything from the boardroom to the pitch, with contract negotiations, club finances and transfer speculation in between.
The day was obviously a success for the young supporters who took advantage of the half term opportunity given by the club. It might even be a further sign, following the conciliatory Mission Statement, that the club were prepared to invite some of their sternest critics behind the scenes.
Whatever our criticisms of Pardew`s appointment, he has chosen wisely in the Geordie coaches of Stone and Carver, passionate about their work at NUFC. The genial Andy Woodman has clearly fallen for the region, having relocated his family to the North East and has found a way of keeping in touch with supporters` demands. Who knows? Geordie passion may inspire Pardew to new heights in his career. It is acknowledged that he has built bridges between the squad and the board. Let`s hope they are more of the Tyne Bridge than the pontoon variety.
After a series of mistakes, even howlers, the open day was a sign that Ashley and Llambias are capable of getting things right, with obvious evidence of bonding among the players. All we need now is openness with the Geordie public and further appropriate investment in the squad.
Huge thanks go to the eminently capable Wendy Taylor for the invitation to outspoken critics of the current regime. Thanks also to Dan Sheridan and his daughter, surely another Wendy Taylor in the making, for their kind and attentive hospitality. Special thanks to all the welcoming support and security staff who share an obvious passion for our club.