The weekend in March 2002 when Eddie Howe suffered the knee injury that would ultimately end his playing career before he was 30 was a good one for . Sir Bobby Robson’s team beat 6-2 in front of 52,000 at home and scored one of the goals.
Newcastle finished fourth that season and qualified for the Champions League, proof that it has not always been miserable on Tyneside. Rarely, though, has it been as good, as positive, as it feels right now.
On Sunday Newcastle have the chance to win their first domestic trophy since 1955 when they meet in the League Cup final and Howe is the young manager who has taken them to Wembley.
Howe’s career, his life, has not always been straightforward. Neither has Newcastle’s trajectory on and off the field. From that point of view, and others, they feel like a fit. Both will head to London acutely aware and grateful for the opportunity they have.
‘I remember going to see a specialist after my injury and he said, “You are going to have to retire”,’ reflected Howe this week. ‘I was 24. I felt my world had ended. So then if I transport myself from that person there to this moment here, I’d be like, “Absolutely no chance that’s possible I could do that”.’
Newcastle boss Eddie Howe is looking forward to their Carabao Cup final against Man United
Howe (right) saw his playing career end early due to injury before he became a coach
This is one of the beauties of sport. Second and “http://todicamp.ru/ third chances. The opportunity for talent to surface in one way if not necessarily another. Howe’s road to Wembley has been a long one and his club’s supporters have been even more patient.
Newcastle were there in the FA Cup finals of 1998 and 1999 only to lose 2-0 both times, to Arsenal and Manchester United. They had been there in 1976 in the League Cup only for Manchester City’s Dennis Tueart to break them with an overhead kick.
So if this opportunity feels overdue then that is understandable. Howe says it is not about him but he is not entirely right. The Evening Chronicle newspaper gave away cardboard masks of the 45-year-old with Tuesday’s edition. At a question and answer session in the city earlier this month, he was endorsed by Kevin Keegan, the last man to threaten to deliver a league title to the North East in the late 1990s.
One of the first things Howe did when taking the job in 2021 was speak to Keegan. If that points to some humility and intelligence then it is echoed elsewhere.
In a cavernous indoor sports hall at Newcastle’s training ground this week, two of his players — Sean Longstaff and Dan Burn — sat and talked of the debt they owe their manager. Both are Geordies. Both are on second chances of their own. Longstaff scored twice in the semi-final win against Southampton and was close to tears as he spoke of a long return from injury. Burn, released from Newcastle’s academy at the age of 11, was invited back north by Howe after building a career at Fulham, Wigan and Brighton.
Sean Longstaff stated that he will be forever grateful to Howe for saving his Newcastle career
Longstaff said: ‘The manager is someone I will be forever grateful to and he has saved my Newcastle career. On that semi-final night I locked eyes with Burny and I thought we were going to shed a little tear together to be honest.
‘After the game I said to him, “Did you think we would be doing this when we were playing against each other for Wigan and Blackpool five years ago?”
‘It is funny how football works out. To be from Newcastle and do this together makes it special.’
It is no coincidence that Howe’s team has local representation. Newcastle, of all clubs, still feels like it needs a bit of that. It is an institution that still sits — literally and emotionally — at the heart of its community.
Few football stadiums, if indeed any, are as close to the centre of a city as St James’ Park. Walk up Leazes Park Road, turn left on to Strawberry Place and the jutting, imposing rear end of the Gallowgate all but blocks out the light.
Newcastle won’t be fazed by the occasion even though they face a tough task at Wembley
News recently revealed in these pages that Newcastle have acquired the land that is behind the Gallowgate End on which to build and extend felt important and was greeted enthusiastically by someone as eminent as Sir John Hall. ‘They need that bit back to do the Gallowgate,’ the former Newcastle owner, now 89, told the Chronicle. ‘We have got everything going for us. Every fan can feel the future is ours.’
Tomorrow, London will be black and white and that is saying something, given their opponents, Manchester United, are the best supported team in the country.
Much about Newcastle still feels a little complicated. Issues over their Saudi ownership will not go away and nor should they. A corner-kick away from the stadium is an Amnesty International book shop. Given Saudi’s human rights record, the juxtaposition of the two could not be neater.
But the football has been straightforward under Howe, even if a drop-off in form takes Newcastle into tomorrow’s showpiece as distinct second favourites.
They will not lack courage, though. Howe teams never have. His time at Bournemouth was largely one of steady improvement. The gravity that took hold of a team playing in the Premier League in front of a 11,500 capacity was always likely to get them in the end. By the time it did, in 2020, Howe was ready to go and started a 15-month period out of the game he insists now was deliberate.
‘That was self-induced, my decision,’ Howe said. ‘I felt that was my time to go away from the game, improve myself and then come back in when I felt ready and when the opportunity was there that I felt I couldn’t turn down. That happened with Newcastle.’
Howe’s most difficult time in management was at Burnley a decade ago. In his early thirties, he stepped away from the role after less than two years for personal reasons, widely accepted to have been difficulty coping with the passing of his mother.
Asked about her influence this week, Howe was candid and said: ‘She’s in my thinking before every game. But I think undeniably she will be in my thoughts even more, probably, this weekend.
When he was in charge of Burnley Howe stepped away from the role due to personal reasons
‘I’d say 99.9 per cent of me is all down to her because she was my driving force as a child. She was a massive, massive influence on me, and I’m doing everything now really because of her.
‘She took me for a tour around Wembley as a five, six-year-old, lifting the fake FA Cup, walking out to the fake crowd noise. She was there doing that with me.
‘I don’t know if they still do it, but it was every kid’s dream. But yeah, it was the FA Cup. I can’t sit here and make out it was the League Cup. But I’ve never forgotten that day. Wembley for me was an amazing place, a place I was desperate to go back to in some capacity in football.’
If Newcastle’s visit is the last for a while, it will be a surprise. Something will have gone wrong. If the club is to go where it should from this point on then an appearance in the League Cup final should one day be viewed as a staging post and no more.
Howe praised the Newcastle fans and is eager for them to be rewarded with a trophy
In the Back Page book and memorabilia shop near to St James’ Park, trade has been brisk this week and last Saturday, before Newcastle played Liverpool, the shop had its busiest afternoon for years. It feels like a moment in time for one of the country’s biggest clubs and so it should.
‘The love these people have for the club,’ said Howe. ‘I’d love to return that love with a trophy. I was watching the Premier League Years show last night and a few clips of that Kevin Keegan team came on. The football that they played was incredible, but that trophy wasn’t there.’
Howe’s playing career limped on for five more years after that injury on his debut for Portsmouth at Preston 21 years ago.
‘I felt so lost and isolated because I could feel very early my career was slipping away from me,’ he recalled. ‘I was shy, introverted. I felt I had a good football brain but not necessarily a coaching outlook, so I didn’t know what would happen. It’s difficult when you look at your life now and are seeing moments and thinking, “I’ve gone from that to this”. It’s an amazing turnaround, really.’
Howe has taken a little while to get here, to somewhere near the summit. It is safe to say Newcastle’s return to prominence has been rather quicker.