Let's flash back to six weeks ago. Working Class John Carver™ was still officially our head coach, and we were still wondering if next season will get better or worse than the one that just ended. Then we got the big news.
Newcastle United's coming to America!
The Milwaukee Brewers leaked the first match June 1 against Liga MX side Club Atlas, and Newcastle formally announced the tour 3 days later. Plans were in place to get tickets, meet-up spots, and enjoy a preseason match on American soil for the first time since their 2011 tour.
Every week passed, and all the details fell into place. All of us at Toon Army Chicago bought seats near the pitch, transportation arrangements were made, and I even did my best to provide a guide to the drive I would make on July 14.
Then things got even better. We got word about an open training session, and I got word from fellow Coming Home Newcastle writer Chris Parry about securing press credentials. This was going to be an incredible trip!
I knew this would be a trip of firsts for many people. For many, it was their first time seeing Newcastle play live. It was some people's first trip to Milwaukee, the state of Wisconsin. It was also one friend's first trip to the USA, and it was another supporter's first professional sporting event!
Everything started on Sunday night when people started rolling into town.
Sunday Night - Globe Pub, Chicago
Through the planning process, I heard some members of Toronto's Toon Army were rolling into Chicago Sunday night. At the last minute, a native Geordie and friend of a few Toon Army Chicago members decided to also come over. We wanted to make them feel welcome and show off our usual watering hole.
We posted the event, and a lot of Chicago's usuals wandered into the Globe like it was a typical matchday. Food, drinks, and banter were all in abundance. The only thing missing was a match on the abundance of flat screens that pepper the bar.
Shortly after our arrival, the Toronto contingent arrived. Soon more arrived, too! Two lads who had found out about Toon Army Chicago hours before came out to say hello and get to know us better. They had a couple of pints before searching for deep dish pizza, returning a couple of hours later after dinner with a full belly and appetite for more beers.
Naturally our conversations steered to the Toon, the upcoming preseason tour, and what to expect for the season. It was a great chance to get to know people better, and we eventually dispersed to get ready for our Mondays.
MATCH DAY - Pre-Match
Once I got packed in the morning, I drove into the city from my house in the suburbs. The drive was a good one, knowing I would quickly have a car full of Toon fans heading to Milwaukee. First on the route was Subbu, a student at one of Chicago's many universities. He, like a few others, recently found out about Toon Army Chicago, and he was eager to join us. It turns out this would be his first professional sporting event of any sort, so he was super stoked.
The next stop filled up the rest of my car. Phil, one of Toon Army Chicago's founding members, was joined by our Iron Man George and newcomer Brian. George missed a single match at the Globe this season, a midweek match due to work. Once we loaded the car, we were on our way north.
On the way, we heard from a couple of people from Toon Army Indianapolis heading north, asking for places to stop. We naturally recommended The Brat Stop from my road trip guide. They met us there, had lunch with us, and we all made our way to our Milwaukee hotel.
Once we arrived at the hotel, we ran into more Toon fans who arrived earlier. There were a couple from Toon Army Minnesota in addition to my car. I stepped away to make a phone call, and I spotted fellow Coming Home Newcastle writer Chris Parry.
Chris joined our conversation, and we hashed out our plans. My fiancee, her mom, and her brother were also coming up for the match, so I waited back to give them their tickets. Once we met up, they explored Milwaukee while I joined the lads for a pint.
It turns out they went to Upper 90's, a small pub just outside the Bradley Center. George, Phil, and Brian were all there, and they found the rest of our crew. Aside from our season regulars, we had Bewsa, our resident Geordie, founder Brian's dad Steve in from Cleveland, and the two from Indianapolis. The banter and beers kept flowing, and I left them to the bus as I met up with Chris before heading to Miller Park.
We arrived at Miller Park with some confusion about our press credentials. We eventually got them sorted and headed up to the press box. We ended up sharing an elevator with Newcastle Chronicle's United beat writer Lee Ryder. It was a pleasure meeting him and thoroughly enjoyed talking with him before the match.
Also waiting in the press box was Newcastle's Supporters Liaison Lee Marshall. Lee and I have exchanged e-mails regarding details for this tour, and he did a fantastic job interacting with fans the whole time. He is handling all of the Club's official social media posts, and the posts were superb. His posts on Twitter, including Ayoze's penalty kick in slow-mo against Krul, and the Periscope feeds of training, stadium arrivals, and tunnel walk-outs were a great insight to how the players were on this tour. Toon Army Chicago recently had a Teespring campaign for their first t-shirt, and I presented Lee one on everyone's behalf.
Tailgating & 1st Half - The Fan Experience
Like Chris, I decided to be a fan the first half and attempt the whole journalist thing the second half. Chris and I prepared ourselves for the "journalist half" and made our way to the big tailgate. It was put on by the Milwaukee Barons in conjunction with Milwaukee's footy bars: Highbury, Upper 90, The Red Lion, and the Three Lions to raise awareness and support for a professional club in Wisconsin. There was food available and beer a plenty. As far as you could see in the enclosed area, you a lot of black and white shirts!
In addition to the beer were beer pong tables and the footy equivalent of skee-ball, where you had to kick a ball into different sized trash cans for different point levels. There was also a DJ mixing tunes, and people were intermittently dancing all over the parking lot.
As it got closer to kick-off, Newcastle fans started gathering and warming up their singing voices.
After warming up the pipes, we all headed into the stadium to check out our first half seats. From our seats, we had a good view of the pitch, a close proximity to the Newcastle bench, and a nice midsummer's breeze.
Once the match got under way, the last stragglers from the tailgate streamed their way into the seats. Many of them were not tardy to see Newcastle concede the first goal by penalty kick and the second golazo volley rifled past Krul.
I sat further up in the stands to take notes for the match summary, and I met people from all over. I met a few people from Milwaukee and the surrounding area, including a Geordie ex-pat doing the same thing as me. It turns out he lives minutes away from the Globe in Chicago, so I invited him to join us this season.
The first half continued as I got more and more frustrated. It was very apparent Newcastle had no answer for Atlas' high press, and their frustration also showed in their play. They fortunately found an outlet for that frustration at the stroke of half time when the chanting of "Olé" to each Atlas pass gave way to a Sissoko goal from the 2-on-1 with him and Cisse.
I took a few pictures with people from Chicago and headed up to the press box to get ready for the second half.
2nd Half & Post-Game - The Journalist Experience
No sooner than we settled into the press box, the second half started. Located directly behind home plate, it gives a perfect view of the field for baseball. Fortunately, it also gave us a fantastic view of the entire pitch as we kept our match notes flowing.
There was healthy discussion on Cisse's disallowed goal in the press box, and the interaction between Milwaukee's local writers and Lee Ryder was interesting to hear from an "outsider's" perspective. All in all, it was a good experience to take in this view and enjoy something very different than I am used to.
After the final whistle, everyone booked it down to the interview room and player's zone, but the rushing was in vain. We waited for what seemed like an eternity for the players and Steve McClaren. It turns out they were doing this instead.
It was a half hour before we saw the Club Atlas manager in the interview room, and McClaren never showed up.
We met him and a handful of Newcastle players in the players' zone and interviewed them. We have all seen post-match interviews inside and just outside the locker rooms on TV before. I never knew how cut-throat it was jockeying for position! Each time I tried to get close for a question, I was boxed out and nearly bashed upside my head with a small field camera or microphone. Eventually I was able to ask McClaren a question about Atlas' increased physical play, and I was very satisfied with the answer.
Once the player interviews were over, Chris and I made our way back to the hotel to write and pass out. It was a good night, but the antics of fans after the match in Milwaukee's bars sounded like a much more enticing option.
Milwaukee was a great host city for this match. The people were very friendly, the facilities were superb, and the fans from both teams were fun to be around. All in all, it was a great night. It makes me want the Premier League season to start that much more.