Upon (sadly) returning home to Southern California after attending the festivities for Newcastle’s first leg of the EPL Summer series on Sunday in beautiful Philadelphia, I thought I’d share some of my experiences not only watching Fulham vs Brentford and Newcastle vs Aston Villa, but also interacting with a wonderfully organized itinerary put together by Toon Army Philly (@toonarmyphilly).
Coming from a long-time Newcastle supporter, I was used to getting a doubletake from both Geordies and away-side travelers after explaining that I had flown across the country to see my Magpies over the years.
While there was most definitely a renewed sense of energy when I watched the Toon dispatch Brighton 2-1 in March of 2022, I wrote a post here last May expressing my amazement at the evolving magic involving Newcastle under the guidance of Eddie Howe and the new ownership group.
One thing always missing for me in relation to Newcastle, however, was a strong contingent of stateside fans to connect with before and after the matches at St James’ Park. In fact, I tended to run into supporters there to see fans from Liverpool or the aforementioned Tottenham-Londoner much more often than Americans, Australians, or even Europeans who were there to see the Magpies.
After being able to interact with the local chapters throughout America, however, I hope readers will support Newcastle at their next stop in Atlanta or the final leg in New Jersey, so you can connect with someone like a So Cal Geordie (@So_Cal_Geordie) or A Mischief of Magpies (@mischiefofmags) or us here at Coming Home Newcastle to get involved with growing the Newcastle community.
The Toon Army in Philadelphia, led by the amazing Kayla (@kaylaphl), set up a Black & White Army get-together on Saturday for fans from every corner of the world, a massive Sunday tailgate for gameday that would make any college football fanbase proud, and helped coordinate a Q+A Meet and Greet with Newcastle Legends Shola Ameobi and Shay Given at their local Magpie pub Cavanaugh’s Headhouse.
Ameobi, a youth academy project and revered Mackem assassin who was hired as the first-ever Loan Manager at the club in June of 2019, was effusive in his praise of Manager Bobby Robson throughout the Q+A.
He described Robson’s leadership as “Understanding what it is your trying to achieve, understanding the city, understanding the club and understanding the players as well,” adding that “He commanded each and every one of us as a team but also individually and I think that was his great gift.”
Ameobi concluded by saying “That’s what I try to bring to this role now when I’m helping this next generation,” in a role that he clearly enjoys for a team who he truly wants to see succeed.
Both Given and Ameobi were very generous with their time amongst the fans (like me), and the Newcastle team was genuinely looking for feedback and ideas for how to engage with supporters to grow their footprint in the US and beyond.
For those who aren’t aware, Chelsea vs Brighton was held one day prior on Saturday, July 22, with an attendance of 65,128 at the same location as the doubleheader between Fulham vs Brentford (4 pm) and Newcastle vs Aston Villa (7 pm) I attended.
Maybe because it was a Saturday, possibly the Pulisic-Chelsea effect or the prospect of a late Sunday night, but the reported Sunday attendance was 40,332, which was a 38% drop from Chelsea’s game. So, before you give any oxygen to complaints of American fair-weather fans, remember that the club is going to need to continue growing to keep up with the massive European clubs that have been cultivating the international market for decades.
A comprehensive breakdown of the 3-3 draw can be found here, but I’d like to offer some of my takeaways.
Firstly, I was seated right at midfield where Targett was playing directly in front of me on the left through the first half. As you can see from the pictures above and below, he was in a role designed to test his offensive output as he was in a lateral line with Jacob Murphy across the pitch and pushing the Villa backline.
In my opinion, Howe put Targett ahead of rarely used Paul Dummett as a test of his ability to play both ways and his fitness. It was not a good look when Matt Ritchie came in during the second half and caused much more havoc offensively, and I’ll be very curious as to Targett’s future in the coming weeks.
Anthony Gordon has been vocal about the conditioning requirements to play in Howe’s system, and if halftime was any clue as to what Howe is cooking, the Magpies will be extremely fit if nothing else this season.
The squad did not leave the field during half time as did Villa. In fact, while the rest of the squad practiced passing and keeping loose, wingers and forwards like Alexander Isak, Miguel Almiron, and Jacob Murphy were doing sprints near the halfway line all during the break!
Finally, I hope the fans will be patient with Sandro Tonali. Howe seems to be contemplating how to best use Bruno Guimaraes and Tonali together positionally, with Tonali playing very deep in front of an oddly interchanging 3-to-4-player backline.
Both could be seen warming up together before and during the half-time break trying to build chemistry and an understanding of their counterparts’ strengths.
Anyways, off to Atlanta, and hopefully to a victory and the continued growth of the Toon Army in North America!