The 2008–09 season saw an end to Newcastle United’s 16th consecutive seasons in the top division of English football.
A nightmare season which saw the club relegated from the Premier League to the Championship, the first time the club had been relegated since 1989.
Things had been fairly positive at the start of the new season, with “messiah” Kevin Keegan in charge as manager during his second coming. However events quickly turned sour, after a disagreement with Keegan and the board, saw the fan’s hero walk out on the club for a second time.
An awful run of form then followed under caretaker manager Chris Hughton and the shocking appointment of Joe Kinnear although a health scare saw Kinnear forced to resign as manager in February and once again Hughton and assistant Colin Calderwood took over, as the club headed towards the unthinkable.
Up stepped Geordie hero Alan Shearer, who was appointed as a temporary manager for the last eight matches of the season. A brief spell of optimism didn’t last long as Shearer only managed one victory during his time which saw Newcastle relegated after one final inept and gutless display at Villa Park on the final day of the season.
A season that had begun with such enthusiasm from supporters, such positivity, ended in tears and agony. It felt like it wasn’t real – it felt like a nightmare. Many feared the end of Newcastle United, but what seemed a nightmare at the time, was in fact the beginning of a dream.
Two seasons later…
The 2011-12 season was always going to be crucial, with fans fearing second season syndrome, they needed some hope, a sign of ambition from owner Mike Ashley, who had sold our local number nine hero and prized asset Andy Carroll for £35 million to Liverpool the previous January.
Ashley and Pardew had promised to re-invest the money wisely.
Demba Ba came in on a free, along with Sylvain Marvauex. Yohan Cabaye came in for a nominal fee, but fans awaited the announcement of our new number nine!
News came that we had lost our inspirational captain Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton was soon to leave too on a free transfer. Where were our goals going to come from? Where was our creativity now that Barton was leaving?
To add to the disappointment, our best player Jose Enrique was to leave for big spenders Liverpool who had invested hugely during the summer transfer window and under “King Kenny” would be serious title contenders.
All our big names were gone and replaced with freebies and crocks! Where were our big money signings? Fans were tired of hearing the same excuses from the board. “We won’t rush into signing players”, “We won’t be held to ransom”, “We will invest when the right opportunity arises” and so on.
It was going to be a nightmare season.
That signing that made a statement of intention. A manager that was gutless and had no backbone to stand up the the board. He was merely here to back pay loan debt… “Ashley, Lambias and Pardew… they were all peeing in the same pot.”
Yet, eleven games in, against all odds, and with Pardew amongst the favourites for first manager to be sacked, Newcastle United remained undefeated. Firmly in the top four fighting amongst the Champions League contenders.
Newcastle would go undefeated in their first 12 games of the season. A new club Premier League record.
Everybody knew it couldn’t last, but as supporters we’d enjoy the ride while it lasted. Disappointment would strike us when we actually faced some of the big boys in the league. We hadn’t really been tested yet and we’d been very fortunate.
Wins had come away at Sunderland and away at Stoke but we were yet to really be tested according to the pundits. This despite being 12 games into a league which the same pundits repute to be the toughest and best in the world.
Victories came against Everton, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea. The run of form that would inevitably end has continued, the dream has remained alive, and now with just one game remaining in the season, incredibly, a dream of Champions League Football is actually still possible.
A season that had begun with supposed turmoil, a season destined for disaster could very well end in tears, but this time they could be tears of joy.
Regardless of what happens on the final day, Newcastle United have given us some remarkably good memories this season. Undoubtedly the Premier League team of the season for achieving above and beyond anybody’s expectations.
As much as our relegation season didn’t feel real, I am struggling still to let the ecstasy of this season’s achievement sink in. For what was shame back then, is now equalled if not overwhelmed with pride right now.
This weekend marks the final day of the 2011-2012 Premier League season and incredibly Newcastle fans are still dreaming…