The Chronicle have shared a truly inspiring story about Rafa Benitez this week, revealing how the United boss took time out of his pre-match preparations just 1 hour before kick off with Stoke last Saturday, to personally hand a cheque to NUFC Foodbank staff, going out of his way to thank them in person for the great work they do in the community.
For those who may not know, the Newcastle United Foodbank collect emergency food supplies for families and those facing the prospect of poverty and starvation in the area and Benitez had been made aware of the fundraising efforts of fans – who you may have seen donating what they can on matchdays outside St. James’ Park.
Most managers would no doubt offer a donation and show support to such a great cause, but Bill Corcoran – one of the driving forces behind the Foodbank – explained just how impressed and taken aback he was by what Benitez did on Saturday:
“It was amazing for Rafa to even think of us in the first place. We thought the £300 donation was a mark of the man but we just thought the cheque would be in the post.
“There was a group of us – myself, the brilliant Michael Nixon, Amanda Ross and Steve Hastie – up at the ground on Sunday anyway to drop off some posters about the Festive Fayre we’re running this Christmas and I said to (head of media) Wendy Taylor that we’d pop by on Saturday before the match and pick up the cheque from reception if it was there.
“We were amazed when she said Rafa would want to see us in person. This was a matchday – I can’t think of many other Premier League managers who would agree to take time out of their preparations to meet a few charity volunteers. We were even more surprised when she suggested coming along at 12.45pm to speak to us. Apparently he wanted to talk to us about the Foodbank and find out a bit more about how he could help.
“So we found ourselves in the players tunnel at 1pm and there was a shout ‘Make way for the Stoke players’. I’ve never seen anything like them. I have played rugby for the county but they were a really fearful bunch. To a man I wouldn’t have wanted to come across any of them in a dark alley. They’re a big team – I was thinking ‘These lot are going to pulverise us’.
“Bear in mind we’d met Isaac Hayden – one of our bigger lads – during the week when he had come along to volunteer for us at the Foodbank and he was nothing like the size of their guys.
“Anyway, we were waiting and still no sign of Rafa. Then at 1.45pm – about an hour before kick-off – he emerged from the dressing room with a cheque for us.
“I’ve never met Rafa before but I was so impressed by him. He was so relaxed, so canny – and I just couldn’t believe that he had time for us at a period when he must have had so much else on his mind.
“Look, I’ve met previous managers and what struck me about Rafa was that it wasn’t all about him. He was genuinely interested in the Foodbank, asking us questions about how it worked, how long it had been going for, how he could help and what the football club could do for us.
“He wanted us to send him an email so he could put it on his website to publicise us. He even took one of the black and white loom bands that Amanda has been knitting and selling in the Grainger Market.
“Rafa was speaking to us for a while. I started checking my watch almost thinking ‘Come on Rafa, haven’t you got a team to sort out here?’ But he was so relaxed. This is a man who has the weight of a city on his shoulders at 3pm on a Saturday – but you would never have known it.
“All I can say is that if he is that relaxed and impressive an hour before kick-off, I can see why those young men in the Newcastle dressing room are playing the way they have been the last couple of weeks.
“We walked away so impressed by him. It was the measure of the man that he had time for us at such a crucial time. Of course, this being Newcastle I presumed we’d lose the game and a fantastic day would be spoiled. To actually win was a strange feeling. Things aren’t meant to go like clockwork at Newcastle United!”
Rafa Benitez has become a god-like figure on Tyneside and it’s easy to see why – the work he does for this football club and the community stretches way beyond getting 3 points every weekend on a football pitch.
He really does ‘get it’ and this is yet another example of why I feel so lucky to have him at the helm of our great football club.