Happy Anniversary Rafa

When Rafael Benitez swept into St James Park a year ago today there was undoubtedly an air of optimism and excitement surrounding the appointment.

Taking over from the hapless and bumbling Steve McLaren, the bubbly and charismatic Spaniard who has won some of the game’s biggest trophies knew he had limited time and resources to save Newcastle Utd and become a cult hero.

‘Rafa the gaffer’ as dubbed by the Toon support has previous success in English football, winning both the European cup with Liverpool and the Europa League with Chelsea, amid difficult circumstances.

The Spaniard lost in his first outing as Newcastle boss to eventual champions Leicester City losing 1-0.

Newcastle had only nine games to save the club from relegation for a second time in under a decade. Among the highlights from those games was the 1-1 draw with bitter rivals Sunderland, ending the rot that goes back to 2011.

Strong victories against Swansea and Crystal Palace followed, as well as draws against Liverpool and Manchester City.

In the penultimate game of the season, a frustrating and disastrous performance against already relegated Aston Villa sealed the club’s fate and almost immediately talk began to persist of whether Mike Ashley could persuade the 56 year old to put down roots in the North East.

It may not be as glamorous as Naples or Madrid however, one thing he would be guaranteed is ultimate adulation and hero status if he could guide the club back to the Premier League.

Now the fans had their part to play to convince Rafa that this was his new home. In a strange final match of the season Newcastle faced up to the Premier League runners up Tottenham Hotspur, a game that should be meaningless and a match that the fans may not care about to much.

This is Newcastle United however and St James Park is a stadium like no other, when the fans know they have a part to play every man woman child and dog can even stand up and be counted.

What followed was an incredible wall of noise, Banners and chants of Rafa Benitez in one last attempt to make the gaffer stay.

A 5-1 hammering of Tottenham despite Aleksander Mitrovic bagging himself both a goal and a red card.

In contrast the result was pointless for the home side, however the ramifications were massive as on the 25th may it was confirmed that Rafa signed a 3 year deal at the club.

Now the hard work really began as Dwight Gayle and Matt Ritchie were recruited from Crystal Palace and Bournemouth.

A host of other names signed up to the Rafa revolution including Daryl Murphy and Mo Diame, both of whom have a vast experience of Championship football.

Life in England’s second tier didn’t start the way that everyone had hoped with defeats to Fulham and Huddersfield, however after Benitez realised his strongest line up the magpies were soon up and running.

They embarked on a six game winning run before Wolves merely halted the run before the club then went on a mazy 11 game unbeaten run.

In recent months the top three in the championship have all been rampant and ropey in equal measures with Newcastle completing the double over nearest challengers Brighton, managed by the charismatic former Newcastle Championship winning manager Chris Hughton.

I had the chance to visit Newcastle’s training ground last year and spoke to not only some of the players but also the manager who has a massive personality. After only a few minutes in his presence I could tell that the club I love is in safe hands and that we will be making our way back to the bright lights of the Premier League.

Undoubtedly it’s always good to be brought down to earth now and again, however I sincerely hope that we ensure promotion sooner rather than later otherwise we may end up like a Blackpool or dare I say it Portsmouth.