As Alan Shearer raised his arm aloft in his trademark celebration style after scoring yet another goal for Newcastle United, there was a palpable sense that something extraordinary was happening. It was March 2003, and the iconic San Siro stadium witnessed Shearer’s heroics as he netted his second goal against Inter Milan in the Champions League, temporarily putting Sir Bobby Robson’s Magpies in the lead before Ivan Cordoba’s equalizer.
Newcastle had embarked on a grueling journey through two group phases in that unforgettable campaign, proving themselves on par with football giants like Juventus, Inter, and Robson’s former club, Barcelona. While their ultimate progress in the tournament fell short, drawing 2-2 against an elite side in such an iconic stadium created indelible memories that continue to resonate.
An Iconic Moment Revived
Fast forward two decades, and Newcastle is set to make a triumphant return to the Champions League, facing AC Milan. This match marks their first appearance in the competition in 20 years, rekindling the nostalgia of those unforgettable moments.
Former defender Steven Caldwell, speaking to Sport News Center, reminisced, “What a game! The San Siro is the stadium you think of if you grew up watching Italia 90; it is the stadium of my generation. To see what it was like was amazing. It was an iconic moment for a football club that I love.”
He continued, “It was a proper football match; there was a lot on the line, high stakes, against a world-class team. For us to compete was so incredible, we were so close, right in it, it could have gone either way.”
The Remarkable Journey
Newcastle’s journey to San Siro was not without its hurdles. In the early stages of the campaign, they became the first team to lose their first three group games against Dynamo Kyiv, Feyenoord, and Juventus. However, they mounted a remarkable comeback with memorable wins against all three in the reverse fixtures.
Back in those days, the Champions League featured two group stages. By the time they arrived in Milan, Newcastle desperately needed a victory. A heavy defeat by Inter in the first game, followed by a sobering loss to Barcelona in the Nou Camp rain, had dampened their spirits. However, successive wins over Bayer Leverkusen rekindled their hopes.
Although their dream ultimately ended with another loss to Barcelona at home, that night in Italy became famous more for the atmosphere than the football itself. The San Siro’s aura left an indelible mark on everyone present.
Matthew Philpotts, a writer for the True Faith Fanzine, aptly summarized the experience, saying, “It was about the experience as much as the result. Shearer’s goal in front of the away end is etched on the memory. It seemed like everyone you knew was in Milan. The sheer number of fans was impressive.”
Robson’s Unique Squad
Sir Bobby Robson played a pivotal role in Newcastle’s meteoric rise. Taking charge in September 1999, he masterminded a squad that blended youthful exuberance with experience, making them as unpredictable as they were talented. They finished fourth in 2002, showcasing their prowess.
“We had a lot of really energetic players like Jermaine Jenas, Kieron Dyer, Craig Bellamy, and Laurent Robert,” recalled Caldwell. “The balance of that with Alan Shearer, Shay Given, Gary Speed was really unique and made us difficult to play against.”
He continued, “That squad was combustible. It wasn’t the same kind of people; it was hard to keep everyone on track, and Bobby did that excellently.”
The Journey’s Pinnacle
The Champions League journey had its share of ups and downs. After a disappointing 2-0 defeat in Kyiv, compounded by a retrospective ban for Bellamy, they faced setbacks against Feyenoord and Juventus. However, a memorable victory over Juventus at St James’ Park reignited their spirits, with defender Andy Griffin becoming an unlikely hero.
“People will remember me for that goal and that game,” Griffin asserted. “Whether I scored the goal or not, it doesn’t matter. The fact I started against Juventus, played 90 minutes, and was involved in the goal and a win was good enough.”
As they ventured into the heart of the campaign, Newcastle’s clash with Feyenoord became legendary. Leading 2-0 thanks to Bellamy and Hugo Viana, the Dutch side mounted a swift comeback, leveling the score. In a dramatic twist, Bellamy scored in stoppage time to send the fans into a frenzy.
“It was crazy,” Caldwell recalled. “It is not often you lose yourself and become like a fan. We were so engrossed in the game.”
“It was very much an emotional rollercoaster,” added Griffin. “The final whistle went, and our celebrations had to be put on hold because we had to wait for the result from Kyiv. Juventus beat Kyiv, which meant we qualified for the second group phase.”
Bellamy’s Fiery Character
Craig Bellamy’s fiery personality epitomized the spirit of that squad. He could be feisty, but Robson knew how to get the best out of him when it mattered most.
“Bellamy was a feisty little character,” recalled chief scout Charlie Woods. “That was what made him so good. His contribution to the team was huge.”
He continued, “Bobby wanted Shearer to play between the lines of the 18-yard box, and he’d get Dyer and Bellamy to make runs in behind and get balls into the box. Alan was a great finisher. Bobby’s man management was always great. He knew when to have a go and when to put his arm around people when it was necessary. He dealt with Bellamy superbly.”
For two decades, Sir Bobby Robson’s Newcastle team has been immortalized for their remarkable exploits in the Champions League. As Eddie Howe’s men prepare to step onto the same stage, the anticipation on Tyneside is electric, as fans hope to witness a new chapter of unforgettable memories unfold.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Champions League Revival
Q: What is the significance of Newcastle’s Champions League campaign in 2003 mentioned in the article?
A: Newcastle’s Champions League campaign in 2003 holds immense significance as it marked a historic moment for the club. It showcased their ability to compete with some of Europe’s elite teams like Juventus, Inter Milan, and Barcelona. Despite not progressing further in the tournament, their journey, including memorable victories and iconic moments, has left a lasting impact on the club’s history and the memories of fans.
Q: Who were some key players mentioned in the text that contributed to Newcastle’s success in the Champions League campaign?
A: Several key players were instrumental in Newcastle’s success during the Champions League campaign. Alan Shearer, the club’s all-time leading scorer in Europe with 30 goals, played a pivotal role. Other notable players included Jermaine Jenas, Kieron Dyer, Craig Bellamy, Shay Given, and Gary Speed, who formed a unique and talented squad under the guidance of manager Sir Bobby Robson.
Q: How did Newcastle manage to progress in the Champions League despite losing their first three group games?
A: Newcastle’s progress in the Champions League, despite losing their first three group games, was a testament to their resilience and determination. After the initial setbacks against Dynamo Kyiv, Feyenoord, and Juventus, they staged a remarkable comeback by winning the reverse fixtures. This included famous victories against all three opponents. Their ability to bounce back from adversity was a defining characteristic of their campaign.
Q: What made the San Siro stadium in Milan so special in the context of Newcastle’s Champions League journey?
A: The San Siro stadium in Milan held immense significance for Newcastle’s Champions League journey. It was an iconic venue, often associated with football memories, and seeing Newcastle play there was a dream come true for many fans. The atmosphere and experience at the San Siro were unforgettable, making it a memorable chapter in the club’s history.
Q: How did manager Sir Bobby Robson contribute to Newcastle’s success in the Champions League campaign?
A: Sir Bobby Robson played a crucial role in Newcastle’s success during the Champions League campaign. He took charge of the team in 1999 and built a squad that blended youthful energy with experience. His adept man-management skills helped harness the talents of players like Craig Bellamy and ensured that the squad remained competitive and cohesive. Robson’s passion for the club and his tactical acumen were key factors in Newcastle’s impressive run in the tournament.
More about Champions League Revival
Newcastle United Official Website: The official website of Newcastle United, where you can find up-to-date information about the club’s history and current activities.
UEFA Champions League Official Website: The official website of the UEFA Champions League, providing comprehensive coverage of the tournament’s history, teams, and current events.
San Siro Stadium: Explore the official website of San Siro Stadium in Milan, Italy, to learn more about its rich footballing history and significance in the world of sports.
Sir Bobby Robson Foundation: The official website of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, a charitable organization that continues to make a positive impact in the fight against cancer, carrying forward the legacy of the legendary manager.
True Faith Fanzine: Visit the True Faith Fanzine website for in-depth articles and fan perspectives on Newcastle United and their historical moments, including the Champions League campaign.