That all have flourished, unexpectedly, under Howe has burnished Newcastle’s underdog sheen, one that fits neatly with the club’s and the city’s sense of itself. There is something inherently romantic about the restoration of Newcastle. In one light, it is a rare and precious feel-good story for English soccer. The problem is that, in another, it really isn’t.
Every couple of minutes, Bill Corcoran has to put the brakes on his train of thought to engage another fan wanting to throw a some coins or a folded bank note into his collection bucket. A volunteer for Newcastle’s West End Foodbank, Corcoran greets them all like old friends.
He chews the fat with each of them about the evening’s game. Only lowly Southampton, bottom of the Premier League and on the verge of firing its coach for the second time this season, stood in between Newcastle and Wembley. Most of the fans, though, seem suspicious of this state of affairs. A twist, they assume, is coming. Loving a team and trusting it are very different things.
In between, without missing a beat, Corcoran returns to the subject at hand. Or, rather, subjects: At various points, he sweeps in the Tasmanian genocide of the 1820s, the relative merits of freeing Julian Assange, the Irish famine and the history of the Mikasa, a 20th-century Japanese battleship. This is not traditional pregame chatter.
It is, though, indicative of the strange intellectual territory Newcastle’s fans have found themselves occupying over the last 18 months, ever since their club was purchased by a consortium fronted by the British financier Amanda Staveley and her husband, Mehrdad Ghodoussi, but backed largely by the Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s enormous sovereign wealth fund.