THE noise grew. Everywhere you looked Newcastle fans were on their feet, United, at last, in song. St James’ Park was rocking, a noise that carried down from the cathedral at the top of the hill, down through the city.
It felt like celebration.
Newcastle, incredibly, were facing relegation.
It was instead the final, desperate call of a support for the manager, Rafa Benitez, to stay.
On Sunday, May 15, the last day of the 2015/16 season, Newcastle faced Tottenham Hotspur at St James’ Park. The club had been relegated – for the second time in seven years – three days earlier.
It should have been a sombre afternoon, the curtain falling once again on top flight football on Tyneside; a miserable period in the club’s history once more ending in demotion.
Instead, a packed stadium rocked.
Spurs, pushing for a runners-up spot, were blown away. A cacophony of sound filled St James’. Five times Newcastle scored, with each goal, the backing for a man sat in the home dugout grew.
From its darkest hour, a football club was stirring back to life
Benitez, a Champions League winner, had made the stunning move to take over the troubled club with 10 games in the campaign remaining. There was not enough time.
Still, the Spaniard had fallen into the hearts of the people of Tyneside. His song reverberated around the ground.
His friends and family were in the stadium. They could not believe the backing. Benitez would later admit it was a key moment in the fight to keep him, with a club in the second tier of English football.
His job was huge, to galvanise, and indeed resurrect a club and its football obsessed city.
He had to strip away years of neglect, breathe life into flawed structures, clear dressing rooms, rebuild belief, attempt to give the people of Newcastle their pride back.
And then face, for the first time, in his career, the unique demands of a season in the Championship.
People waited for him to fail in a league he was not supposed to understand.
Rafa’s Way tells the story of the remarkable campaign, the turnaround in the fortunes of Newcastle United and the dramatic promotion. It charts Benitez’s overhaul of everything within a troubled club, his impact on its city, how he went out to reach those who had persuaded him to stay and how he immersed himself in a community.
It tells how the people of Tyneside fell in love with Rafa Benitez, the Madrid-born son of a nurse and a hotel director, how he rebooted and rebuilt a football club and took it from its knees and relegation to a dramatic, immediate return to the Premier League.
Rafa’s Way talks in-depth to Benitez, about his beliefs and the challenge he faced, to the players, the key men in black and white stripes who made Newcastle United champions, and delves into the very heart of a football club as it emerged from the ashes.