Newcastle United will play in the Champions League this week for the first time in over 20 years.
It’s been a long and rocky road to get here for the Magpies, but the excitement level on Tyneside is through the roof as they prepare to take on AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund.
And in the lead-up to the first match against Milan at the San Siro, the latest manager to take Newcastle on a European trip, Alan Pardew, reflected on the Toon’s upcoming Champions League campaign.
Speaking exclusively to talkSPORT.com, he said: “They were never going to be an easy group because they were in pot four.
“These games are going to be high profile against teams that are much more established and have a lot more experience than Newcastle.
“But Newcastle were the only team in pot four that no one wanted, believe me.
“The power of new ownership, the leadership of Eddie Howe and a great team make for a powerful combination.
“I think fans will wear them, especially at home games.
“They need to get a draw because at home these other teams are going to find it an experience.”
Pardew spent just over four years on Tyneside and saw the best of St James’ Park on those few European nights.
And he shares the elation of Newcastle supporters across the country as the Magpies join Europe’s elite.
“I’m so excited for them and I think they’ll make it (to the round of 16).
“They had a few defeats, but I don’t think that reflects the quality of the team.”
The former West Ham boss led the Magpies to fifth place in the 2011/12 season, which saw the Toon qualify for the Europa League.
Newcastle reached the quarter-finals only to be eliminated by Benfica after a courageous display, while in the league they finished 16th, with a team stretched to their limits.
But those nights were special.
“It was a great experience, and the whole dynamic of traveling and playing every few days was new to us.
“I really enjoyed it and I know the players did.
“The fans embraced it.
“There was some animosity towards the ownership when I was there, so it was a bit different, but we didn’t feel it, especially against Anzi Makhachalaka when Papiss Cissé scored a winner at the 90th minute – it was a fantastic night, and then Benfica had a fabulous night, but we couldn’t get that second goal.
“But they were great nights for the football club.”
These evenings are the only taste of European action some Newcastle supporters have ever experienced.
However, the club’s form in the Premier League has suffered due to the increasing number of matches, and Pardew has a warning for current boss Howe.
“He’s going to experience it, and he’s going to have to learn quickly, and unfortunately, after this European match you usually get a lot of bad news.
“The increase in the number of games creates all these dilemmas about whether to play people on the weekend, and you knew if they played and got injured you would blame yourself.
“You are under pressure to play against your best team in the Premier League and in Europe, which is very difficult.
“You don’t spend a lot of time on the training pitch, which is frustrating because you can’t do the job you would like.”
Newcastle begin their Champions League campaign after a 1-0 win over Brentford, but it hasn’t been the best start to the season.
And Pardew has some advice for his fellow Englishman.
“When we finished fifth, a few senior managers called me to warn me that it was going to be very difficult to replicate.
“And I think that’s very similar to Eddie’s position because there can be pressure from outside sources.
“But I don’t think his job is threatened by any stretch of the imagination.”
But despite a slow start and possible pressure, Pardew still expects a brilliant season for Newcastle.
“I still think they’re top four, even with these losses.”
Pardew’s time on Tyneside has had its ups and downs, but it has provided some of the greatest moments of the Mike Ashley era, and he is clearly delighted to see the Magpies return to Europe’s elite.