Newcastle, meet in unknown territory for PSG. The two clubs face each other for the first time in their history this Wednesday (9 p.m.), at St-James Park. Unknown land ? Not for the many former Parisians who also wore the Magpies tunic. David Ginola as a scout, in 1995. “As a kid, I had Ginola's poster when he played for Newcastle in my room,” remembers Fabrice Pancrate, who rose to the Premier League with the Toons in 2011. In total, 11 players played for both clubs. Not to mention the many French people who have taken up residence in St-James Park over the years. “French culture began with our generation and Ruud Gullit, many succeeded and it has continued over time,” says Titi Didier Domi, who left the nest for Newcastle at the end of 98.
Newcastle, a club apart, which does not have the track record of the teams of Manchester, Liverpool, Chelsea or Arsenal, but “emblematic, with a monument of English football who wore its colors, Alan Shearer, and a coach like Bobby Robson », Underlines Laurent Robert, who also made the trip to the north of England on Tuesday with PSG. Possessed by the Magpies in 2001, the Réunionnais is also full of praise for St-James' Park. “Playing in this stadium was extraordinary... There is a communion, a sharing between the public and the players. They can warn you when an opponent is coming behind you and you haven't seen him. Even as a striker, when you do the defensive work or you make a tackle, you are voted man of the match. Above all, they are waiting for us to get our swimsuits wet. There is a real culture, a real passion, a DNA,” explains Robert, whose left paw delighted the fans of both clubs.
The atmosphere, the fervor, the culture? This is also what struck Domi, beIN SPORTS consultant in the Middle East and technical consultant for the PSG Academy in Qatar. “I'm not saying this because I've played there, but it's one of the three or four best crowds in England. It's the kind of city that lives for its club. It’s an atmosphere that is warm, in “British” mode. There are some atmospheres that we don't forget, and that's part of it, that's clear,” explains the former left-back, remembering having experienced the expansion of the stadium. “I started at 38,000, it was already super hot. I don't know how they managed to expand the stadium to 52,000... without closing it. We played with the cranes above our heads. Outstanding! I saw the change and there it became an oven, a cauldron,” he smiles. It will obviously be full this Wednesday evening.
It was already there when Pancrate played there in the Championship, so you imagine, in the Champions League, 20 years after the last campaign in C1… “Newcastle, beyond the prize list, is one of the most popular in England. We talk a lot about Liverpool fans, but Newcastle fans have an incomparable fervor. Wherever they move, they come in droves. I went to see their match at Chelsea last season, all you could hear was them at Stamford Bridge! Well, it's not very difficult to drown out the chants of the Blues supporters, but still (smile). It is a reference, and a religion for them. From children to grandparents, everyone goes to the stadium dressed head to toe in black and white. It’s impressive, it’s beautiful and it boosts,” assures the former winger, evoking a “very special relationship” between the team and its public. “The players give back to them. Whether you lose or win, they are behind their team. Besides, there is never any overflow,” notes the Paris native, who only regrets one thing: having only spent one season there due to a disagreement between agents.
It must be said that beyond the club, the city of Newcastle is pleasant to live in. “It’s become nice over time. Over the last 20 years, everything has improved, the infrastructure, everything. It's still a bit of an industrial town, but that started to change when I arrived. There was a real rehabilitation project around the Tyne and almost everywhere. It’s not London, but it’s nice,” promises Didier Domi, Fabrice Pancrate referring to “a city that moves contrary to what you might think.” Laurent Robert immediately “felt at home” there. Having passed through Montpellier after having experienced the heat of his native Réunion, he was not more shocked than that by the climate. “I was colder in the winter in Paris than in Newcastle! There is no photo. I've never had a frozen pitch here in Newcastle, he laughs. We feel good here. The supporters are very respectful when they meet you in the street, in the supermarket... It's very pleasant.
On the subject of club culture, Pancrate adds: “When the week starts, they are already looking forward to the weekend to see their team play. You can feel it in the streets, around the stadium, in training... In D2, it was the same. Even though it was the Championship, winning a trophy was great. Celebration ? I didn’t follow, I only did one evening, I don’t have their rhythm, they have a hell of a descent (laughs),” he laughs, emphasizing that the stadium fills up late . “You arrive for the warm-up, the stands are sparse, you come back, the stadium is suddenly full. In fact, they're all at the refreshment bar! They know how to combine celebration and football, it was great to see.”
On the PSG side, we can only hope that the party will not be too crazy after the match, this will be a good sign for the result after a meeting in the form of a “test” for Didier Domi. “In the middle, it's no laughing matter, they are in the impact, very physical, box to box, they run a lot and they press a lot. So it’s a great test for PSG and its environment, to see how they can get out of the pressure,” he says. “Be careful of the trap because St-James' Park is something... It will push very hard from the start,” warns Fabrice Pancrate, also saying he is “surprised” to see to what extent the rich Saudi owners “have recruited smartly” since 2021, when we could have expected big names. “They are very good players, a team that plays as a team, which makes sense,” he adds.
Perfect example, Laurent Robert cited half of the team when asked to highlight the players to follow, with all the same a “small weak point on the left in defense”, Dan Burn. “He lacks speed even though he has a big character and he fights well.” And to summarize: “It’s a good, very balanced team.” Obviously, "there's also some heavy stuff ahead" on the Parisian side, as Robert is quick to add, who will not fail to support the Rouge et Bleu in the stands at St-James' Park. Inviting former members of the house, an initiative that we can also welcome on the Paris-SG side, in order to maintain a link with the history of the club.