Without penning my autobiography, my United fandom began aged 10 around 1995 and nearly 200 miles away from Newcastle in Chester, in the North West. I was indoctrinated by my Geordie neighbour who had Sky Sports (we didn’t). Fast forward many years (including about 10 years ago a few months living in the city completing a journalism course), with a week off work I suggested 24 hours in Toon, my wife having never been before and our toddler son infatuated with castles, trains and bridges.

I swiftly pulled together an itinerary, the museum, the new castle, the Baltic (future reference it’s closed Mondays and Tuesdays) … “why don’t we do a tour of the stadium? It’ll be fun” my wife said. Having tried to avoid any unnecessary contact with the club, I was sceptical but thought at worse it could be a few hours out of the rain.

A bit excited, against my better judgement, and also hoping that I might coincidentally witness Joe Willock’s unveiling we made our way up to the stadium – me bitterly explaining to my wife about how Ashley had sold off the land around the ground meaning it couldn’t now be expanded…to meet in the Milburn Reception for 12.30pm.

I would like to make clear at this point that every employee from the club who we met was professional, friendly, welcoming and proud of the club. This is by no means a smear on them.

The first thing that struck me was how busy it was. I’ve no idea how many spaces there are for each tour but there was getting on for 30 people. I genuinely thought it might just be the three of us. People had travelled from Glasgow, Reading, Derby and a couple from Bangkok, Thailand. The bloke in a home shirt and a Brown Ale branded face mask. The first reminder of the global reach of this once great establishment. (As an aside, I was in Thailand seeing family a few years back at a market where a trader promised he had every kit from every club from all over the world – “who do you support?” – “Newcastle…” – “oh, we don’t have them,” he said, abashed).

We took the lifts up to the fifth-floor boxes, stepped out into a corridor, much like the floor of a hotel, then out into a stairwell where a rolling shutter was lifted (accompanied by some piped in fan noise) to the Milburn stand.

Our guide enthusiastically told the story of the stadium’s development and ended by explaining that the land being sold meant the stadium could no longer be expanded, diplomatically, and stoically, adding that who knew whether it ever would have been…

Next stop, back to the corporate boxes. We were invited to take a look inside, see if we could guess whose box it was? On one side of the entrance lobby was NUFC’s – for those players who don’t make the match day squad and the only box which doesn’t serve alcohol (God knows the others need it) – stepping inside the pictures on the wall were the giveaway –rare action shots of Jonjo Shelvey (bit narcissistic perhaps in your own box?). The name adorning the door supposedly one of his pet dogs. I wasn’t sure what to make of that association, dogged certainly isn’t the underwhelming midfielder’s forte. And having never heard him speak, I hadn’t thought he might have a sense of humour. I was also surprised that of all the players, he was the one who had a box. It suggests at least some level of allegiance.

Stepping out the lavish room to the pitch we were met with several rows of black, leather, monogrammed seats, our tour guide pointed out several other boxes around the ground, “Ant and Dec used to have one there…” and “Alan Shearer’s was over there… they don’t have them anymore…”, a painful reminder of how the club’s most fervent and high-profile champions have turned, or been turned, away in recent times.

It was at this point, unprompted, our guide explained that the club has control over the traffic lights outside the stadium to ensure its players, such as Shelvey, can make a speedy getaway after a match… surely a well-worn switch in recent seasons and remarkably prescient.

Next we were walked through the suites, the late great Sir Bobby remembered with a banqueting hall for wealthy diners, along corridors postered with faces of former players, including Olympic gold triple jumper Greg Rutherford’s great-grandfather John who is still the club’s youngest scorer from 1902, only further reminding us of the club’s lack of recent success. Beyond that, the “chairman’s suite”, where visitors on the tour booed as we passed.

Around the corner were more wall graphics awkwardly celebrating “one Alan Shearer” by listing the numerous Smiths and Wilsons who had played for the club in its history (though not including last season’s top scorer and this term’s number 9 Callum, despite almost 12 months on Tyneside).

Stepping out to the pitch side, we were greeted by some smarter, more cushioned seats for the directors. In front was a counter with empty housing and loose cables on show. Apparently installed at the request of Sam Allardyce in 2007 who wanted two screens, one to show the game in real time and the other slow-motion replays of the action. It was also used by Steve McClaren. This was spoken about as if it was the latest innovative addition to the stadium (perhaps it is) but presumably the housing has been left in place, and empty, for the last five years.

Directly to our right, on row KK, were two seats for the Robson family where Sir Bobby watched the match. Yet another poignant reminder.

From here we entered the players’ entrance. To the left a bust of Jackie Milburn, to their right, Sir Bobby, and the walls adorned with heroes from the past, only serving to highlight the club’s most recent triumph was 1969…

Beyond the double doors, the tunnel off the home and away dressing rooms. It was difficult to get excited about this being the spot where the players line up before the match when, with just days to go to until the start of a new season, there were screw holes in the walls and faded paint patches where presumably two large hoardings were hanged as well as a missing ceiling panel leaving electric cables poking out.

Into the home dressing room. A large television covered one wall, which was also installed at the request of Sam Allardyce. Steve Bruce prefers a whiteboard for his tactics.

Apparently, in the past, the club had towels monogrammed with the club crest, nowadays they’re just plain white. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it.

While the football may like sophistication, the players need only wave their hands in front of sensors to make the showers hotter or colder.

Inspiring and encouraging words, “the power to lift, to inspire, to achieve” were written in large black and gold letters at one end the room. A quick Google revealing these are a slogan of former kit manufacturer Puma. Not that Castore’s “Better Never Stops” is any more relevant.

Talking of Google, I thought I’d check the wifi – at least the dressing room network was ready for the new season – “Home Dressing Room 21-22”. Priorities.

By this point my exhausted almost three-year-old announced he was going to have a sleep (on Allan Saint Maximin’s seat)but was roused by the suggestion of going to play “footfall” and “see the grass”…

Our tour guide made him captain, lined us up and, accompanied by “Local Hero”, he held my hand and walked down the steps onto the pitch side. At that point, I forgot about Ashley, I forgot about the last 14 years and– appreciating how special a moment it was – was taken back to when I first fell in love with this club all those years ago.

After that, I felt melancholy. I was reminded of all the things that made me love Newcastle as well as everything which has been missing in recent years.

I also felt renewed hope. Excitement. Optimism stirring.

To borrow Kevin Keegan’s words, at some point “the best day will come when someone buys it (the club) from him (Ashley) and runs Newcastle like that club should be run”…

PAUL MANNION