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Newcastle Women start life at St James’ Park with a win in front of 22,000 fans

Newcastle United v Norwich City – Premier League – St James’ Park
(Image credit: Mike Egerton)

Becky Langley praised her role models as Newcastle Women attracted a crowd of more than 22,000 on their debut at St James’ Park.

Co-owner Amanda Staveley and husband Mehrdad Ghodoussi, as well as men’s head coach Eddie Howe, were among a crowd of 22,134 at St James’ Park – almost 1,400 more than watched Burnley win at Watford in the Premier League on Saturday afternoon – as the Magpies beat Alnwick Town 4-0 in the fourth tier of the women’s football pyramid.

A club which has been thrust under the spotlight since Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund acquired an 80 per cent share has been accused of sportswashing by campaigners highlighting the Gulf state’s human rights record with restrictions on women, who were only granted permission to drive in the kingdom in 2018, one of their focuses.

Manager Langley said: “There are some fantastic female role models on the pitch and that’s really what I want to focus on. The girls that were playing in front of 22,000 fans have inspired other females.

“We want equality, we want women to be shown in a fantastic light, and there are some great female footballers who are great girls off the pitch, but they’re also fantastic players and a lot of young girls and boys are very inspired by that today.”

A day after the Magpies’ men went down 1-0 to Premier League title-chasing Liverpool in front of a crowd of 52,281 on Gallowgate, their women’s side took to the same hallowed turf.

Such was the interest in the FA Women’s National League Division One North clash with Alnwick Town, kick-off was delayed by 15 minutes to allow spectators queueing outside the stadium to be admitted.

On the night her consortium’s takeover was confirmed in November last year, Staveley made a point of signalling her intention to invest in the women’s team.

She said: “Personally, I’m a big fan of women’s football – I’m a girl that never got to play football, so I’d like to see investment into Newcastle’s women’s team.”

A remarkable turnout suggested there is an appetite on Tyneside for what Staveley hopes to do.

Katie Barker’s 29th goal of the season handed the home side a 28th-minute lead, prompting the striker to mimic Alan Shearer’s trademark celebration.

Barker said afterwards: “Obviously I had to do a Shearer. It would be rude not to, wouldn’t it? It’s such an iconic celebration.

“He sent us a message of good luck today and he had said, ‘If anyone scores, I want to see it’, so I had to do it for him.”

Skipper Brooke Cochrane, playing her penultimate game for the club before retirement, converted a 35th-minute penalty, and Georgia Gibson’s fine run and finish and a twice-taken Beth Guy spot-kick after the break completed the job.

Newcastle’s lingering hopes of promotion were dashed by Liverpool Feds’ 6-1 win over FC United of Manchester, but as Staveley and Ghodoussi congratulated Langley and her players on the touchline after the final whistle, thoughts were already turning to the future.

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