IT was an evening of nostalgia. A night of when fading memories were given fresh colour.
It was a chance to forget the present, and wallow in the past.
Newcastle United failed to win a major trophy during Steve Harper’s 20 years at St James’s Park.
But the teams of Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson had a go at winning things. There was ambition at the club. The defeats were sometimes glorious.
Unanswered questions about the future of Newcastle were put to one side as 50,793 came through the turnstiles to honour Harper’s career on Tyneside.
There were many sub-plots against AC Milan Glorie, including Alan Shearer’s contest with Franco Baresi.
As it was, Baresi left the field with his arm around Shearer at the break. The legendary Italian defender had kept Shearer off the scoresheet. He had a smile on his face.
No one scored in the end. But that didn’t matter.
Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan back were also back in black and white, and there was the remarkable sight of the Sunderland manager – Paolo Di Canio – taking to the field at St James’s Park as an opposition player.
The two teams were given a fiery welcome as they walked, player by player, on to the field.
An especially fiery welcome as reserved for Di Canio, who seemed to revel in his status as the pantomime villain.
The last to emerge from the tunnel was Harper. The applause from players and fans alike was warm and genuine.
And the affection that’s felt on Tyneside towards Harper – no player has served the club longer than the 38-year-old – was backed up by the size of the crowd. Only a few corporate areas weren’t sold out. Every other seat in the ground was filled.
The game was sedate in the early stages, though that suited Milan. After soaking up some early pressure, they had Newcastle pinned back in their half.
It took a fine save from Harper to deny Paolo Maldini an opening goal, and Gianluigi Lentini almost got on the end of an inviting low cross from Di Canio, easily the most industrious player in the first half hour.
In fact, Di Canio looked like he could still do a job for Sunderland.
At the other end of the pitch, an overhead kick from substitute Faustino Asprilla was blocked.
Lee Bowyer also forced a save from Sebastiano Rossi with a low drive.
The second half was punctuated by changes – Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan were among those introduced – after Asprilla had a header ruled out for offside.
In the build-up to the game Barton had joked about “emptying out” Di Canio on Twitter.
And he took a swipe at Di Canio minutes after coming on to the pitch. The kick drew one of the biggest cheers of the night.
Massimo Taibi denied substitutes Alan Thompson and Paul Kitson, and Andy Cole struck the post.
A nice touch was the introduction of the late Gary Speed’s son’s Ed and Tommy for the last five minutes.
It ended in a goalless draw. Harper, Shay Given and Pavel Srnicek had, between them, kept a clean sheet. Harper, the goalkeeping union stalwart, will have liked that.
As it was, AC Milan won 2-1 on penalties, with Thompson netting for United. Srnicek was in goal for Newcastle, and Harper saw his spot kick saved.
But stopping goals, not scoring them, was Harper’s forte, as he showed over two decades at the club.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Harper (Given, Srnicek); Solano (Watson, Stone), Peacock (Kilcline, Bernard), Dabizas, Beresford (Pistone); Fox (Gillespie, Kitson, Nolan), Bowyer (Barton), Lee (Butt, Nolan, E Speed), Ginola (Sellars, Thompson); Shearer (Beardsley, T Speed), Ferdinand (Asprilla, Cole).
AC MILAN: Rossi; Pancaro, Baresi, Favalli, Maldini; Oddo, Costacurta, van Bommel, Lentini; Di Canio, Ganz.