Eddie Howe has reacted to the news that Strawberry Place is back under the control of Newcastle United - four years after it was controversially sold by Mike Ashley.
The former Magpies owner offloaded the land to private developers for £9million, and plans to construct 328 flats, an office block and a 213-bedroom hotel had been given the green light by Newcastle City Council.
However, progress stuttered when previous developers High Street Group fell into administration. After a 12-month-long negotiation - led by co-owner Mehrdad Ghodoussi, the site has been purchased back by the football club.
That will allow United to explore plans to expand St James’ Park’s capacity, more specifically the Gallowgate End, which was near enough impossible to extend without the acquisition of Strawberry Place.
“I think I’ve said many times St James’ Park is an unbelievable place to play football, and to be part of that experience every week is a brilliant thing,” said head coach Howe. “Anything we can do to enhance that for the supporters I’m fully behind.
“If there is an opportunity to expand and make it bigger, I don’t think we’ll have an issue selling the tickets currently and make the atmosphere and opportunity for people even better to come and watch us.”
Under Freddy Shepherd, plans to expand the stadium’s capacity to 60,000 had been drawn up, though they were subsequently binned during Ashley’s cost-cutting 16-year tenure.
Despite the major breakthrough, it is understood that the immediate plan is to turn Strawberry Place into a fanzone. But when the time comes to extend St James’ Park, Howe hopes he’ll still be at the helm to see it.
“Naturally, I hope my time doesn’t come before then,” the 45-year-old said. “But you can’t control that. I want to do everything in my power to make Newcastle stronger for the here and now and the future. Making the club stronger every day is a big focus of mine.
“I’m not in control of the stadium plans, but I would love to see more opportunity for people to come. If that’s a possibility then I’m all for it.”