By Hannah Briffaut
It has been more than two years in the planning, but finally Olympic football comes to Tyneside this week, when the stadium plays host to two games of Olympic football on Thursday 26th July.
For the dozens of Newcastle United staff whose job it has been to get the stadium ready, it is hard to believe that 24 months of intense planning, organising and managing will soon be coming to a close.
Newcastle United have worked with the City Council, LOCOG and several other organisations to ensure that the club and the city can play host to the Olympic dream on Tyneside. But, as staff at the club soon learned, Olympic preparation and logistics is in a different league to the Premiership.
An additional 440 staff, stewards and security officials have been recruited and trained, and newly installed cabling for live TV broadcasts and online communications stretch over 15 miles - enough to cable to run from St James' Park to the coast and back! The existing home and away dressing rooms remain, but an additional two dressing rooms have also been created to allow for the double-header on Thursday when Mexico take on South Korea and Gabon face Switzerland. The luxurious Players' Lounge, where players and their families relax after home games, has been turned - temporarily - into a dressing room with showers, treatment tables and lockers.
As with all Olympic venues, to comply with advertising rules up to 30,000 posters, team photos, hoardings and signage have been temporarily covered for the period of the games. And over a dozen new rooms within the stadium have been created to house international media, Olympics organisers and match officials.
Newcastle United's stadium manager, Eddie Rutherford, said: "The process of preparing for the Olympics has been a big team effort, not just amongst our staff at the club, but with hundreds of newly-recruited Olympics staff, our colleagues at the City Council, emergency services and local contractors amongst others.
"By having such a diverse group of people working together it provides a wealth of expertise and knowledge to make the Olympics a once in a life time experience."
To ensure that the Olympics provides an enjoyable, family-friendly, safe and secure environment, additional security measures have been put in place at the ground and multi-agency security protocols have been tried and tested repeatedly.
Steve Storey, head of security at Newcastle United, said: "It's our priority to ensure that people have a safe and enjoyable Olympics experience in Newcastle. The preparations we've made from a security point-of-view are very different from those in place for Premier League games. Fans coming to the games will go through an airport-style security experience for everyone's safety and peace-of-mind. It's definitely worth them turning up far earlier for the games than they would for a normal Premier League match, to allow time to get supporters through the search area."
Unlike a Premiership match, there will be no segregation between the opposing fans in the stands, with the focus on promoting the 'Olympic spirit' as opposed to rivalry.
Arguably the hardest work of all, however, starts when the Olympics ends. Staff at Newcastle United have just two weeks from the end of the Games to put everything back to normal in time for the new football season. Steve added: "The main challenge will be getting everything changed back to normal within such a tight time scale. But nothing is impossible, and with the great team we have here I know that we will be up and running back to normal in no time."