Newcastle United 1968-69 – the last chorus of Blaydon Races

NEWCASTLE UNITED fans like to think of their club as one of the truly big footballing institutions in the country, and in terms of the Magpies’ support, heritage and potential, they are not too far wrong. But the problem is that Newcastle’s glory days are now more than half a century away and the era in which they were indeed the top club in Britain go back to the gas-lamp.

Mystery Magpies

The last triumph was in 1968-69, the curiously-named Inter Cities Fairs Cup, the tongue-tied elder brother of the UEFA Cup, which was the father of the bastard child that is now the Europa League. The pity of it is that the Fairs’ Cup is guilty by association and while in 1969, it meant something real, the plight of Europa has devalued the entire series of competitions. A shame, because as you will discover, the old Fairs and UEFA Cups were very strong – “harder to win”, said one journalist when comparing it to the old European Cup.

That Newcastle were in the competition at all was something of a mystery. In 1967-68, they finished 10th, but because of the Fairs’ Cup’s “one club, one city” rule, Newcastle scraped in. Liverpool (3rd) and Leeds (4th) were both qualifiers, Everton (5th) were not permitted, Chelsea (6th) were in, Tottenham (7th) were not permitted, WBA (8th) had qualified for the European Cup Winners’ Cup, Arsenal (9th) were not permitted, so the final place went to 10th placed Newcastle!

Joe Harvey’s side went into the 1968-69 season with just one new face, Partick Thistle’s Tommy Gibb. There was little hint that the European campaign would be as exciting as it turned out. Newcastle’s home form was good, but away from home, they were something of a soft touch. With players like the under-rated Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson, Welsh international forward Wyn Davies – who had taken his time to settle in after joining the club from Bolton in 1966-  Irish international goalkeeper Iam McFaul and skipper Bobby Moncur, Harvey had some talent to call upon, but consistency and strength in depth was always a problem.


Date of birth



Previous club


Willie Mcfaul


October 1, 1943





David Craig


June 8, 1944





Frank Clark


September 9, 1943

County Durham


Crook Town


Tommy Gibb


December 13, 1944



Partick Thistle


Ollie Burton


November 11, 1941



Norwich City


Bobby Moncur


January 19, 1945





Jim Scott


August 21, 1940





Bryan Robson


November 11, 1945





Wyn Davies


March 20, 1942



Bolton Wands.


Preben Arentoft


November 1, 1942



Greenock Morton


Jackie Sinclair


July 21, 1943

Culross, Fife


Leicester City


Alan Foggon


February 23, 1950

County Durham




Holland, Portugal, Spain and Scotland

In the first round, Newcastle were drawn at home to Feyenoord, who a year later would be crowned European champions. Feyenoord had almost half of the Dutch international side, a nascent team that would eventually almost conquer World football. The first leg was a resounding 4-0 win for the Geordies, surely enough to see Feyenoord off. Over in Rotterdam, the Dutch scored twice but that four-goal win proved too much.

In the next round, Newcastle were seconds away from winning in Lisbon against a formidable Sporting, but conceded a last-gasp equaliser. In the second leg, a magnificent goal from Pop Robson settled the tie 2-1 on aggregate. This was an impressive win – Sporting were runners-up in Portugal to the mighty Benfica.

Real Zaragoza were next and in Spain, Newcastle were beaten 2-3. Back at St.James’ Park, 56,000 people turned up to see the second leg on a bitter night. Robson and Tommy Gibb scored to give United a 2-0 lead but Zaragoza pulled one back making it a nervous finale. Newcastle hung on to go through on the away goals rule. The next round was a meeting with another Portuguese side, Setubal,  but a 5-1 win at home virtually sealed a place in the last four. Setubal won 3-1 in the second leg, so it was 6-4 over the two legs.

Glasgow Rangers were the opponents in the semi-finals. Almost 76,000 saw the first leg at Ibrox Park, a Fairs Cup record crowd. Iam McFaul was Newcastle’s hero, saving a penalty from Andy Penman as the game ended 0-0. The second leg was marred by crowd violence, but goals from Jimmy Smith and Jackie Sinclair sent Joe Harvey’s men through to the final to meet Ujpest Dosza, then referred to – as all Eastern European sides were in those days – as  the crack Hungarians.

Moncur’s moments

Újpest Dózsa breezed past Goztepe Izmir in the semi-final, but it was their two-legged victory (3-0) over Don Revie’s Leeds that prompted people to say Ujpest were “the best team in Europe”. A little elaborate praise, perhaps, but Ujpest were a tough outfit and they had Ferenc Bene, one of the successors to the Mighty Magyars of the 1950s, in their ranks. They had also beaten Aris Thessaloniki and Legia Warsaw on route to the final and received a bye against Union Luxembourg, a game that would surely have caused them no difficulties. Their route to the final had been somewhat easier than the Geordies.

The first leg at St. James’ Park was tight for 45 minutes, but in the early stages of the second half, a free kick by Tommy Gibb was aimed at the head of Wyn Davies, who sent the ball goalwards, only for Újpest Dózsa keeper Antal Szentmihalyi to save. As the ball spun out, Moncur left-footed it just inside the post. His first goal for the club. Ten minutes later, he did it again, playing a wall pass with Danish midfielder Preben Arentoft before hitting another left-foot drive low past the keeper.

Newcastle scored again through Jimmy Scott, a surging run, a one-two with Arentoft and as he squeezed past a defender, he lifted the ball over the advancing goalie. Three-nil to the good, surely Newcastle were home and dry?

It was June before Newcastle travelled to Hungary and were under pressure from the kick-off in the Nep Stadium, the scene of England’s humiliation in the 1950s.  Bene, the danger man, scored after 30 minutes. Just before the interval, Janos Gorocs extended Újpest Dózsa’s lead. By the 50th minute, Newcastle were level, Moncur – incredibly – scoring on 46 and Arentoft, with plenty of space, shooting the equaliser on 50.

With 16 minutes remaining, substitute Alan Foggon, a player rich in promise but ultimately, falling short of fulfilling it, went on a long run, struck the crossbar and followed up to score Newcastle’s third. The aggregate score was now 6-2. Newcastle had their successors to “Wor Jackie”.


Newcastle’s success was considerable. After all, the clubs they beat on the way to winning the Fairs Cup were all highly-ranked. With the exception of themselves, they would mostly be competing in the Champions League today. But Newcastle failed to build upon this achievement. They are still waiting for their next piece of silverware. It’s long overdue, but the “Toon” regulars won’t need reminding of that.

Tottenham Hotspur 1951 – a first league title for the Spurs

LONDON was slow off the mark in winning football trophies, but in the 1930s, Arsenal became the first team from the capital to win the championship. This opened a period of unparalleled success for the Gunners and cast other London clubs into the shadows – including Tottenham, who had won two FA Cups (1901 and 1921) before Arsenal found the secret to success. In the early 1950s, Arsenal found their place as London’s top club under threat from their north of the river rivals.[1]

Tottenham has spent 15 years in the second division by the time they won promotion in 1950 under Arthur Rowe. The club, despite drawing big crowds to White Hart Lane, had become something of an underachiever but the appointment of Rowe, a former player and highly regarded coach, had sent Spurs back into the top flight with a team that played eye-catching football.

Rowe was heavily influenced by continental methods and was offered the job of Hungary’s coach before he arrived back at Tottenham, the club he loved. Some claim Rowe influenced the legendary Mighty Magyars of the 1950s, but it is without doubt that two of the greats of English football management, Bill Nicholson and Alf Ramsey both benefitted from their association with him.

Rowe’s methods became known as “Push and Run”, a term he did not appreciate as he felt it was an inadequate description of his approach. It was a system that was both pragmatic and enterprising, relying on quick, short-passing and optimal use of space. Rowe saw the Arsenal style of the 1930s as quite negative although many teams tried to copy it without having the resources to pull it off. Rowe said: “Our method is better – to obtain an appreciation of the fact that the team is more important than the individual. I feel that the individual gets more benefit, too.” [2]

Rowe was appointed manager in 1949, succeeding Joe Hulme. His first signing was Alf Ramsey, a Dagenham-born full back from Southampton. The rest of the squad had been with the club for some time, including the likes of skipper Ronnie Burgess, big-handed goalkeeper Ted Ditchburn and Bill Nicholson, whose careers started before the second world war. Nicholson revealed years later, that Rowe liked to use phrases and sayings that captured the essence of the way he wanted his side to play: “A rolling ball gathers no moss”, “the team makes the stars, not the stars the team”, “make it simple, make it quick”, and so on.

“I never got more pleasure from the game than what the 1951 team gave to me” – Arthur Rowe.

Although this all sounds very simple, the fact is, Tottenham’s style was somewhat revolutionary at the time. In 1949-50, Spurs steamrollered the second division, winning the title by nine points. They also beat first division Sunderland 5-1 (who finished third in 1949-50) in the FA Cup to emphasise their strength.

Once back in the first division, Spurs had something of a wake-up call on the opening day. They were beaten 4-1 at home by Blackpool, with Stanley Matthews running full back Charlie Withers ragged. Spurs were too anxious which was a problem given their passing game relied heavily on calmness and clear heads. They recovered from that setback and it was not long before they were playing with confidence and conviction once more.

In fact, Spurs started to demonstrate their approach was a vision of the future and an antidote to the gloom that had descended upon English football after their calamitous World Cup in Brazil, which included the 1-0 defeat against a USA team in Belo Horizonte. Attendances in 1950-51 were in decline following the post-war boom and by the end of the season, top division gates had fallen by 3%. [3]

By November 18, when Spurs met Newcastle, they had already thrashed the league champions of 1949 and 1950, Portsmouth and hit six goals past Stoke City. Tottenham were superb when they beat Newcastle United 7-0, including Jackie Milburn, saw the press compare Spurs’ play to the “Dynamos and crack continentals” that people had been reading about. Newcastle simply had no answer to Spurs’ fast-moving play and powerful shooting as well as the form of Eddie Baily and Les Medley, who scored a hat-trick. The media called it the “massacre of White hart Lane” and began talking about Spurs as possible champions.

Spurs were not invincible by any means and Huddersfield Town, in particular, seemed to have found a way to play them, beating them three times in 1950-51 including a third round FA Cup tie. By mid-January, early season pacesetters Arsenal had fallen away and Spurs were top of the league with Middlesbrough pursuing them hard. On January 13, Spurs had a setback when they were beaten by Manchester United after Ditchburn claimed he had been fouled when the winning goal was scored.

At times, Spurs looked as though they were tiring, but they kept winning even though half of their team was over 30 years of age. In total, 16 of their 25 victories were by a single goal margin but not when they faced West Bromwich Albion in March. A 5-0 drubbing of the Baggies convinced Rowe that his team would be champions. Spurs feared Newcastle more than anyone, even though Manchester United were playing superbly in the run-in. On April 7, Spurs travelled to the north east to face a team that had already reached the FA Cup final. Newcastle were beaten 1-0 thanks to a goal from Sonny Walters and The People proclaimed Spurs were the team of the season. They were six points ahead of Manchester United and had four games remaining.

It appeared, however, that Spurs had started to jitter a little, losing at home to Huddersfield and then drawing with Middlesbrough. Manchester United continued to win, though, beating West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle. Only three points separated Spurs from United but a win for Rowe’s team would clinch the title with one game to go.

Sheffield Wednesday, who were trying to hang on to their first division status, were the next opponents at White Hart Lane. Spurs were not at their best, but took the lead through Len Duquemin, their centre forward from Guernsey. Duquemin was a hard working forward known as “Reliable Len” who knew how to score goals and in 1950-51, he netted 14 times in 33 league games.  His goal against Wednesday was enough to win the game and the title. Wednesday were relegated a few days later.

The quality of Spurs’ football won them many friends in 1951, but this was not a team for the future as the average age was close to 30. Some sections of the press predicted they would dominate for a few years but it just wasn’t possible. Of the regular side, Alf Ramsey, Arthur Willis, Ronnie Burgess, Bill Nicholson, Les Medley and Les Bennett were all over 30. Ted Ditchburn, Charlie Withers, Harry Clarke, Peter Murphy and Tony Marchi were in their late 20s. It was a team built from local players, though – four players were from Edmonton and another three from other parts of London.

Unequivocally, it was a title-winning combination with some outstanding individuals. Welsh international Burgess was an incredibly strong, inspirational figure, described as a “like a marathon runner, a human dynamo who was always in support”. [4]  Bill Nicholson paid him the greatest tribute: “He had everything: good feet, ability in the air, strength in the tackle and was a beautiful passer of the ball.”

Eddie Baily was another pivotal figure and a loyal clubman. John Arlott’s description of a player who won nine England caps and played well over 300 games for Spurs in a very unique way: “As neat as a trivet, busy as a one-man band, alert as a boarding house cat, elusive as a dog in a fair.” [5]

Seven members of the squad won England honours and Burgess picked up 32 caps with Wales. Tony Marchi played in Italy for Vicenza and Torino and also spent two years with Juventus. Alf Ramsey won the World Cup with England and Bill Nicholson, 10 years later, led Spurs to the hallowed double.  Many of the 1951 champions are still talked of today as club legends and rightly so, Spurs were arguably one of the most influential teams in the period leading to 1966.

[1] Tongue, Steve: Turf Wars, a history of London football. 2016, Pitch Publishing.

[2] Wilson, Jonathan: Inverting the Pyramid, 2008 Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

[3] Walvin, James: The People’s Game, 1975 Mainstream.

[4] Goodwin, Bob. Spurs, A Complete Record. Breedon Books 1988.

[5] Welch, Julie. The biography of Tottenham Hotspur. 2021.