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

Birthplace

Caps?

Previous club

Signed

Willie Mcfaul

GK

October 1, 1943

Coleraine

N.Ireland

Linfield

1966

David Craig

F

June 8, 1944

Belfast

N.Ireland

 

 

Frank Clark

FB

September 9, 1943

County Durham

 

Crook Town

1962

Tommy Gibb

HB

December 13, 1944

Bathgate

 

Partick Thistle

1968

Ollie Burton

CH

November 11, 1941

Chepstow

Wales

Norwich City

1963

Bobby Moncur

CH

January 19, 1945

Perth

Scotland

 

 

Jim Scott

RW

August 21, 1940

Falkirk

Scotland

Hibernian

1967

Bryan Robson

FWD

November 11, 1945

Sunderland

 

 

 

Wyn Davies

FWD

March 20, 1942

Caernarfon

Wales

Bolton Wands.

1966

Preben Arentoft

IF

November 1, 1942

Copenhagen

Denmark

Greenock Morton

1969

Jackie Sinclair

LW

July 21, 1943

Culross, Fife

Scotland

Leicester City

1968

Alan Foggon

FWD

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”.

Legacy

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.

Premier clubs like Manchester United and Arsenal should always be Europa favourites

MANCHESTER UNITED and Arsenal made it through to the semi-finals of the UEFA Europa League, very comfortably. This came just after Manchester City and Chelsea reached the last four of the UEFA Champions League. There is a reasonable chance that for the second time in three seasons, UEFA’s big two competitions will be all-English affairs. 

While UEFA will surely not be happy about two domestic squabbles, preferring finals that represent the broad reach of the confederation, the possibility of a Premier clean-sweep will underline the financial advantages English clubs have over their continental European counterparts. 

United and Arsenal should be competing at the business end of the Europa, so should Tottenham and Leicester City – how they must be kicking themselves that they were eliminated by Dinamo Zagreb and Slavia Prague so cheaply.

The Premier not only has more money, but it also has greater strength in depth than the likes of France, Germany and Italy. There was a precedent in the late 1960s/early 1970s when English clubs won the Inter-Cities Fairs’ Cup and its successor the UEFA Cup, every season between 1967-68 and 1972-73.

Spain appears to have developed a specialisation in Europa League professionalism, but for too long, English clubs under-performed in the Europa, although this has clearly changed. 

The bonus of Champions League qualification has awakened a healthier appetite in English clubs. Given the overall might  of the Premier, the top four – which provides Champions League places – is beyond some clubs and therefore, a back-door route to the lucrative world of Real, Barca and Bayern now has serious value.

In the last five years, the Premier has provided four Europa finalists (Liverpool 2016, United 2017, Chelsea and Arsenal 2019) while Spain has provided three. The two countries have contributed 15 quarter-finalists in the same period. Over the past nine years, the winners have come from England or Spain, the last club from outside those two was Porto in 2011. Furthermore, since the competition became a single-game decider, 22 finals ago, Spain have won 10 and England 4. 

Tottenham and Leicester, with the greatest respect to Slavia and Dinamo, exited clumsily.  One look at the clubs that Manchester United and Arsenal have faced highlights the gap between the Premier and many Europa participants. The average European ranking of Arsenal’s group rivals was 135 compared to their own ranking of 28. Their knockout stage rivals have been stronger, but the average is 28. United went in at the round of 32 after failing in a Champions League group that included Paris Saint-Germain, RB Leipzig and Istanbul. Their Europa rivals have an average ranking of 46 (source: Football Database).

While United and Arsenal are – in theory – stronger than many of the Europa competitors, they are certainly wealthier clubs. Slavia Prague, for example, generate the equivalent of US$ 10 million in revenues annually versus Arsenal’s £ 340 million, while Granada, United’s opponents in the quarter-finals, reported income of € 13 million in 2019 compared to the € 600 million-plus received by the red half of Manchester football. It’s hardly an even playing field.

English clubs seem to have refocused and their underlying power is now showing through, in both UEFA competitions. Between 2011 and 2015, English clubs secured three final places across the Champions and Europa leagues. Between 2016 and 2020, the figure doubled.

So don’t be surprised if the Champions League is Chelsea versus Manchester City and the Europa turns out to be Arsenal versus Manchester United. However, PSG, Real, Villareal and Roma will have something to say about that.

@GameofthePeople

Photo: Alamy