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.

How they’re shaping up – the situation in top European leagues

THE 0-0 draw between Arsenal and Newcastle United underlined how much progress these two sides have made over the last year, but it also demonstrated, to a certain degree, that both will be challenged to last the pace in the Premier League. Manchester City are waiting in the wings and will have been pleased with the stalemate at the Emirates Stadium.

For the past decade, European football has stagnated in so far that most leagues are dominated by a single entity, maybe two at a push. The Premier League is one of the more democratic, although it is bossed by half a dozen clubs with more money than the rest. The Premier, since 2012-13, has had five different champions, although five of the 10 titles have gone to Manchester City, with four of those won in the last five years.

Here’s the situation in some of Europe’s top leagues as 2023 gets underway:

Austria

Red Bull Salzburg are top and six points clear of Sturm Graz, the only side to beat the champions this season. Salzburg have won the last seven Bundesligas, their financial advantages enabling them to dominate Austrian football. Although the Austrian league is a two-stage affair, it is difficult to look beyond Salzburg, who are also in the last eight of the Austrian Cup, which they have won for the past four seasons.

Belgium

Genk, who last won the Belgian league in 2019, are seven points in front of second-placed Union Saint-Gilloise. Club Brugge, who have won the past three titles, are not faring so well this season, although they are in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League. They have recently appointed former Fulham and Bournemouth manager Scott Parker as their coach. Anderlecht, who were third in 2021-22, are floundering in mid-table.

France

It would be a major shock if Paris Saint-Germain were not top of Ligue 1 at the start of a new year. They have a four-point advantage over Lens, who beat them 3-1 to end an unbeaten run that stretched back to March 2022. PSG have Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappé in their ranks and a wage bill that dwarfs the rest of Ligue 1. If nothing else, the performance of Lens (they have lost just once, too), suggests the French league will be more interesting than usual.

Germany

Unsurprisingly, Bayern Munich are on top once more and have a four- point lead over surprise club Freiburg. RB Leipzig, who have recovered after a poor start, are in third place. Bayern have lost just once (against Augsburg) and have qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League after ending the group stage with a 100% record. Four points is a relatively modest lead at the top of the Bundesliga, but Bayern are equipped to relentlessly go after their 11th consecutive league success.

Italy

Serie A is very interesting this season, but Napoli are winning all the plaudits for their exciting style. They have a seven-point lead at the top and are unbeaten. AC Milan, the reigning champions, are in second place and crisis club Juventus are third, but pressure has been building on coach Max Allegri after they were knocked out of the Champions League at the group phase. Napoli have impressed in Europe and are in the last 16 of the competition, along with AC Milan and Inter Milan.

Netherlands

Feyenoord went into 2023 on top of the Eredivisie, three points in front of Ajax and PSV Eindhoven. This should make for an exciting second half of the campaign, although Ajax have been very clumsy in losing points cheaply. They have lost twice, to PSV and AZ Alkmaar. PSV have beaten both Feyenoord and Ajax this season, but they have just lost the talented Cody Gakpo to Liverpool. All three Dutch giants are still involved in the UEFA Europa League.

Portugal

As ever, the Primeira Liga is being dominated by Benfica and Porto, with Braga and Sporting behind them. Benfica, who enjoyed a successful Champions League group stage, are top and five points ahead of Porto, who also qualified for the last 16. Benfica lost their first game of the league campaign in their first post-Christmas fixture, a 3-0 drubbing at Braga. A prolific player-trading club, they look set to receive another cash windfall if they sell Enzo Fernández to a top Premier league club in the aftermath of the 2022 World Cup.

Scotland

Already people are talking about Celtic as champions and that it is a case of “theirs to lose”. Certainly, their nine point lead over Rangers looks insurmountable at this stage of the season. The two sides drew 2-2 on January 2 at Ibrox, but their first meeting saw Celtic win 4-0. Both teams saw their shortcomings exposed in Europe, finishing bottom of their Champions League groups. They could yet meet in the Scottish League Cup final in February.

Spain

Inevitably, it is a two-horse race once more in Spain, with Barcelona and Real Madrid level on 38 points after 15 games. The two teams have almost identical records, but Barca are ahead on goal difference. Real Sociedad are in third place, but nine points worse off than the big two. Atlético Madrid are having a somewhat patchy season. Real Madrid are the only Spanish side in the last 16 of the Champions League, both Barca and Atléti, along with Sevilla, went out at the group stage, but Barca are in the Europa League, where they will face Manchester United.

Switzerland

While reigning champions Zurich are embroiled in a relegation fight, Young Boys Bern look poised to regain the crown they lost in 2022. They have a 10-point margin at the top of the Super League, with Servette in second position. YB are the league’s top scorers with 35 goals in 16 games, but they have also conceded just nine goals. They look red hot favourites to win the title.  

While most of the title-chasers are fairly predictable, there are possibilities of shocks, notably in England (Arsenal), France (Lens) and the Netherlands (Feyenoord). On the other hand, this list may just read Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Ajax. We can dream.