There’s always been something quite appropriately animated about ‘The Toon’. Newcastle United play in black and white and throughout their history this stark comparison in colours has often been mirrored on the pitch. In the far reaches of the north of England, their isolation and devoted fan base have always made them a hard team to visit. In recent years they have been touted for greatness more than they have actually achieved such. The past decade has seen Newcastle pay host to some of their greatest ever players and none more so than local lad Alan Shearer. They nestle around the top of the Premier league table causing regular upset as they go. They play with a huge amount of passion and that passion echoes around the sometimes unintelligible choruses at St James’ Park.
Much like many of the oldest football clubs in England, what we all now know as Newcastle United was actually spawned from a cricket club. The Stanley Cricket Club hailed from the area of Newcastle called Byker. They formed a football club so the men could keep active when the summer cricket season ended. They became known as Newcastle East End FC. Across town another cricket team decided to follow suit and they soon became known as Newcastle West End FC. So by 1889 Newcastle had two new and hopeful football teams. East became a professional outfit in 1892 but the same couldn’t be said for West and they suffered from financial problems that was pushing them head-first to bankruptcy. East End put in a bid for West End and it was agreed that all the players and staff would come and join East End and the newly merged pair would play at West’s ground at St James’ Park. Come Christmas 1892 Newcastle United was born.
Up and Down Toon
In the early part of the 20th Century, Newcastle United enjoyed a very promising rise to fame. Success and notoriety came in a series of Test Matches, which were sort of like the equivalent of the playoffs now. In their new colours of black and white stripes (not to be confused with red and white across the Tyne at Sunderland) they joined the big boys in the top division. They made an early and shattering impact by winning the league title three times in that decade (1905/07/09) and reached a staggering five FA Cup Finals in the same period, but sadly only managed to actually lift the cup once in 1910.
Newcastle United were the team everyone wanted to beat during this era. They had some outstanding players, many from Scotland. Names such as Colin Veitch and Jackie Rutherford gave the Magpies (so called due to the colours on the shirts) a style of ‘possession’ football, which teams found very difficult to play against.
In the roaring twenties, Newcastle continued to shine and they won the league title in 1927 and the FA Cup in 1924. Then in 1932 there was the famous FA Cup Final against Arsenal that Newcastle won 2-1. It was a famous game as the ball may or may not have gone out of play before it was crossed to set-up the winning goal. No replays back then so it will forever remain a debate.
Things went slightly downhill for the Toon Army in the 1930s. 1934 saw them being relegated to the Second Division for the first time. They needed something or someone to boost them and they found that in ex player and now backroom staff member Stan Seymour. Seymour wasn’t officially called the manager but everyone including him knew he was. He knew the club inside and out and he knew what they needed to do. He brought in some star signings and started to please the regular 60,000 visitors that would flock to St James’ Park. After the break for the war, Newcastle returned to the First Division in 1948.
The fifties saw Newcastle collect their favourite trophy, the FA Cup, three times, beating Blackpool, Arsenal and Manchester City. There were some outstanding players in the starting eleven back then and none more so than Ivor Allchurch, George Eastham and Len White. However, another dip in form came in the late fifties and Newcastle saw themselves dropping down to the Second Division in 1961. Seymour was still at the helm but he would need some help from the club’s former captain and local legend, Joe Harvey. They returned to the First Division in 1965
Who ate all the Magpies?
European football beckoned for the Geordies and in 1968 they accepted their invitation. Before the UEFA Cup was named such, it was called the Inter Cities Fairs Cup and Newcastle found themselves lifting it in 1969 by beating Hungarian team, Uipest FC, in the final. The number 9 shirt, which has now become a hallmark of the Newcastle team sheet, was then worn by goal-scoring machine, Welshman, Wyn Davies. He was a potent force in their success in Europe. Another striker, Malcolm ‘Supermac’ MacDonald, would then lead the Toon into the 1970s with much the same level of glory. They reached the FA and League Cup finals in the mid seventies but failed to win either. The fans, and the rest of top flight football, were starting to realise that Newcastle weren’t making the most of what they had.
Dark times lay ahead towards the end of the seventies and early eighties. A string of managers showed how unsettled they were. Names at the top were Gordon Lee, Richard Dinnis, Bill McGarry and finally Arthur Cox. Thankfully, it was Cox who managed to return them to the First Division. Their players weren’t nearly as strong as they had been in recent years, but one name stood out and that name would soon become one of the most famous names in the club’s entire history.
Kevin Keegan had been one of the best players in England in the 1970s for both Liverpool and England. When he arrived to play for Newcastle in 1982 from Southampton, he might have been coming towards the end of his career but the stats will tell you that 48 goals in 78 games for the Toon, meant that they would be taken seriously again. The eighties saw them return to the First Division and achieve more success, but ultimately nothing remarkable. Other notable players were Peter Beardsley, Chris Waddle and Paul Gascoigne. However, a further string of managers, including Jack Charlton, was indicative of their continual problems and those problems took a turn for the worse, when they found themselves at the bottom half of the Second Division. Money was tight, fans were annoyed, and for the first time in years, things looked very serious for Newcastle. They needed a miracle to avoid falling to the doldrums of the Third Division. They found one.
Former Spurs and Argentina player, Ossie Ardilles, was managing Newcastle in 1992 and, like so many men before him, wasn’t doing a very good job. When Kevin Keegan came back to Newcastle to sit in the manager’s chair for the first time, alongside Sir John Hall, the wind suddenly changed around St James’ Park. Keegan made an instant impact on the club and they survived relegation that year with some vital wins. The following season in 1992/93 brought with it a remarkable turn of the tide. A whopping 11 wins in a row saw Newcastle jump to the top of the Second Division and eventually win the title and return to the top flight, which was now called the Premier League, for the start of the 93/94 season.
Attack was the key for the former striker Keegan, and his Newcastle attacked the Premier League like they had never been away. In their first season they finished third. The attacking was dominated by one of the Premier League’s most potent strikers of all time, Andy Cole, who scored a huge 55 goals in 70 games for the Toon. When he was bought by Manchester United for a record £7 million, Newcastle fans may have been worried about how they would replace him, but they brought in two stars, David Ginola and Les Ferdinand, and in the 1995/96 season they very nearly won the league title but threw away a 12 point lead over Man United. A defining moment in that season came at Anfield, where they lost to Liverpool in stoppage time 4-3, in what has gone down as one of the best Premier League games of all time. Here it is again.
Newcastle fans were disappointed but one name would cheer them up: Alan Shearer. £15 million pounds brought the Geordie boy home to Newcastle from Blackburn Rovers and he’d prove to be worth every penny.
More managers than you could shake a stick at
When Keegan felt he had done all he could with Newcastle, he left in 1997 and was replaced by another ex-Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish. Kenny, however, would only be in the hot-seat for one and a half seasons, although he would take Newcastle to the FA Cup Final (they lost) which was something unfamiliar to the Geordies in recent years. After Dalglish, came Dutch courage in the form of Ruud Gullit, and he too would take Newcastle to a FA Cup Final, only to lose to Manchester United. Gullit left after one season.
Newcastle needed some stability and they looked at one of the most successful and famous managers in England for the role. In Sept 1999, Sir Bobby Robson joined the Magpies. Robson’s impact was one of the biggest in the history of football. In his first home game in charge, he beat Sheffield Wednesday by a record 8-0, which is still the club record today. Shearer was scoring at alarming rates during this period and under Sir Bobby, Newcastle were the best they had looked since Keegan. The fans liked and trusted Robson and the side challenged for the title in 2001/02 and were rewarded with qualification for the Champions League for their efforts.
As football fans the world over know, when the wind changes, someone always faces the brunt of the blame. When Newcastle, who had finished in the top four in the previous two seasons, started the 2004/05 season very poorly, Robson was sacked by chairman Freddy Shepherd who didn’t see eye to eye with him anyway. Sir Bobby, however, has gone down in Toon history as a worthy and well loved manager on Tyneside.
The manager’s curse then returned with a vengeance when Graham Souness took over in Sept 2004 and Newcastle slumped to mid table notching up some very poor performances. He did, however, manage to acquire the best English striker, Michael Owen for £17 million from Real Madrid. Souness was given the boot in Feb 2006 and Glenn Roeder took over as caretaker manager for the time being. Roeder wasn’t totally qualified for the job but he proved his worth in performances that season, that would see Newcastle jump right up the table to finish 7th and qualify for the UEFA cup. Chairman Sheppard backed Roeder and he was eventually allowed to take the managerial position properly.
The 2006/07 team sheet for Newcastle United sometimes read like a hospital register. Luck wasn’t on Glenn Roeder’s side, and it seems his own ill health was rubbing off on his players. An unbelievable amount of injuries, mostly in the attacking areas of the side, meant Newcastle just couldn’t score any goals. They brought in players like Obafemi Martins at the last minute but they wouldn’t make much of an impact. Shearer had retired at the end of the previous season and left a huge hole in the side, which was painful for him to watch from his new position as pundit on Match of the Day. The faith that Freddy Shepherd had in Roeder had evaporated and in May 2007 he was asked to leave. A week later ‘Big’ Sam Allardyce came from Bolton Wanderers to St James’.
Many of the problems with Newcastle around this time could have been the fault of one man: the boss Freddy Shepherd. However, no one but the fans could have admitted this. The worm finally turned for him though when, like many other clubs, big business men came knocking at St James’ Park. English business man, Mike Ashley, bought a £55 million share in the club and then in the coming months acquired further shares in the club making his ownership nearer 90%.
Around this time Newcastle were one of a number of clubs being investigated by the police for alleged corruption but no clubs or individuals have been charged yet. To replace Shepherd as chairman, Chris Mort took over and, with some summer signings from Big Sam in the form of Alan Smith and Mark Viduka, they hoped their striking problems would go away and not return for a while.
There are a few clubs similar to Newcastle that linger around the top of the table, not always fulfilling their ambitions but always posing a threat to other teams. More so than any of the others, Newcastle United seem to be the team that could one day rise up and challenge the top four. They have attracted big names to the club and continue to do so, their fan base is one of the strongest and most devout in the world and there is now enough money on the club to push forward and make a name for themselves in the domestic and European game. Newcastle are one of the few clubs that are proud to boast a large proportion of authentic Geordies in their fan base. The Toon Army will march on, even if no one understands what they’re saying.
- First Division and Premier League
Champions: 1904-05, 1906-07, 1908-09, 1926-27
Runners-up: 1995–96, 1996–97
- Old Second Division
Champions: 1964-65, 1992-93
Runners-up: 1897-98, 1947-48
- FA Cups
1910, 1924, 1932, 1951, 1952, 1955
- Charity Shields and Community Shields
- Inter-Cities Fairs Cup
- UEFA Intertoto Cup
- Texaco Cups
- Anglo-Italian Cup
- Kirin Cup
- Milk Cup
1985 (Premier), 1989 (Premier)