Tuesday, June 18, 2024

The Latest Football News and Opinions From 90 Minutes Online

Newcastle United Finally Being Taken Seriously

The FA Cup trophy (via Wikipedia)

Even before riches from Saudi Arabia flooded in, there was surely a sense that a club the size of Newcastle should have won more than a glance at their trophy cabinet reveals? This, after all, the stage for Kevin Keegan's much- quoted and indeed sampled “love it'' tirade against Manchester United. No doubt an attempt to motivate his troops during the long slog of a race between the two sides for the 1995/6 Premier League title but which has gone down as a bit of a cliché, not exactly helped by the fact that their then gaffer and those roaring them on from the stands never got their wish.


But surely, they must have come closer far sooner you'd think? A club virtually synonymous with the sort of swashbuckling attacking football that alternately thrilled and left those with much hinging upon it with hearts in mouths- see the 4-3 defeat to Liverpool that same season for Exhibit A. Routinely picked out by Sky Sports viewers and indeed pundits as possibly the greatest match, at least of their early years, covering the new order of things.

This sort of unconscious leaning towards putting the Magpies nearer the top of the tree, a sort of “ every neutral's favourite” tag, was enhanced by the perception that their side of that vintage really was at least the best of the rest. An upstart challenger to the beginnings of Sir Alex Ferguson's silverware- laden dynasty at Old Trafford and Liverpool's attempts to claw their way back onto their perch. However, we have to look far further back to find the last time the men in black and white hoisted aloft some of their own…

The 1955 FA Cup, sealed with a 3-1 victory over Manchester City in itself hardly marked the end of a dry spell, as much of the narrative around it, especially quoted in context next to the modern- day Newcastle, would seem to suggest!

The final whistle on May 7 that year ensured the Geordies would take it home for the third time in just five years, George Robledo sealing triumph over Arsenal in the 1952 showpiece to ensure consecutive triumphs after Jackie Milburn's two goals had seen off Blackpool the previous year.

Of course, since then they've come agonisingly close to recapturing a trophy they've actually won six times, losing finalists in 1973/74, '97/'98 and '98/99. Now there's an argument for the FA Cup once again representing, alongside the League Cup, the best chance of an instant return on the investment from their Middle Eastern backers. After all, it's somewhat unlikely that Eddie Howe faces anything like the sort of pressure foisted upon Doug Livingstone, the man in the dugout for that famous last big win...

For a start, he was almost literally the man in the dugout, the club board of the time having the final say in who played. Livingstone himself not wanting Milburn to feature but being outvoted, the state of affairs most likely a major factor in the Scot's eventual decision to leave for Fulham the following year having arrived from a spell with Sparta Rotterdam in 1954- he had also served a stint in charge of Belgium.

And it was just as different a game for the players, as a 2016 Mirror interview with Vic Keeble, the last surviving member of the team, made clear!

“On the bus towards Wembley there were so many people on the streets we were crawling along. Then a couple of taps on the window, and bugger me, it was my brother-in-law, my sister, my father and my mother. They were all out there walking up to the stadium to get their seats. What a pretty sight. It brought tears to my eyes. Still does.”

Not such a surprise, then, to read on and find him extolling the virtues of a long overdue lifting of the famous old trophy, though he can hardly claim neutrality.

“The FA Cup was it. They (Newcastle) won it ‘51, ‘52 and ‘55. They are crying out for something like that to happen now. It is a great club, they get fantastic support and unfortunately things have not gone their way football wise, which is a bit sad.”

At least the nadir of a long decline and eventual fall into the Championship is now well past. The 2008/9 collapse under Mike Ashley's ownership began with Keegan ending a second spell in charge soon after the Sports Direct tycoon/buffoon (delete as appropriate) got his trainers under the table and struck a chord Livingstone might have found familiar!

"It's my opinion that a manager must have the right to manage and that clubs should not impose upon any manager any player that he does not want".

Enter Joe Kinnear, first of many figureheads for what would become known as a sort of Cockney mafia around St James' Park. Once it became apparent he would need time away for heart surgery, Alan Shearer came in as caretaker, seen by some as a desperate attempt to get the fans back onside amid some of the first stirrings of unrest- which would only be quelled once the Saudis stepped in...

Inevitably perhaps, the man now a permanent fixture on the Match of the Day sofa couldn't save his beloved club. Another Londoner, Chris Hughton, was parachuted in and got them back into the Premier League at the first attempt, promotion secured with five games to go in April of 2010 before he was given the order of the boot that December. The Magpies board suggested they felt that "an individual with more managerial experience [was] needed to take the club forward."

Step forward Alan Pardew, on a five year deal. The first fruits of Ashley pinning his hopes on another barrow boy pushing his black and white wares were fairly positive, a twelfth placed finish in their first campaign back where most felt they belonged suggesting it might not be long before normal service might resume, and eleven games unbeaten at the start of 2011-12 was quite the opening gambit to back that up.

Getting fifth that season might have had those in the St James' stands rushing to check which year it was! But that was as good as it got, no wins in the opening seven games of 2014-15 exhausting any goodwill towards a man now more famous for dad- dancing than the managerial experience which the men employing him had called for*.

At least he had been given time, we might reasonably conclude. Replacement Steve McClaren would last only nine months after six wins in 28 games. Rafa Benítez arrived on a three-year contract the same day Shteve departed but didn’t enjoy much better luck and was unable to stop them sinking back into the Championship- a state of affairs previously unthinkable in both Geordie and neutral minds.

Not that Ashley himself was seen to care a jot, seemingly spending more on his own business ventures than the team and making a rather large rod for his own back even as Benítez rejected offers from elsewhere to lead them back up. Exiting stage left only when he felt his position had become untenable, to be replaced by ex- Sunderland man Steve Bruce, a move not exactly universally welcomed. 

Thirteenth and twelfth place finishes (admittedly with the rather large inconvenience of the COVID pandemic) was deemed not enough and so came a reported £8 million pay off as a first order of business for the club's new owners mere days after their takeover. In itself looking like something of a steal on Bruce's part even if it did enable his former employers to bring in Eddie Howe and start on a hopefully more upward trajectory, capped maybe with a long overdue cup win?



*See our formula on what makes a sleeping giant in football, for how Newcastle Utd (and other clubs) stacked up back then and now.

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