Newcastle United, also known as the Toon Army, the locals, the Geordies are as passionate about their beautiful game as the pope is about god, the comparaison is there, the home of the Magpies is St James Park, also reffered to localy as 'the church on the hill' as in fact, the great staduim towers over the City on the west end outskirts. People from working class backgrounds, generations and genrations of hard labour, the pitts and shipyards, a lot of pysical effort for not so clement reward, people in this part of the word, as the legendary Alan Shearer has quoted many times on Match of the Day, simply graft hard all week, pick up their money and follow for them what is their reason to be, their very own religion, that of NUFC, a club that dispite a few dark moments in their history have stayed loyal at all times, the tough 70's, 80's post Keegan playing career until he rocked up again but as manager in Februart 92 and the up and more of the downs of the Ashley remige, never has SJP been a desserted venue, if ever some fans refused to buckle down and get behind the players on the pitch and give up his seat or back then his perch, another fanatic Toon fan would very happily and mostly, proudly take his place.
The Early Years
Founded in 1892 by the merger of Newcastle East End and Newcastle West End, by the first stoppage of profesionel football, reson being the outbeak of WWI in 1914, the Black and White army was already becoming a major force in the game, counting already 6 victories in terms of league and cup competitions (League Champions : 1904/05, 1906/07, 1908/09) (1910 Fa Cup winners) (Charity Shield in 1909) (In 1906/07 they won the Sheriff of London Charity Shield or the Dewar Shield, depends on what history taught you) during this period they enjoyed many other roads to cup finals, only to lose several of them, (Vs Villa in 1905, Everton 1906, against Wolves in 1908 and Bradford City in 1911).
As the world was getting over WWI, football returned, in 1924 Newcastle would play their first game at the new Wembley, the second ever to be hosted in what would become one of the most famous stadiums in the world, the home of Football, and the Toon would lift their second Fa Cup, beating Aston Villa with two second half goals to edge it 2-0, Three years later at the conclusion of the 1926/27 season they won the First Division championship for a fourth time, during this period the first real big footballing name was destroying defenses accross England for the Magpies, many would follow but the name of Hughie Gallacher still and always will have legendary status. In 1930, the first blip came, a tussle to avoid relegation ended up with Gallacher departing for London to join Chelsea, despite another Cup triumph in 1932, United were struggling and were relegated at the end of the 33/34 campaign, this dissapointment was followed up by key squad and staff departures from the club,notably, Andy Cunningham, a popular manager at the time who had overlooked recent succes, up until the breakout of WWII it was quite diificult for the Mags to adapt to life in the lower leagues, they had played 35 years at the top and lower tier football needed some getting used to, something that didn't really happen for them until WWII, as they escaped another relegation avoiding freefalling further down the football ladder, by just missing out on goal average (what ever it was back then). During the war years, where no official stats seem to be valid anywhere, some bloke from Ashington, with a certain name of Milburn, turned up, well was signed and well, he turned out not actually to be that bad at all, he had a couple of cousins who wouldn't do too bad in the game too ...
Jackie Milburn was the number one on Tyneside as Football historians got back to business following the war, other players such as Bobby Cowell and Tommy Walker had also been brought in during the war and promotion was acheived by the fall of 1947/48, taking a few years to find their feet, the early 50's brought new horizons and silverwear, the Fa cup was won 3 years out of 5, beating Blackpool then Arsenal in 1951 and 52 and Manchester City were defeted in 1955, just when the Toon army was again reconfirming it's place at the top of English football by reclaiming cup wins, another barron period followed, finaly ending in relegation at the turn of the decade. In 1962 a chap named Joe Harvey came in as manager, during Newcastles spell in the then second division, he was the man to turn Uniteds fotunes around, the Second divsion was claimed for 1964/65 and Harvey would take a strong Toon army team all the way into europe for the 68/69 sesaon, beating the likes of Real Zaragoza and Feyenoord along the way before getting past Rangers in the semi-fianls to be victorious over Ujpest of Hungary over a two-legged Inter-Cities Fairs Cup tie, a comftable 3-0 result with a double from Bob Moncur, now also part of Black and White folklaw, a more tight second leg saw United edge it 3-2, goals from Moncur, Arentoft and Foggon sealing Newcastle Uniteds european fate, and still to do this day, their greatest acheivement, for those who wonder what the hell this competition was, nowadays, it's goes as The Europa League, or as i personally prefer as it was formely known The Uefa Cup .. It's all about branding !! As the 70's arrived, Newcastle were still relishing the fact they were now a european superweight, a club with a european title to their name, another name that was to make it's mark on Geordie history arrived from Luton Town, his name : Malcolm Macdonald, alias Supermac, a top striker but no major trophies followed, a 3-0 defeat to Liverpool at Wembley in the 1974 Fa Cup final was the closest the club got to lifting a top honour, although they did find back to back success in the Texaco Cup in 74 and 75 , some sort of british combined competion featuring teams from other of the Home nations. Joe Harvey decided to leave the Magpies in 1975, and his replacement, Gordon Lee took the Toon to wembley for the League Cup final in 76, only to come home empty handed following a 2-1 defeat, Lee wasn't treasored on the terraces of Gallowgate, no further success and a painful detail for all Mags, he sold Supermac to Arsenal in 1977, the two never really saw eye to eye, Macdonald confessed to this and Lee was also gone shortly after and another thing that was about to follow was Newcastle Uniteds top flight status at the end of 77/78 as the feeling of 'underacheivement' started to grow, a beleif still present to this day.
Bill McGarry was Uniteds manager in the Second division until the arrival of Arthur Cox as Newcastle ran after a top flight spot, Cox was known to have a Sergeant type personality and knew how to get the best out of players, top players such as Peter Beardsley, an ex-sausage factory worker from Sunderland going by the name of Chris Waddle and a certain Kevin Keegan winding down his career following a move from Southampton was very promising and in fairytale style surrounding the end of Keegans decorated career, the Toon acheived promotion to Division One for the 1984/85 season but following helicopter farewells, and just before the emergence of a chubby local lad called Paul Gascoigne, funds dried up or just simply were not available, and a fustrated Arthur Cox followed Keegan out as he left for an ambitious Derby County. Bosses Jack Charlton (cousin of Jackie Milburn) and Willie McFaul steared the club to safety but times were hard financially, key players were sold, read Beardsley, Waddle, Gascoigne, and time caught up with the Magpies, a dismal 88/89 campagn saw United finish rock bottom of the First division, Newcastle were about to end the 80's starring at a challenging few years ahead with no funds and so on to the 90's, a truly amazing journey was about to happen, but not before a depressing period for the club, as they found theirselves on the brink of existance and at their worst ever league positions in history ...
90's : The entertainers, Sir John, King Keegan, Super Al and Sir Bobby ...
A close attempt to return to the top tier occured in 1990, at the end of their first season back in the old Second division the Toon qualified for the playoffs, only to be knocked out by fierst rivals 5under1and over two legs, a 0-0 draw and a 2-0 revrse in the retrun leg, the next campagn was more or less consolidation, missing out on the playoffs by quite a margin, by now Jim Smith had come and gone as manager and Spurs legend Ossie Ardiles had taken over. In the shadows, a backroom fight for power was going on, Sir John Hall, the man who was in charge of the MetroCentre project in neighbouring Gateshead, a succesful business man in property development from Ashington had big ideas for the club, already dubbed as Mr Newcastle by the press for his work on the regenration of the City from the lates 70's onwards, he managed to take control of the club, by hunting down share holders all over the world inbetween 1990 and 1991, and buying more and more shares, he finally muscled out Stan Seymour Jr and became club chairman, but before any plans could be put into place, the club was in total disaray, struggling againt relegation to the old third division for the 1st time ever, The Toon Army needed something special, and a fex days after giving Ardiles a backing Hall sacked him, and after 8 years out of the game, Kevin Keegan was back, presented to the media at The breweries, then just about opposite the now crumbling St James Park, also in grand need of a regeneration. So the Keegan era started, a 3-0 home win against Bristol City kicked started it all, despite losing 5 league games in a row at some point and almost walking out after a dissagreement with the chairman regarding transfer funds, the miracle happened, with two games remaining things were looking bleak, Portsmouth at home and a final day away trip to Leicester City awaited the Black and Whites, David Kelly hit a sweet late half volley to take the points in the penultimate fixture of the term at St James, then an indicent full match at Filbert Street unfolded, Gavin Peacock latched on to a Leicester City back pass and put the ball passed Muggleton in the Leicester goal, the referee at first wants to disallow the goal, up until the linesman confirmed the ball was played by a Leicester player, delirious Toon fans took their celebrations to the edge of the turf in Leicester, a second half passes without much incidents, only until the last couple of minutes, Steve Walsh pulls the Foxes level, before putting the ball past his own keeper seconds later, pitch invasion, Keegan orders his players off the pitch, Newcastle are safe, the game will not kick-off again, Job done .. but what about the futur?
Summer of 1992, Kevin Keegan commits to the club, along with his pefectly greyly permed sidekick Terry Mac(McDermott], the likes of John Beresford, Barry Venison and a few months into the 1992/93 season Robert Lee come in, The Magpies win their opening 12 games, confidence is high, flowing football and another arrival in Andrew (Andy) Cole from Bristol City later in the season just about assures promotion to the newly formed FA Premier League, in contrast to 12 months earlier, Newcastle finished the season against Leicester, this time at home, a real party atmosphere welcomed the visitors, a St James Park all ready going under redevlopement with work already well under way on the Leazes End, if Keegan didnt really appreciate all the last day hype that included pre-match dancers on the pitch the Geordie public certainly did ! 6-0 by half-time Kelly and Cole producing the goods, a hat-trick apiece in the game overall, David Kelly saying goodbye before a move to Wolves and Andy Cole, making his presence really felt on Tyneside, a Rob Lee goal addes to the scoreline and a late consoliation from Leicester meant the match ended up in a 7-1 win, Newacstle United were on their way to the Premiership !
As Peter Beardsley resigned from Everton to set up a tremendous partnership with Cole, fans were more than enthusiastic about the coming campagne ahead, many touting the Magpies as title candidates, only for Spurs to come to come to Gallowgate and take all 3 points through a well taken Teddy Sherringham strike, then a trip to Highfield Road saw the Toon score their first Premier league goal, a deflected effort from Liam O'Brien but it still wasn't enough as United had a rude awakening to the Premiership , losing the game 2-1, it was Old Trafford next and Newcastle took away a point, Andy Cole opening his account for the season to cancel out a cracking Ryan Giggs opener, a first win followed at home to Everton and the Toon army would go on to have a solid season, Peter Beardsley had been injured in pre season following a clash with Neil Ruddock in a so called friendly against one of his former clubs Liverpool, he returned in a 2-2 draw against Swindon Town and kicked on from there, Andy Cole had an amazing season, breaking the record for number of goals in all competitions in one sesaon, scoring the record breaking goal against Villa at St James in a 5-1 win, his partnership with Beardsley is still considered as onr of the best ever in english football.
As the projects gained momentum, Newcastle were bringing in top class players, after the World Cup in the US in 94, Belguim defender Phillipe Albert was bought, along with Swiss wing back Marc Hottiger among others, the ground was taking shape and was named a host staduim for the up coming European Championships in England : Euro 96, a way of firmly putting Newcastle Upon Tyne as a city, on the international map, by now players such as Ruel Fox, Darren Peacock has arrived, both breaking club record fees, Paul Kitson had been brought in from Derby, it was looking bright and the 94/95 season kicked off in style, live on Sky Sports for the opening day, Leicester away, just promoted, were put to the sword, Cole, Beardsley and Robbie Elliot with the chicken dance getting the Toon off to a great start, the only downside of the opening game was losing Peter Beradsley, again to a fractured cheekbone, in came local lad Steve Watson to step up, and he obliged, he was outstanding in Beardos absence; The Uefa Cup was back after a 20 year wait, within seconds in Antwerp, Rob Lee opened the scoring, a hat-trick of headers helped Newcastle to their biggest ever away win to date in europe, a 5-0 win in Belguim and a 5-2 second leg win boosting the Toons Armys repuation at that time, already known as the Entertainers thanks to Martin Tylers of SkySports. A creul 1-0 loss in Bilbao in the following round saw United leave the competiton on away goals, they led Athletico Bilbao 3-0 at one point in the 1st leg at SJP, only for the Basques to pull back 2 goals and advance due to their return leg result; The 94/95 season started with so much potentiel, only that potentiel would not be filled with capitalation, too many draws, injuries took their toll, confidance flew out of the team and then ... January 1995 .. Andy Cole is sold to by now championship rivals, Manchester United, it was as if Alex (pre-Sir) Ferguson had had Keegan at the bar and had got him so p***** he would of done anything for him, astonished fans confronted Keegan on the steps of St James, demading answers, and cleared the air on the matter of not being a selling club anymore, one person was lost in the middle of all this, an irishman, Keith Gillespie, who was part of the deal at a worth of 1M, he would go on to be a great winger for Newcastle, when he wasn't picking fights in Dublin. The season fizzled out, out of the Cup in the 6th round at the hands of eventuel winners Everton, Newcastle almost missed out on Europe, a 6th place finish not enough, but an ambitious Newcastle would go on to make some marquee signings in the summer of 95, Les Ferdinand, already wanted sooner and had already been planned as a potential partner to now departed Andy Cole (Warren Barton 4M, in 95? WTF?) David Ginola from Paris St Germain for a mere two and a halm million, a player highly regarded as one of the most skillfull in europe and a lanky basketball player lookalike in the name of Shaka Hislop signed from Reading after just falling short in the 1st divison playoffs the season prior, and so it started, after a strong pre-season Newcastle got off to a good start, wins at home to Coventry, then at Bolton, Sheffield Wednesday and at home to newly promoted Middlesbrough made August the perfect month, a hiccup at the Dell against Southampton followed but the Toon just marched on, finding themselves 12 points clear after the return fixture at home to Bolton Wanderers in January 96, some french poetry featuring seagulls fan made a return to the game after going litterally 'over board' just under a year earlier, all kung-fu style over boarding too, anyway, his side Man Utd just seemed to win just about every game 1-0 to a Cantona goal while Newcastle went on to colapse really, all was going well until a 2-0 defeat at Upton Park, coincidenting with the arrival of a columbian nutter : FausTINO Asprilla from Parma,despite a magical moment on his debut at Boro where he supplied a cross for Steve Watson to equalise with a touch of silky skill before the cross before Sir Les won it with a scrappy hit, points were then dropped again after the loss against WestHam, at Maine Road, a late Phillipe Albert goal rescuing a point after Asprilla scored his first for the Magpies and then scuffled twice with City defender Keith Curle to introduce himself to England with headbutts, elbows and cartwheels on show, as the run -in went on, Man U took control of the Premiership table without even playing, courtesy of a 2-0 defeat at Highbury, they took over top spot on goal difference and they beat Tottenham, again 1-0, again a Cantona winner. Anfied awaited, it turned out to be a sintelating classic, the circumstances were as followed: both teams fighting for the premier league crown, Keegan going back to Anfield (with a classic 90's scarlet themed suit) Newcastle were really being tested by this point of the season and both sides had produced possibly the gretest quality of football all season, both teams being the perfect pick of being everbodies 'second team', it was end to end stuff, Robbie Fowler opened the score early on, Asprilla left Ruddock for dead before putting in Ferdiand who turned and scored, Ginola ran on to a through ball to finish past David James, Fowler equalised again, Asprilla restored Uniteds lead, and Collymore scrambled another leveller, until the dying seconds John Barnes lost for options, Newcastle playing tight, only to forget to mark Stan Collymore who was left all alone on the left of the Toon area, he smashed his shot past Hislop, 4-3 Liverpool, amazing game but the title challenge hanging in the balance, luckily Manchester United got lost on the pitch against Southampton, apparently they couldn't see each other, their kit looked like the crowd, they still only scored once in the second half and lost the game 3-1, giving Newcastle a chance to bite back, so then champions Blackburn welcomed the Toon Army to Ewood Park, shortly after the arrival of David Batty from Rovers, he even scored his first goal for United to open the scoring but it was a late double from a geordie boy called Graham Fenton that stunned Newcastle, twice he scored at the death, on counter attacks and now the championship charge really was hanging by a thread. Newacstle huffed and puffed to succcesive 1-0 wins, 1st Southampton, Rob Lee scoring and then Leeds at Elland Road, a few early scares before a 12th minute Keith Gillespie header was enough to settle it, then after the game, a cult moment of Premier League history happened, post match interbiew on Sky in front of millions, Keegan is being questionned by the straight dirty talking duo Keys and Gray, he seems to keep his cool until remplying to one of the questions by a question of his own : Don't you have to send a tape of the game to Alex Ferguson, Isn't that what he asked for? In the space of a few plit seconds Keegan cracked and went apes**t and the term, I'm telling you now, we're still fighting for this titile, and he has to go to Middlesbrough to get something, and honestly, i'm telling him now if he's watching, I love it if we beat them, LOVE IT !! He never loved it, Ian Woan shot us down with a spectacular equaliser in our must win game in hand at the City Ground against Nottingham Forest, and Spurs came to SJP and earned a point .. The new Haymarket bus station was smashed up, instead of a huge pissup in the Bigg Market and on the Quayside, Keegan offered to resign, the board refused, and then went on to cement their position as a massive club by breaking the world record transfer fee by bringing Alan Shearer home for a then supercool 15M from Blackburn ...
After all the passion, excitement turning to despair of the previous rollercoaster season, United with the addition of Shearer were favourites for the title with bookies and pundits alike, only to be took apart at Wembley in the season shoxpiece opener, the Chartiy Shield, Manchester United ran were rampant 4-0 winners in the London heat, Newcastle were hopeless in the first half, a bit better second but the result was there, and revenge was needed. As the Fa Premiership restarted, now in it's fifth edition, the Toon traveled to Goodison Park for the campagn opener, a sloppy display ended up in a 2-0 defeat with a David Unsworth penalty as,GarySpeed scored a debut goal for Everton to seal it. Next game was Shearers homecoming, only David Batty lobbed Neil Sullivan early on to open Newcastle Uniteds goal account, Shearer struck later on though, curling in a wonderull free kick for the first of many for the Magpies, and Wimbledon were beaten 2-0, Sheff Wed, who were enjoying a spirited start to the season came and won, the season would soon pick up though, next trip was a last one at Roker Park, minus Newcastle fans as opposing fans were banned from the ground, even though some cheeky and crafty geordies managed to sneak in somehow (good on them!) a place that was vibrant was the Odeon in Town (RIP) as back then a match was shown on the cinemas big screen, a 2-1 win after 5under1and had took the lead brought the roof down and the Black and white army put on a run from there on up until late October.
Talking about that run, the last winning game of that run was on Sunday October 20th, live on Skysports, a 4pm kick-off, and vengeance was in the air, the team that had pipped United to the title 5 months earlier were in Toon, Newcastle came out all guns blazing, after 12 minutes, Darren Peacock headed in, Dennis Irwin scrambled tha ball away but with tv cameras for evidence, the ball was over, Man uniteds protests including Schmeichel fell on deaf ears. David Ginola thundered the ball into the top corner on the turn for a magnificent second. After the break the momentum didn't drop, Shearer was getting distroyed by the away fans in the top corner, he had turned them down for a second time that summer, opting to move to his hometown club to realise a boyhood dream, he picked up the ball out right, muscled his way into putting in a deadly cross and Ferdinand crashed a true Sir Les style header in off the bar, Shearer completed the humiliation by matching the score of the Charity Shield after Scmeichel did well to parry from Beardsley and Ferdinand before Shearer followed up and finally late on, out of nowhere up stepped Prince Philippe with a truely sensational goal considered as one of the best ever seen at St James Park, picking up the ball from a Rob Lee pass more than 30 yards out, he stepped inside, saw Schmeichel off his line and just so cooly chipped the Danish keeper who had no chance, before the final whistle images on tv showed the Toon army crown singing 5-0 and showing a full hand up to the Manchester United fans, goosebumps .. a magical day for Newcastle, simple as that. The win was to be the last of the run, a 2-0 defeat at Leicester was the beginning of a stop start pattern that would reach a climax in January 1997 as Tyneside suffered a bombshell anouncement, Kevin Keegan walked away, having already offered his resignation in the summer, the recent run was hard to stomach, something had broke, in this case Keegan, he claimed that he had taken the club as far as he could and a magic period was over on tyneside, fans quickly circled St James, now by long one of the best stadia in Europe if not the world, the atmosphere was composed of sheer shock, people were in tears due to the news, King Kevin had gone, the man who had taken Newcastle from the risk of going down to the old thrid division to challenging for top honours in the space of just over 4 years, just over a month shy of his fifth anniversary as manager he was gone, his replacement however would bring just as much anticipation though, in the form of Kenny Dalglish the Toon had a top class boss with the best honours on his cv, after spells at Liverpool and taking Blackburn from the Second division to being crowned champions of England of course belief but also expectancy was ijn order, United were still in a shout of silverwear, still in the Fa Cup and still in Europe with a double header against Monaco in March coming up, a loss of steam meant the title would be a long shot, Dalglish managed to seal Champions League qualification for the club for a first time by finishing second, (the first time an extra CL slot was available) but crashed out of the Cup againt Forest due to that man Ian Woan again, two stunners cancelling out Ferdiands opener, and Monaco came to Gallowgate with a side featuring young players like Thierry Henry, David Trezegeut, Fabien Barthez and Emmanuel Petit to name a few and turned the Mags over before a comftable 3-0 in the stade Louis II, a slim hope of a title triumph was all but over after a goaless draw at Westham and the Toon Army bettered Liverpool and Arsenal results to thump a sorry and already relegated Nottingham Forest 5-0 on the final day to secure European football for the season to come, it would also be the last game for the club for the likes of Les Ferdinand, Peter Beardsley and David Ginola.
With the curtain pulled down on the Keegan era, Dalglish wanted to shake things up, as top players left, the reinforcements brought in brought raised eyebrows, in with the likes of Ian Rush, John Barnes and Stuart Pearce, all now far from their peak of the late 80's up to the mid-90's, the squad was just about dismantled, no more cavaliar style, to make matters worse, hours after agreeing to sell Les Ferdinand to Tottenham for 6M, Alan Shearer was seriously injured in a friendly pre-season tournament called the Umbrow Cup, as Newcastle tried to block the move at the 25th hour, Spurs were having none of it and United had to settle with Asprilla, Jon Dahl Tommason and Ian Rush as 1st choice strikers, Tino would just about give the Toon army faithful one last send off, in what is arguably one of Newcastles Uniteds greatest ever performances and by far their greatest ever night as he smashed in a hat-trick in the Magpies opening Champions League fixture, against the mighty Barcalona including a certain portuguese geezer called Luis Figo, the Magpies were in dream land as they flew into a 3-0 lead against the Spanish greats, a late fightback brought Barca back to 3-2 but that was it, another historic night under the lights of St James Park.
It did not get any better than that for Newcastle after that, a brush with relegation followed during a dissapointing season a run to wembley finished by a 2-0 defeat to the hands of double winners Arsenal and Kenny didn't last long after that departing Newcastle and making place for what was suposed to be 'Sexy football' with Ruud Gullit, he bought the mighty Marcelino and upcoming talent Kieron Dyer from Ipswich, it never worked and another cup final followed in May 1999, another 2-0 defeat to a Manchester United side on course to a famous treble, the Toon army being the second hurdle on their way there, the following season was a nightmare start including a 4-2 spanking at the Dell against Southampton and Gullit publicly stating that when asked the suestion post match: Would you consider resigning at this stage of the season he simply replied : You never know. The final nail in the coffin was a torential night at St James, the Leazes end in full redevelopment to push the capacity to over 52,000 was not covered and drenched Geordies sat there in utter disbeleif as both Shearer and his strike partner by then, bought by Gullit, Big Duncan Ferguson were sensationaly dropped from the starting line-up for the massive derby againt Sunderland, a match Newcastle lost 2-1, the next morning is a well known story, Shearer dropping the kids off early to be able to have a raving explanation regarding the decision, as he got there he quickly noticed someone had beaten him to at as as in his own words, Duncan Ferguson was already in there tearing the paint off the walls. Of course Gullit walked, if he hadn't after that fiasco, the Geordies would of proberbly marched him to the Tyne bridge for the crime ... and then came another hero, Sir Bobby Robson ! The great manhimself, not yet a Sir as his knighthood would follow in the years to come, a question I have always asked myself and even still now, IF only he had replaced Keegan, IF only Barcalona at the time would of left him speak to the club, he wanted Shearer and Ginola with him at Barca, he would of kept the top players Dalglish sold,he would of brought his former translater and by now assistant with with him, José Mourihno, IF Sir Bobby had retired or stepped down at one point and he would of taken over, just where would Newcastle United be now ?? Robson lost his first game in charge to Chelsea but his second and first home game turned out to be one of the highest scoring wins of the Premiership era, a 8-0 win against Sheffield Wednesday, Alan Shearer scoring 5 to also reach a record, most goals scored in a Premier League fixture, The Bobby Robson era would bring many happy moments, the fact of having somebody who loved the club as a fan was the first massive factor, he built a team that would go on to rival the likes of Man Utd, Arsenal and Liverpool, in the early noughties, Chelsea wernt' there yet as Russian money hadn't arrived on the scene, it was still bankrolled by a tight Ken Bates. A mix of experience and youth worked well for Newcastle, Bobby steadied the ship at first, a couple of mid-table finishes before keeping the most important elements of the team, Shearer was scoring again, Gary Speed (RIP) was dictating the midfield, Nobby Solano was quickly becoming an important piece of the jig-saw, just how many times did he find Shearer with a cross? Kieron Dyer was electric with a an explosion of pace, in came the likes of Craig Bellamy to give a bit of bite to the side, Laurent Robert came in and when bothered was amazing, that free-kick against Man U, that double against Spurs and that special flick at home to Fulham, Olivier Bernard was a quick attacking left back, a young Jermaine Jenas arrived from Forest and with the signing of Jonathan Woodgate during the first January transfer window looked like the end of the never ending defensive problem of the Magpies, a 4th place finish in 01/02 was a huge acheivement, a result of that was the return of Chmapions League football in 02/03, an amazing night in Rotterdam was a highlight, Craig Bellamy was on hand to put United through, trips to the San Siro in Milan to face Inter Milan and Baralona in the Nou Camp followed in the second Champions League second group stage only for the Magpies to drop out as oppenents proved to be just too strong.
The Toon army bettered their 4th place finish of 01/02 the next season, a 3rd place along with a Champions League campagne was a succesful one, the 2003/04 season arrived, new optimism coming too, another expected Champions League run was on the cards and looking to go an extra step in the league standings, the european dream did not last long, Partizan Belgrade beat United via a penalty shoot-out after a 1-1 aggregate score over two legs in the CL qualifying rounds, the Mags dropped into the Uefa Cup, Lee Bowyer was the only recognised signing during the off season, Micheal Bridges would also arrive but for little impact, during the course of the term, fan favourite Solano was sold to Westham United for just 1.5M. It would be somewhat of a sticky start to the season for the Toon, not a single league win until early October against Southampton would halt the prospects of a satisfing campagne, a Uefa Cup semi-final defeat to Marseille and put an end to that hope and Newcastle managed a very respectful 5th place finish without reaching the highs of the last couple of seasons under Sir Bobby Robson.
The end of Sir Bobby and the arrival of Ashley
Some hopefull signings were made in the summer of 2004, Patrick Kluivert, Nicky Butt and young James Milner to name a few, but only a few weeks into the season and the club made the decision to sack Sir Bobby ! A shock yes, a cruel early season sacking, as chairman at the time Freddy Shepherd quoted that the club would of been in danger of relegation had Bobby Robson stayed on (Boll*#!$!!) Graham Souness was installed after a short spell as caretaker manager for John Carver, the whole season never got going despite a run to the Fa cup semi-fian and the Uefa cup quater finals, the Black and Whites finished the 04/05 season down in 14th place and possibly the most embarassing event of the season being an on-field punch-up in between Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer during a dire 3-0 home defeat to Aston Villa, according to the stories, Bowyer complained about Dyer not passing to him, when Bowyer asked Dyer why, he just said to him: 'beacause you're shit!' and hell broke loose, with Souness threatering to beat them both up after the incident, amusingly, it is believed that he beat up Craig Bellamy in the days after the events. Alan Shearer was due to retire during the summer of 2005, oinly for Souness to persuade him to stay on antoher year, in order to break the Jackie Milburn scoring record, Souness apparently telling him, if you give me another season, you have it. Shearer agreed and went on to play his final season in Black and White. Again, signing were impressive, first Scot Parker came in from Chelsea, a solid english midfielder, Nobby Solano made a happy return to the club and the record transfer fee was broken with the arrival of England striker Micheal Owen from Real Madrid in a 17M deal. It was to be another season of what could of been, Owen and Shearer did not play many games together due to injury, and under Souness the early season was a struggle, a win was hard to come by and the fustration soon mounted on Tyneside, Graham Souness was sacked after a dismal part-campagne and former Newcastle player Glenn Roeder came in, Alan Shearer reached another level of cult heroship as in a 2-0 win over Portsmouth, at his beloved gallowgate end as he broke Jackie Milburns goalscoring record, a record that will stay for many many years to come, he bowed out with a penalty in the Wear-Tyne derby before his carrer ended with injury, being substitued later in the game, he was to honour the Toon Army one last time in his testimonial from the penalty spot, after picking up the injury against 5under1and he was rulled out of the match with Celtic, Les Ferdinand with a comedy class along with Celtic who respectfully went along with it winning a last minute penalty, only for Shearer to come on and to one last same old Shearer always scoring put it away and rolled away with his hand up - as per !! United put on a fantastic run of form towards the end of the season, a 7th place finish wasn't that bad after all but with Shearer gone, who could at least try to fill his shoes ?
Obafemi Martins was brought in from Inter Milan to partner Micheal Owen in attack, on paper, it looked great, the 2006/07 season started with Victory in the Intertoto cup (does it really count as a european trophy?) a cup the Toon Army had missed out on a few years prior when Troyes came to SJP and won it on away goals after a 0-0 stalement in France and then a thrilling 4-4 draw at home, so the season got under way, like evry season, new fresh hopes, no more Shearer but a partnership made up of Owen/Martins was interesting to see, Damien Duff was another summer addition from Chelsea for 5M, now under the control of Russian money. It ended up being a troubled campagn for United again, with very little to shout or cheer about, Glenn Roeder left before the conclusion of the season as Nigel Pearson saw the team over the finish line as caretaker manager, big changes were coming up though, a whole new era that at first inspired fans, imagine telling them that now ...
During the Spring of 2007, Sports Shop tycoon Mike Ashley seeked to buy the club, Sir John Hall was first to sell and Ashley acquired the latters majority stakehold of the club, Freddy Shepherd stood firm as he had no plan to sell, only he lost out to Ashley in the end and sold up. Sam Allardyce was brought in as manager, Alan Smith, Mark Viduka and Joey Barton being the high profil signings of the summer, a promising start dried up and fans quickly turned on Allardyce, his tactics and omission of fan favourites fustrating the Geordies, Mike Ashley then though of a masterstroke, amid much pressure from fans, as he could be seen drinking pints in the crowd at games went after Kevin Keegan and sensationaly brought him back to the club he left exactly 11 years earlier, Keegan struggled slightly at first, the club finished in 12th spot but this was a different Newcastle United, the set-up was different, forget the Entertainer years, forget the green card Sir John gave to Keegan to go and look for world class players, he didnt have control and from the outside it was almost a mockery, a certain player (Ignacio González) was dubbed 'the youtube player' as nobody had even bothered to scout him, during the next summer when Dennis Wise, who was supposed to be a club director (nobody knows what his real job was) took the inititive to sign the player in question after a load period at Monaco, before the signing took place, a loan deal with option to buy, Wise met with Keegan to speak transfer options, Wise was very keen on the player, but admitted to have only seen clips on Youtube and advised Keegan to check the player out via the same route, Keegan unimpressed with the player and proberbly just the damn idea of signing a player without even seeing him play and being told to watch him on youtube told Dennis Wise, along with collegues Mr Jiminez and owner Ashley that in no way was he interested in bringing in a player nobody at the club had seen play, the club still went forward with the deal against Keegans will. So Keegan walked - again - but maybe this time for more valuable reasons, he who knew the club, couldnt possibly take the club forward if he was to be outwitted by others, he wanted control and there was no way he was going to get it .. Newcastle ended up burning through an incredible 5 managers that term, first to go Keegan, Chris Hughton took over first team duties until the rival of the amazing Joe ! Where he would then go on and insult the media on a massive foul mouthed rant during his press conference, firstly by calling out Simon Bird from the Mirror, and calling a cunt, he didn't hold back and the journalists in that press romm got both barrels, even though it seemed harsh Joe Kinnear defended his antics by explaining that 'I have had a million pages of crap written about me. I'm ridiculed for no reason. I'm defenceless' something that was defenceless was Newcastles form, a season of pure struggle was well underway, in February 2009 Kinnear needed heart sugery and Chris Houghton was again put in interim charge, United were in absolute freefall, an uphill relegation battle was now on their hands and a saviour was needed, read : Alan Shearer, who left his comfy seat on MOTD to come and help his cherished Toon Army, a task he would fail in, an uplifting win against Middlebrough gathered hope but the Magpies still had to go to Villa Park and not lose, a Damien Duff own goal condemnded Newcastle to Championship football for the first time since 1993, 16 years in the big time was over and many were fearing the worse as an indept looking ownership seemed to be in place.
Chris Hughton was given the mission of returning the Toon to the Premier Leagie at the 1st time of asking, players were brought in but no major ones as United prepared for a promotion push, a opening day draw at promotion rivals West Brom set the tone, an early exit from the League cup more or less prooved what the club wanted - an imediat return to the big time, and the Black and White army just about walked it, a 2-2 final day draw against Ipswich saw them lift their first cup (unless the Intertoto cup counts) since the Division One triumph of 93 and Newcastle were back up where they belong. Hughton kept his job for the return to the top flight, Sol Campbell was the only standout arrival, even though he offer little during his time with United, by the time the transfer window slammed shut, Cheick Tioté was signed from Twente, a battling Ivory Coast inernational midfielder and Hatem Ben Arfa on loan from Marseille with view to a permanant move, a first game defeat at Old Trafford kicked the season off for Newcastle, for the next game, the Premier League was coming back to St James Park and the Toon Army did not dissapoint, Andy Carrol bagged a hat-trick as a Joey Barton screamer started the festivities in a 6-0 home return win to the Premier League, on October the 31st another great match to be remebered happened, the 1s Tyne-Wear derby since Newcastles return to the Premier arrived, and Shola the Makem Slayer was in fine form, a hat-trick from captain Kevin Nolan, making him only the 3rd player to do it as the Toon Army ran out 5-1 winners, to had insult to the wound, Darren Bents injury time consolidation was met by cheers from the Geordie fans, the season followed it's due course up until November where at the Reebok Stadium United suffer a heavy loss to Bolton, ultimatly, Chris Hughton ended up paying the maximum price, as with great shock, after looking after the team during hard times and sticking with the club all along, bearing in mind the season was quite productive up until this point, he was contrverserly sacked by the club in early December, Alan Pardew came in and yet again many eyebrows were raised about the decision, the team were safe in mid-table and in February of 2010 another thrilling game was witnessed at Gallowgate, as Arsenal came, they were 3-0 within 10 minutes and 4 up at half-time, as many fans headed for the exits, the mother of all comebacks was about to happen, a diabolical first half Newcastle came back onto the pitch for the second half, it would be a true game of two halves, Abou Diaby completly lost the plot and got sent off after getting a hold of Joey Barton around the back of the neck and throwing him to the ground, well sort of, it's Joey Barton, a penalty shout went against Arsenal, Barton put the spot kick away, then momentum started to come, Leon Best was disallowed a perfect good goal and then got the Magpies second, the heat was on and again, that man Barton again put a second penalty away, and then late on, under costant Newcastle pressure and down to 10 men Arsenal gave a corner away, nodded away only as far as Tiote, and there on the volley, Bang !!! Goal, the place goes wild, and the City with it, 4-4 it would be Tiotes only ever goal for Newcastle, well he was unlucky to have a great strike againt City ruled out for a mystery offside decision, Kevin Nolan came very close to winning it in the end, but put his shot wide as the whole of St James held their breath. The season concluded with a 12th place finish, respect enough for a returning side to the Premier League.
Pardews first summer was a busy one, Hatem Ben Arfa was signed despite very limited playing time the previous season due to a broken leg, Demba Ba was signed along with Yohan Cabaye from Lille and Davide Santon and Gabriel Obertan as the Mags looked to capiatlise on the season befores efforts. It was to be the best term in the last ten years, Papis Cissé joined in the January transfer window and struck up a wicked partnership with fellow countryman Demba Ba, Cissés first 6 months on Tyneside would be his best, just about a goal machine as we seemed to be scoring everytime he had a chance, including a goal of the season effort against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, a 2-0 win that confirmed a place in Europe for the following campagne as Newacstle finished an impressive term in 5th place. The following term United cashed in on their succes from the season before, the Europa League was an extra ask too, it would again be an season of uphill trouble, Demba Ba was sold to Chelsea for 7M in January 2013, the only big coming in of the summer is Vernon Anita from Ajax, the season was a complete struggle and relegation was never really far away, in the end Newcastle survived, for another season at least.
Another season, another non eventful one, unless the return of Joe Kinear was one, a lot more low key this time, many thought it was a joke but no, he really was installed as director of football, but for? And what did he do? I don't know, must of taking a canny wage though, Papiss Cisse also started the season by refusing to wear the Wonga shirt, he was then seen in a newspaper gambling at a Newcastle casino, surely a factor that swerved his decision to actually wear it in the end, long serving goalkeeper Steve Harper was rewarded with a testimonial for his services to the club, Loic Remy had a solid season on loan but espite being offered the chance to sign permanantly, he went to Chelsea (his misses prefered the capital to tropical Toon) it was a secure 10th place finish. Pre-season 2014 saw the Black and White army try and go for some potential in rehhards to the players they signed, young lads like Ayoze Perez arrived, along with Remi Cabella, Siem de Jong and Daryl Janmaat but it just like many previous seasons, it failed, Alan Pardew left to take up the job at Crystal Palace and a dismal campagn that was a relegation dog fight right until the end, one man stood out, or two if you had a laugh with John Carver once he was given first team responsaibilities by claiming : I am the best coach in the Premier League, the other was Jonas Gutierrez, a battle against cancer had been on the agenda, the club to the disgust of many, told him that he could look for a new club, well this was the man who would save Newacastle Uniteds season with a second goal on the final day against Westham to secure their Premier League status, he would then leave the club but with legendary status, and Carver then calmly appeared on Goals on Sunday and told Kammy, that it was tongue in cheek and that he evn went to see somebody about guiding Newcastle to safety, the Mags ending up 15th at the close of the season.
The self proclaimed best coach in the Premier League (he did actually love the club to be true) left and the Wally with a brolly replaced him, always smiling, what ever the defeat, always positive even after his sides 91st defeat in a row gave the Newcastle job a go, with a smile and got sacked with a smile too, a few players arrived, the kinds of Thauvin, Wijnaldum and Andros Towensend, potentiel but only lasted the season, in Towensends case, half of it, it needed of came to be honest as a terrible season went on, the only bright moment, the sacking of Steve McClaren, but all with the smile, he would later return to Derby and get sacked 17 times, each time with a smile on his face - as always - Rafa Benitez came in, although he couldn't save the club from relegation he decided to stay on, and despite a tricky Championship season, somehow at the death we did it and took the title, as unlikley as it seemed weeks ago, now the Rafalution is in place, he didn't hesitate in getting rid of the old last summer in order to prepare for the task of the Championship, a league he has now won and added to his impressive palmares, be excited Newcastle fans, Rafa is an ambitoius man, a proved winner with Valencia, Liverpool, Napoli and Real Madrid as former employees, a Champions League and Europa League winner, a reputation to look after, if he sticks with the Toon it must be becuase he beleives in something, Wonga has gone too and Ashley seems finally to have learnt a lesson - it only took him a decade but hope is there and with a jam packed histeric St James Park urging the Toon Army on who know what can happen? Rafa is a winner and the ball is in Newcastles halve now, it could ne a match made in heaven, we are witnessing scenes never seen since the Keegan era, the Toon army is on the up, a massive club, amazing fans and culture, it's up to you Newcastle United .. What does the futur hold ? Only time will tell ...