The unexpected joys and controversy of Newcastle United and the 1969 Fairs Cup

The origin and history of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup is often lost in the mists of time, and for many football fans with a distaste for strange tournaments with weird and unwieldy qualification criteria, there’s a tendency to leave it in those foggy and forgotten times. If you dig deep enough into the history though, there’s often a tale to tell.

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It was originally the brainchild of three men who would aspire to high rank in FIFA. Stanley Rous, Secretary of the FA at the time who would later accede to the Presidency of the world footballing body, plus an Italian named Ottorino Barassi, and Ernst Thommen, a Swiss, who were both members of the FIFA Executive Committee conceived a competition whereby the clubs of cities hosting international trade fairs would play a series of friendlies. If that’s not cloudy enough, there was also a rule that precluded any more than one team from each city holding such a fair. If, therefore, there was a fair in London, only one club from the capital would be allowed to compete.

In the inaugural competition, that ran across a three-year period from 1955-1958, such an event happened, and in order to allow a measure of equity across the top clubs in the city, a London XI was selected to participate. They would reach the final played across two legs, against a Barcelona XI, representing the city of that name. Although the English representatives were drawn from Arsenal, Brentford, Charlton, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Leyton Orient, QPR, Tottenham and West Ham, the Catalan capital’s representative team was entirely selected from Barcelona FC players. The obvious advantage of a set team outweighed the political correctness of eclectic team selection and Barcelona triumphed 8-2 across two legs.

It would however be wrong to throw the Fairs Cup – as it quickly became abbreviated to – into a box marked merely ‘curios’ never to see the light of day again. As time passed on, the list of clubs victorious hardly suggests that it was considered a joke tournament. Between its opening and the end of the 1968 tournament, following on from Barcelona, clubs such as Valencia, Real Zaragoza, Ferencváros, Leeds United, Dinamo Zagreb and Roma all lifted the trophy and, when the qualification criterion was adjusted after 1968, to reflect league positions – although still with the one club per city rule in place, an increase in status followed. In 1971, it would evolve into the UEFA Cup.

In that final year, before the league positions became a factor, Leeds United triumphed and became the last club who had qualified on a purely geographical basis to lift the trophy, when they defeated Ferencváros thanks to a Mick Jones goal at Elland Road and a goalless draw in Budapest’s Népstadion. They were the first English winners of the tournament. Their loss in the final to Dinamo Zagreb the previous year being the fourth time that clubs from England had reached the final, but lost out. For the following three years though, all that would change as English clubs dominated the final four years of the Fairs Cup’s existence before it was taken over by UEFA and rebranded as the UEFA Cup.

The year following the Yorkshire club’s success, the first time that holding international trades fair was not a prerequisite for qualification. Another English club would ride a wave of fortune, success against former winners, controversy and finally a string of goals from the unlikeliest of sources to take the trophy to the Northeast of England, and St James Park, home of Newcastle United. The Magpies had not secured a major trophy since the 1955 FA Cup Final triumph over Manchester City, when goals from Jackie Milburn, Bobby Mitchell and George Hannah carried the day in a 3-1 victory. The victory in 1969 meant that the Geordies had waited 14 years for their next trophy triumph. The consequent wait since lifting the Fairs Cup on that June day though, as the Swinging Sixties were drawing to a close, has been much longer though, and it was only by a strange set of circumstances that the club even qualified to compete in the Fairs Cup.

After an unspectacular season, Newcastle finished the 1967-68 league programme in an uninspiring tenth position. It was pretty much as mid-table as you can get, and their performances suggested that it neither flattered nor decried the standard of their performances. Thirteen wins, fifteen draws and fourteen losses pretty much summed the season up. By a strange combination of rules, qualifications and location though, the fates would conspire to grant Newcastle an inaugural journey into European competition.

The League Champions were Manchester City, who went forward into the European Cup. Their city rivals were runners-up, but as they had lifted ‘Old Big Ears’ the previous term, they qualified for the same competition as holders. There were four Fairs Cup places to be allocated. Liverpool, finishing third claimed the first one of those. Leeds finished fourth and qualified as holders, without taking up one of the three remaining places. Everton were fifth, but with Liverpool already qualified in a higher league finish, the ‘one club per city’ rule stymied the Toffees. In sixth position, Chelsea claimed the one qualifying spot for all of London, which meant that Spurs, one place below them missed out much as Everton had. West Bromwich Albion in eighth claimed the penultimate qualification spot. Arsenal were ninth, but were compelled to sit on the naughty step alongside Everton and Spurs. All of this meant that Newcastle United, who were tenth in the league, were in line for the final Fairs Cup place.

Even then, things were less than certain. The fourth place had only been added as the competition had been extended from 48 to 64 clubs. Rous, however, had been against the extension and, as the chairman of the Fairs Cup committee, he wielded considerable weight. It was quite likely that the European adventure would be stopped before it had even started, and the club even declined to send a representative to Copenhagen for the draw. They would only discover that their first-round appointment was confirmed via a less than reliable telephone line.

Unlike the modern day, wherein three or four clubs from the major leagues achieve qualification for the major European tournament, things were very different back in the sixties. Only the champions were allowed to compete in the European Cup, which meant there was any number of top clubs vying for success in the Fairs Cup, and the 1968-69 version was no different. With clubs such as Juventus, Athletic Bilbao, Eintracht Frankfurt, Real Zaragoza, Olympique Lyonnais, Bologna, Fiorentina, Hamburger SV and Napoli amongst many others, including the English contingent, all of whom had finished ahead of Newcastle in the league; progress would not be easy for the Geordies.

Their first-round opponents illustrated that point when they were paired with the Dutch club Feyenoord; although Newcastle may well have met them at just the right time. De club aan de Maas, were definitely on the rise. The club would complete the domestic league and cup double later in the 1968-69 season, and then go on to become the first club from the Netherlands to win the European Cup the following term. For all the glory that would come their way over the next couple of seasons however, the Dutch team were no match for the Geordies over two legs, especially following the opening game at St James Park.

On 11 September 1968, Newcastle United played their first competitive game in a European competition. More than 46,000 fans crammed into the stadium to see how their heroes would cope with this strange competition and playing against clubs whose names had only previously been seen in occasional newspaper reports. There was a slight hint of trepidation before the game as skipper, Bobby Moncur would miss the clash due to a cartilage operation, but any concerns were dashed away with a flood of goals.

Half-a-dozen minutes had passed, with the crowd still buzzing at the prospect of the new adventure when Geoff Allen beat his marker to cross for Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson, who set up Jim Scott to open the scoring from close range. Local lad, Allen would be a terrier on that night causing havoc down the flanks. He was looked upon as a future England player, but sadly his career would be cruelly be cut short by injury. On this night though, the Geordies were on their way, and roared on by their fanatical following further goals for Robson and Tommy Gibb had Newcastle in dreamland at the break. Ahead of the game, Newcastle manager Joe Harvey had identified Welsh centre forward Wyn Davies as the Geordies main threat, saying that the striker should, “Get in the box and stay there.” It seemed to pay dividends, as the forward notched the fourth goal in the second period.

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Moncur would also be absent from the line-up for the return in Rotterdam. But despite the club omitting him from the party travelling to Rotterdam to save money, he wouldn’t miss the match. The skipper later related to the Newcastle Chronicle that, “I got a phone call from the old supporters’ club and they told me they would love me to join them on the fans trip. It was two-day trip and we stayed in a hotel in Zandvoort, as fans from that time will remember. The whole trip, including flights and hotel, cost just £19.10! I remember the Chronicle also ran a series of trips and this resulted in a black-and-white swarm heading across the North Sea. I don’t think the Dutch quite knew what had hit them as 2,000 fans headed for Rotterdam!” A 2-0 reverse was hardly as inspiring as the first leg result, but it meant that the first hurdle had been cleared, and it seemed that the Geordies had a taste for this European lark, and Moncur would have his day, well actually days, much later in the tournament.

Success against the Dutch meant a match up with Sporting Clube de Portugal in the next round, and on 30 October, the Geordies travelled to the Portuguese capital perhaps expecting to have to play in the relative warmth of an Iberian autumnal evening. It hardly turned out like that. In a game that at times threatened to be abandoned due to a freak downpour, which turned the game into more of a water polo match, with the dugouts literally becoming flooded with rain water. Fortunately, thanks to a determined referee and the stoic efforts of the players, the game was completed and a goal by Jim Scott earned an important draw in front of a surprisingly small crowd of around 9,000. Back at St James Park, the number attending would be somewhat different.

Twenty-one days later, the gates were besieged from late afternoon as Newcastle looked to be on the verge of entering the last sixteen of the Fairs Cup on their maiden voyage into European competition. The job still had to be done though, and if the 53,000 fans producing record gate receipts, were expecting another goal rush akin to the one achieved against Feyenoord, they were to be disappointed. This would be an entirely different kind of encounter.

Confidence was high, and not just because of the draw in Lisbon. Five days previously, Newcastle had humbled league champions Manchester City with a 1-0 victory at St James Park, thanks to a Wyn Davies strike. Sporting however were also up for the game, with their striker Lourenco asserting, “We always play to win. Newcastle will have a tough tie on their hands. I feel right on form and ready for a hatful of goals.” In the event of things, any such hat would have needed to be very small indeed, as a single goal decided the encounter, and it did not come from the Portuguese forward.

With Sporting donning their traditional hooped shirts, Newcastle had foresworn their black and white stripes for an all-white ensemble. The change of colours hardly diminished the early passion of the crowd however and, driven on by the fearsome throaty roar of fifty-odd thousand Geordies, Newcastle piled into the attack forcing the visitors onto the back foot. The early clamour would see its reward just ten minutes in when Pop Robson volleyed home in front of an ecstatic Gallowgate end after the towering Wyn Davies, an aerial threat to the visitors’ goal all evening, flicked on a free kick. From that moment, Sporting’s threat was sporadic at best and although the acrobatics of Vitor Damas in the visitor’s goal kept the lead to that single strike, there was not much threat of an equaliser. At the final whistle, Newcastle, who had qualified thanks to a number of combinations and coincidences, were in the last sixteen of the Fairs Cup.

Things were getting exciting now. It is fair to say that the draw so far had done Newcastle few favours, having faced Feyenoord and the Sporting, but with many of the tournament’s lesser lights now being sent home packing, almost every club left in the draw had the aura of being potential winners. When the pairings were announced, another trip to the Iberian Peninsula was on the cards as Newcastle were drawn against Spain’s Real Zaragoza, with the first leg being in Aragon at La Romareda.

On the first day of 1969, Joe Harvey’s team lined up for a game that would see momentum swing repeatedly between the teams, and even at the final whistle, it would be unclear as to who had the upper hand. The early stages clearly belonged to the home team and just five minutes in, midfielder Santos had Zaragoza ahead. This Newcastle team lacked nothing in application though, and were rapidly becoming hardy European competitors. Just two minutes later, the ever-reliable Pop Robson equalised. Back came Zaragoza again though, and this time it was the forward Bustillo who gave them the upper hand once more, only for the other half of the Newcastle frontline Davies-Robson axis to square things up on the half hour mark, and that’s how it remained at the break.

A second away draw, especially with two away goals already pocketed would have been a more than satisfactory outcome for Newcastle, but just ten minutes after the break, midfielder Planas put Zaragoza ahead for the third. There would be no more comebacks for Newcastle. A 3-2 win for Zaragoza opened the doors for optimism in both camps. The Spaniards had a lead to take to St James Park, knowing that they only needed a draw to progress, whilst the Geordies had those two away goals to support their hopes, meaning that even a one goal win would swing the tie in their favour. As things transpired, those away goals would prove invaluable.

On 15 January 1969, more than 56,000 Geordies were crammed into St. James Park to see if Newcastle could turn around the deficit from the first leg in Spain and move into the last eight of the Fairs Cup. It would be no easy task, netting three times in the first leg, Zaragoza had offered plenty of evidence that they could score goals against Harvey’s backline, and it would take both a resolute attacking and disciplined defensive displays to see the home side prevail.

Ahead of the game, a 2-1 defeat to Leicester City in a league game had hardly boosted confidence for what manager Harvey described as “the club’s most important game for years”. Spanish striker Bustillo who was destined for a move to Barcelona at the end of the season contrastingly exuded belief, declaring that, “English defences have a reputation for being rough. I expect to be closely marked tonight. It’s a compliment. It doesn’t frighten me.” The start that Newcastle made to the game however, may have been a tad more upsetting than Bustillo considered the home defence to be.

Just two minutes had elapsed, with the crowd still whipped up on the adrenalin off the referee’s opening whistle, when Pop Robson drove forward and fired home a speculative shot from around 30 yards. In goal for the Spaniards, Nieves should surely have done better, but with the game hardly started, Newcastle had eliminated the deficit and, thanks to the away goals snaffled in Spain, they held the advantage. A second goal, just before the half-hour mark offered a little reassurance, and Zaragoza would now need to score twice to salvage the tie. A corner from Robson was punched clear by Nieves, but, loitering on the edge of the penalty area, Tommy Gibb headed powerfully back into the net. A goal by Armando Martin, just ahead of the break, cut the deficit and promised a nervous second half, but Newcastle held out, and their European Odyssey would continue.

Things were getting serious now, and the pairing for the quarterfinals would see them drawn against another Iberian club, this time it was Portugal again, and the club was Vitória de Setúbal. Based just 25 miles south of Lisbon, Setúbal were hardly considered one of the country’s top outfits, but a comfortable victory over the Italian club Fiorentina had franked their credentials as potentially difficult opponents. Notching 17 goals across their three rounds so far also suggested they were pretty hot stuff going forwards.

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With the home leg coming first, the Portuguese side would visit the Northeast of England in mid-March, and the climate had a nasty surprise for them. Just 24 hours ahead of the game, Newcastle was engulfed in a snowstorm. It set the tone for the following few days, and given that the town of Setúbal hadn’t seen snow for more than 25 years, and some of their players had never experienced it in their lives, it was a bit of a shock to the system.

A number of ways were deployed to keep out the cold, with one visiting player even placing a pair of spare socks over his hands in a forlorn attempt to combat the blizzard that greeted the teams as they entered the pitch. Domestic form had been patchy for Newcastle since the victory over Zaragoza – two wins, two draws and two defeats, being the sort of results that would see the Geordies finish in mid-table at the end of the season again. They seemed to be saving their best performances though for this European adventure, and in the snow and icy cold of St James Park, put on another display that proved too much for their opponents.

Midway through the first period, Alan Foggon, a player hardly renowned for his ability in the air, nodded a neat header home to put the Geordies ahead. A dozen minutes later, it was a typical piece of Pop Robson opportunism that doubled the score at the break. The relative warmth of the dressing rooms may well have been a welcome respite for the Portuguese, but back on the park in the second period, it was a case of goals to Newcastle as the Geordies sought to put the tie beyond redemption.

Wyn Davies added a third on 65 minutes, amid controversy with the Portuguese adamantly arguing that he was offside when Robson’s forward header presented him with an opening. The goal stood though, and it was Robson again, netting the fourth with fifteen minutes remaining. A goal from Jose Maria inside the last ten minutes was exposed as being a mere consolation when Gibb scored a fifth goal in the dying embers of the game.

The return leg was played in a bizarre atmosphere. As Setúbal’s ground was unavailable due to building work, the match venue was switched to the Jose Alvalade Stadium in Lisbon, the home of Sporting, where Newcastle had played a few months earlier, and took place amidst a Carnival Night. It was thus a case of Newcastle offering as stern as possible a backline against a Setúbal team bent on achieving the most unlikely of comebacks. Needing at least four goals, they achieved three, but another goal for the Geordies from Wyn Davies defused much of the pressure and Newcastle were through.

For all the celebrated clubs that had entered the competition with high hopes and big reputations, the final four were arguably equally unheralded. Newcastle, on their maiden voyage into continental competition, were accompanied by Scottish side Rangers. The two British clubs were drawn together. The other semi-final would comprise of the Hungarians of Újpest Dosza facing the Turkish club, Göztepe A.Ş. The latter had progressed after their opponents in the quarterfinal, Hamburger SV, had withdrawn. Nothing was certain of course, but the Geordie fans were beginning to dismiss thoughts of this being a mere journey of exploration into Europe, and start to dream of glory.

Before Newcastle faced Rangers though, in the same month as they eliminated Setúbal, Harvey would move to strengthen his squad by signing the Danish midfielder Benny Arentoft from Scottish side St Mirren. Perhaps with an eye to the dozen goals that the little playmaker had netted in around a century of games north of the border, the wily Harvey may have been thinking that Arentoft would add considerable weight to his team’s firepower from the middle of the park. It wouldn’t work out that way though. In his entire time at St James Park, the Dane would only register three goals. Making his debut on 2 April, by the end of that month, he would already have registered on the score sheet twice in domestic encounters. His third and final goal would not be long in coming, but would have to wait until 11 June, in a game that meant somewhat more than a league encounter.

By the time the first leg of the semi-final drew round the Dane was a regular fixture in Harvey’s midfield, and his experience of the game north of the border may well have been invaluable. Accounts of the time suggest that more than 12,000 Geordies travelled to Glasgow for the away leg, taking their place in a fiercely partisan crowd of more than 70,000 crammed into Ibrox. It would be a robust battle in the truest sense of the word, with no quarter asked or given as the home side battled for at least one goal to take with them when they visited Newcastle.

With Newcastle’s defence marshalled, ironically, by two Scots in Bobby Moncur and John McNamee, the English club held firm, and when the golden chance of a penalty arrived for Rangers, Willie McFaul kept the ball out and Newcastle headed for home knowing that a victory by any margin would see them qualify for the final. Rangers though were hardly out of the equation. Any draw, other than a goalless one, would mean it was the Scottish club progressing instead. The return fixture, already guaranteed to be fraught and tense with expectation, would go beyond that into the realms of controversy before anything was decided.

There was one final league fixture to complete for Newcastle, and a 1-1 draw against Liverpool meant another mid-table finish for the Geordies. With the club’s league business now dispensed with however, everything was focused on the Fairs Cup.

On 21 May 1969, the two teams lined up to face each other. As with the game at Ibrox a week earlier, it would be two Scots who decided the outcome of the game. Again, though, they would be wearing stripes rather than the blue of Rangers. They would be forwards this time, not defenders. A typically tense first half passed without any score. It had been tetchy, it had been ill-tempered, but it had also been goalless. The Rangers’ back line was being as obdurately stubborn as the Newcastle one had been at Ibrox.

Half time came and went, and still the outcome remained in doubt. Then, seven minutes after the break, wide man Jim Scott broke the deadlock and Newcastle were ahead. There was already a simmering discontent among the fans from Scotland and the goal, pushed them to the brink of anger. The ticking bomb would explode later. On 77 minutes, another Scot, this time Jackie Sinclair marauding from the other flank netted the second. It was more than the Rangers fans could bear.

Pouring from the Gallowgate End, hordes of Rangers fans invaded the pitch. Accounts differ as to numbers. Some say hundreds, whilst others number into the thousands. Whatever the total was, it caused a break in the game. Police sought to restore order as bottles and cans were bombarded towards their numbers. Some have recounted that there were a large number of drunken fans involved, whilst others insist it was merely a calculated attempt to have the game abandoned.

A loudspeaker address asserting that the game would be halted unless order was restored hardly calmed tensions, and it took the police nearly 20 minutes to regain control of the situation. Arrests were made, but many escaped the sanction, scampering back to the anonymity and sanctuary of the terraces. A police spokesperson later said that had sufficient manpower been made available, the arrests would have totalled 2,000. In the end, they numbered only 30, although reported injuries were three times that many.

With order eventually restored, the referee only felt comfortable restarting the game when a cordon of police, arms-linked, stood in front of the collected Rangers fans to prevent any repetition. Understandably, the disruption destroyed any semblance of rhythm in the game and the remaining time was played out without further score.  Newcastle United were through to the final of the Fairs Cup in their first season of European competition. The night, however, would be remembered for other reasons as well.

The local newspaper reported that, “Glasgow Rangers directors, shocked, shattered and embarrassed by last night’s riots in Newcastle, labelled the offenders lunatics.” And that in the aftermath of the game, the streets of the city required a massive clean-up operation as “shops, public houses, and even some private homes took the brunt of the damage after the game.” In modern times, such disruption and disgrace would bring down the wrath of the authorities on both clubs, but at this time, the cursed head of hooliganism at football was merely peering over the parapets. The walls would be breached many number of times in the following decades or so as the dread disease spread its vile tentacles throughout the game. For Newcastle, at least though, there was the thought of a first European final to be contested.

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Újpest were hardly a well-known name amongst English fans, and many would have put the Geordies as favourites to now lift the trophy. Ignorance, however, should never be confused with wisdom, and the Hungarians were a more than a capable outfit. The Magyar national team had flourished three years earlier in the World Cup. The star player of that cherry-red shirted team, Flórián Albert, played in Budapest, but he was aligned to Ferencváros, rather than Újpest Dózsa. The Lilák had stars of their own though, not least Ferenc Bene and László Fazekas, who had also featured in the Hungary team in 1966 alongside Albert, plus a further nine full internationals.

In the quarter-finals, they had eliminated Leeds United 3-0 on aggregate, causing Don Revie to describe them as “the best in Europe.” To some, it may have sounded like hyperbole, seeking to camouflage a more than disappointing elimination, but an eight-goal romp in the semi-finals against Göztepe A.Ş., with Bene netting five across the two games, offered at least a measure of credibility to the assessment.

Just a week after the traumatic events of the semi-final, on 29 May 1969, the first leg of the final took place. Across that game and the return in Budapest, the eventual destination of the Fairs Cup would overwhelmingly be decided by three goals from the most unlikely of sources. It was time for Bobby Moncur to turn from taciturn central defender to goal-scoring sensation.

As the referee blew for half-time, the 65,000 fans in St James Park would have had their assessments of the Hungarian team’s merits brought swiftly into line. Although the home team had huffed and puffed, with central striker Wyn Davies a constant threat in the air, Newcastle had been unable to make a breakthrough. Manager Harvey had said he was looking for at least a two-goal lead to take to Hungary, but with half the game gone, those goals looked as far away as ever.

A further 18 minutes had ticked by, with the home fans fearing that their favourites were looking increasingly likely to fall at this final hurdle, when the breakthrough finally came. Pop Robson’s surging run towards the opposition box was crudely halted offering the home team a free kick some 25 yards out. Seeing the tall Wyn Davies, unaccountably free on the far post, Tommy Gibb floated the ball towards the Welsh striker. Calmly controlling before firing in his shot, Davies would surely have thought he was bound to score, but a sprawling Antal Szentmihályi in the visitors’ goal blocked the attempt. As the ball rebounded into the penalty area though, it fell to Moncur who controlled before driving home to score his first goal for the club. Newcastle had the breakthrough, but one goal surely would not be enough.

Moncur would play over 300 games, for Newcastle without getting into double figures for goal scoring, but on this night, he had the gods of football smiling on him. Having waited seven years for his first goal for the St James Park club, he clearly had the taste for this goal-scoring lark. His second would follow just nine minutes later. Picking up a loose ball around the centre-circle, the rugged defender played a neat wall pass with Arentoft, then, profiting from a mistimed challenge ploughed on, before hitting home from the edge of the area. Mobbed by his teammates, as he trotted back to his own half, Moncur’s look of semi-delirious incredulity spoke volumes for the emotions of a defender unused to such acclaim. The home fans were ecstatic, and the game had swung dramatically in less than ten minutes, but there as more drama to come.

Just seven minutes remained on the clock when Jim Scott cut in from the left flank and laid the ball off to Arentoft. The Dane’s touch was sublime as he played the return pass to perfectly mesh with the winger’s dart into the penalty area. A neat clip over the advancing goalkeeper and Newcastle were three goals to the good, eclipsing the stated requirement of their manager. It brought the scoring to an end. But if any Geordies thought the job had been done, the events of the first half in Budapest’s Megyeri úti Stadium, a couple of weeks later would change all that.

On 11 June, the teams met again for the second leg. The smaller Budapest stadium precluded the sort of numbers that had witnessed the rousing end to the game at St James Park, but the 37,000 fans lacked little in passion and fervour, and the first-half performance of the home team gave them every hope that the seemingly impregnable three goal deficit from the first leg could be overturned with something to spare.

As with the first game, the early minutes of the game brought home team pressure but little in the way of a tangible reward. Moving towards the half-hour mark, Newcastle may have felt that they had weathered the early storm, and were hopefully moving into calmer waters. A storm was about to break though. Recalling the game in an interview with FourFourTwo, Frank Clark explained how the talented Hungarians had pressed intently. “For 45 minutes they absolutely pulverised us. The goalkeeper, Willie McFaul, was fantastic but we couldn’t get a kick.” Then came the goals.

On 30 minutes, an insistent attack saw the ball break to Bene and he fired a right-footed cross shot past McFaul. The ice had now been broken, and just ahead of the half-time whistle, Newcastle’s hard-won lead was all but gone. A misplaced pass by Sinclair went straight to Antal Dunai, who pivoted before finding János Göröcs in space on the Newcastle left flank. The change of possession had caught the defence out of position and the speedy Göröcs powered through the gap in the backline before smashing the ball past McFaul from close range. The momentum was now solidly with the Hungarians.

In the same interview, Clark lamented the emotion of the moment. “We were 2-0 down at half-time and it looked like they would go on and win the game comfortably.” The break came at just the right time for the Geordies. Perhaps it was the calming words of Harvey, or just the chance for a break to gather their thoughts and reassure each other. Whatever the case, the game would change just two minutes after the restart.

Jackie Sinclair was about to redeem himself for the error that led to the second Hungarian goal when he took a corner on the Newcastle left. The ball swung towards Wyn Davies, but the towering striker’s effort, challenged by goalkeeper Szentmihályi, merely found its way back to the diminutive wide man who speared the ball back into the box. Up for the corner, it was the most ‘likely of unlikely’ of scorers again who would turn the game back in Newcastle’s favour as Moncur volleyed home. In seven years of service at the club, he had never been on the score sheet, but now, he had three in two legs of this Fairs Cup Final. It was a truly remarkable, and immensely welcome, way to break a goal scoring duck.

Perhaps the goal had burst a fragile confidence for the Hungarians, but Newcastle now assumed domination of the game and moved to put the outcome beyond question. Four minutes later, the scores on the night were level. Jim Scott fired in a shot that was blocked but, alert to the opportunity, Ben Arentoft ran into the box and drove the ball high past Szentmihályi as he advanced. The goals in the first leg had been Moncur’s first for the club, and despite this being Arentoft’s third strike for Newcastle since joining the club just ahead of the Rangers tie, it would also be his last one. It had taken a mere five minutes of play after the break to negate the advances the Hungarians had made in the first period. The game was surely up now, with Újpest needing four goals in the remaining time.

All the early fervour of the encounter had now melted away and a sad acceptance of the inevitable seemed to have settled on the home team and their supporters entering the last 15 minutes of the game. A long McFaul goal kick was flicked on by Davies towards substitute Alan Foggon, who has entered the fray a couple of minutes earlier. Full of running, he nodded the ball into space between two tiring defenders, one who tried forlornly to trip the raider, and plundered on a run before hammering a shot on goal. Szentmihályi gallantly blocked, but merely parried the ball into the air. The ball struck the bar and Foggon followed up to joyously crash the ball home.

True to say that, to all intents and purposes, by then the game was already entering a meaningless phase with both sides knowing the destiny of the trophy, but it was a perfect way to round off Newcastle’s European adventure. Newcastle United had won the Fairs Cup, and the trophy was lifted by the club’s new ace marksman Bobby Moncur.

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Just how important the success had been was made clear when the team returned home. “We partied long and hard but when we came back to Newcastle it was unbelievable,” Clark recalled. “We got off the plane at Newcastle airport and onto the coach, and the road from the airport to the stadium was just lined with people – how the hell they were all off work and school I don’t know because it was the middle of the day. When we got into the ground, it seemed to me that St James’ was full.” That the fans enjoyed the triumph is undoubted, but few would surely have believed that they would need to wait fifty years or more before lifting another trophy. The wait goes on.

It’s perhaps a little sad as well to note that, when UEFA took control of the competition in 1971, rechristening it as the UEFA Cup, the European governing body decreed that, as the competition had not been conducted under its auspices ahead of that time, it refused to consider it as a ‘major trophy.’ Geordie fans however would have little regard for such political definitions. In a fallow period for the club, the glory will long be remembered with affection for the unexpected joys of Newcastle United and the 1969 Fairs Cup.

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