FOOTBALL in its modern form arouses passions on Tyneside like no other sport or pastime. Yet the North East region was one of the country's late developers and not until around 1890 did Tyneside see rapid progress made, several years after other parts of the country had seen football flourish.
Even then support was a trickle compared to the 65,000 crowds that were to roar encouragement to Newcastle United in their heyday and the 51,000 that watch the Magpies at the new St James Park in the Millennium.
The first recorded game of football on Tyneside took place on 3rd March 1877 at the Elswick Rugby Club when a few keen enthusiasts formed two scratch teams - eight against nine - the nine winning 2-0. Shortly afterwards Newcastle's first club was born, Tyne Association being formed in 1877.
Another side, Newcastle Rangers started life in 1878 and first played on the Drill Field in Gateshead because they could not find a pitch north of the river. They eventually moved across the Tyne taking over an enclosed ground close to Leazes Terrace in September 1880. The pitch was immediately referred to as St James Park. The foundation had been laid in Newcastle United's development.
The year of 1882 was an important 12 months in the history of the club as two new sides arrived on the scene which eventually were to lead to the present-day Magpies. Newcastle United's origins are to be found with two minor football clubs on the east of the city, Stanley and Rosewood.
Stanley had originated from a cricket eleven, formed in November 1881 - the rudimentary start of Newcastle United, although some official records note that the club were playing an unorganised game a year earlier.
As Stanley progressed with their pioneering game, they were often confused with other clubs of the same name in County Durham, so they decided to change their title in October 1882 to Newcastle East End. Rosewood had been formed a couple of months earlier and soon joined forces with East End to form a stronger outfit, their side being integrated as East End's reserve eleven.
In the summer of 1884 East End moved the short distance from Stanley Street in Byker to a new pitch close by, then again two years later to Chillingham Road, near to the sprawling railway network on the Byker and Heaton border.
On the other side of the city at the same time East End were taking shape, another club was born which had much to do with the evolution of Newcastle United. Again their origins lay with the game of cricket. At West End Cricket Club more enthusiasts of the new association code decided also to switch to football.
In August 1882 West End Football Club was set-up, almost a year after Stanley had first kicked off. West End played their football on a cricket field on the Town Moor, but moved in the summer of 1885 to a pitch off the Great North Road. They moved once more a year later in May 1886 and took over the lease of St James Park.
With East End and West End on the football map the first stage in the development of Newcastle United was complete.
The men who made Newcastle United on their respective sides of the city were a mixed bunch; professionals, businessmen, shopkeepers and tradesmen. Many both administered and played the game as it took root.
East End were represented by the likes of William Findlay and Alex White, while West End had William Nesham and John Black. Tom Watson was also at West End, but he was to switch camps and be an influential figure at East End.
West End's first game was on 7th October 1882 against Rosewood, a 2-0 defeat just before the Byker side were to amalgamate with the newly titled East End. A mile across the city, East End kicked off on the same day against Hamsterley Rangers at Byker and faired better, winning 1-0. The East Enders though, unlike their rivals, had at least a feel for the new game having played several matches under the banner of Stanley.
By 1884 both East End and West End had emerged as Tyneside's strongest sides, overtaking the original pioneers Tyne and Rangers. Both clubs also started to take part in the competition in which Newcastle United was to carve a special niche; the FA Cup.
Formed as far back as 1871, West End was the first of the two rivals to appear in the tournament. In 1886 they played Sunderland and won the match after a controversial contest only to loose to Gainsborough Trinity in the next round. Twelve months later East End made their FA Cup debut. They played South Bank on Teesside, but lost 3-2 after extra-time.
Newcastle West End started to show up as the stronger of the two rivals at first. They made headlines during the summer months of 1888 by attracting Scottish international Bob Kelso to St James Park. He was the biggest personality by far to regularly appear for a Tyneside club, having made a name for himself as a right-half with Renton, then a prominent force north of the border.
East End knew they had to make changes to keep up with the ambitious West Enders. In the same close season they lured Tom Watson from St James Park and underwent drastic surgery in both players and officials, an overhaul that was to eventually revive their fortunes.
In April 1888 the Football League was set up in Manchester when twelve clubs agreed to try a new venture that would ensure the game of football would spread rapidly. Newcastle clubs were not part of it, although Wearside teams, Sunderland and Sunderland Albion, were soon to apply for membership.
Tyneside's clubs had no such thoughts yet and were content to help form a local Northern League which consisted of ten founder clubs, a mix of professionals and amateurs. For season 1889-90 league football of sorts arrived on Tyneside. West End did well, finishing Runners-up to Darlington St Augustine. East End were fourth in the inaugural table.
East End then took a bold and huge leap forward in a bid to oust their West End rivals from prominence. They decided in 1890 to become a Limited Company with an issue of 2,000 shares at 10 shillings each - the very same shares at the centre of the battle for control of Newcastle United nearly a century later.
Not wanting to be left behind West End quickly followed suit. The venture was not to prove an instant recipe for success, but within 18 months it was the East Enders, and not West End, that developed into Tyneside's top club.
The battle for prominence between the two camps continued. East End by now were heading up the table and coming to grips with the blossoming game. West End, however were heading the other way, in rapid decline. The Chillingham Road club possessed more talented players, displayed better football, could attract larger gates, although still pitifully small, and had a much more enterprising management.
One underlying fact remained clear. The city was not big enough for two football clubs. There was only support to ensure the development of the association game for one set-up.
If football was to progress further, one club had to go and by the end of the 1891-92 season Newcastle West End's position, both on the field and at the bank, had become perilous. Their Northern League results were dreadful and they were out of funds.
As a result, Newcastle West End offered their lease of St James' Park to East End along with taking over what remained of the club's assets, including their players.
Within a week a deal had been agreed and in May 1892 East End formally agreed to move home to the more advantageous St James' Park base near the city centre. Tyneside now only had one senior club and they developed rapidly thereafter.
Before the start of the new 1892-93 season, East End's new set-up attempted to gain entry into the Football League, at a time when the competition had only a single division.
At the annual meeting held in Sunderland, the East Enders were refused entry to the First Division after polling a mere one vote. However, the Tynesiders were admitted to a newly formed Second Division as one of the largely unknown and untried beginners.
The club's officials though, did not relish the thought of Second Division opposition, as few clubs possessed the drawing power for which East End craved. They wanted the likes of Preston North End, Everton, Sunderland and Aston Villa at St James' Park and with them much increased gates and of course revenue.
They saw Second Division clubs like Bootle and Crewe as being no better than the past season's Northern League opposition. So East End declined the invitation and waited patiently for the chance to go national for another day.
East End's - and in essence - Newcastle United's first game at St James Park took place on 3rd September 1892 against Glasgow Celtic, a prestigious friendly won 1-0 by the visitors before a healthy 6,000 crowd. But crowds of that size were rare. Support was poor and in a bid to attract more spectators from Victorian Tyneside it was decided that radical changes had to be implemented.
At a meeting during December in the Bath Lane Hall - a goal kick from St James Park - East End's directors presided over a large gathering of football enthusiasts. An open discussion on the future of football on Tyneside took place and one of the points agreed was the need to dispose of the old title of Newcastle East End in a bid to attract a wider support from the city as a whole.
Several names were suggested, but voting was almost unanimous for Newcastle United. So on Friday 9th December 1892, East End became Newcastle United, although the legal title of the club was not altered for several years to come.
One facet of East End's existence remained though. The club, for the time being at any rate, still retained their colours of red and white stripes. The famous black'n'whites striped shirt was not to arrive until 1894.
The following summer, in 1893, the Tynesiders attempted to gain entry into the First Division of the Football League once more. However, again the game's authorities would not accept United's direct entry into the top division and for a second time, offered United the opportunity of Second Division status.
Newcastle were desperate to get involved in the national game as they, rightly so, were convinced it was the only way to increase revenue in the long term. So this time United accepted. Also to be elected were Liverpool and Arsenal - a momentous day for the game.
Newcastle United became a member of the Football League and were on their way to over a century of action.
Copyright: P. Joannou, Newcastle United Club Historian