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Fairs Cup arriving home.jpg

Magpies fly into Europe

1968/69 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup winners

A first continental campaign

While Newcastle United were a long-established force in England, they were largely unknown on the European stage when they qualified for the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup - the precursor to the UEFA Cup (now UEFA Europa League) - at the end of the 1967/68 season.

Joe Harvey's side had actually finished tenth in the First Division; well behind teams who might otherwise have qualified.

Manchester City had won the title that year and they were joined by runners-up Manchester United in qualifying for the 1968/69 European Cup.

Third-placed Liverpool, meanwhile, qualified for the 1968/69 Fairs Cup and they would be joined by fourth-placed Leeds United, who were assured of their place after going on to win the tournament in September 1968.

With the Yorkshire outfit lifting the cup, it meant two more places were available to English teams.

'One club per city'

One of the quirks of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup was that, unlike the European Cup, only one club per city could participate in the competition each season.

It meant that despite finishing fifth, Everton could not qualify owing to city-rivals Liverpool already being involved and the Toffees were forced to forfeit playing European football.

Everton's place instead went to sixth-placed Chelsea, with the knock-on effect of ensuring the Blues' London rivals, Tottenham Hotspur - who had finished seventh, would also forfeit the third and final place.

The domino effect did not stop there. West Bromwich Albion finished eighth in the First Division but also went on to win the FA Cup, ensuring they would take part in the 1968/69 European Cup Winners' Cup rather than the Fairs Cup.

Newcastle United in First Division action at Arsenal in 1968

Just as Tottenham were forced to concede their place, so to were Arsenal in ninth position; owing only to their London postcode and the inclusion of Chelsea.

And so the final place fell to Newcastle United, who would be mixing it with elite sides from across the continent for the very first time.

First round

The Magpies were paired with Dutch giants Feyenoord Rotterdam and an expectant crowd of more than 46,000 crammed into St. James' Park in September 1968 to see Joe Harvey's side take a remarkable 4-0 first leg lead.

The trip across the North Sea would be an altogether tougher task, but despite losing 2-0 with a goal in each half, United progressed 4-2 on aggregate.

Second round

Another European giant lay in wait in the second round in the shape of Portuguese heavyweights, Sporting Lisbon.

Sporting Lisbon's original Estádio José Alvalade

United were away in the first leg this time and recorded a respectable 1-1 draw at the Estádio José Alvalade; Jim Scott getting the away goal despite a storm and torrential rain almost seeing the game abandoned.

Back on Tyneside, interest in the competition was growing and 53,000 spectators flocked to St. James' Park for the second leg to see the Magpies playing in a resplendent all-white kit.

After ten minutes, Bryan 'Pop' Robson scored the only goal, volleying in at the Gallowgate End to send Newcastle roaring into the last 16 of the Fairs Cup.

Third round

The Magpies were back in the Iberian Peninsula for the third round after drawing Spanish side Real Zaragoza - and they would learn just how important away goals could be.

The first leg took place at Zaragoza's La Romareda stadium on New Year's Day in 1969 and the home side would get off to a great start.

Pop Robson

Eleuterio Santos opened the scoring after just five minutes and despite an instant response from Pop Robson, Zaragoza went in front again through Miguel Ángel Bustillo.

Wyn Davies pulled the visitors level again just after the half-hour mark, but the Spanish side would have the final word through Javier Planas' goal to take an advantage to Tyneside.

Back at St. James' Park two weeks later, the attendance would rise again - this time beyond 56,000 - and the masses inside the stadium wouldn't be disappointed.

After just two minutes, Pop Robson was at it again in Europe, firing home to bring the aggregate scores level at 3-3.

Just before the half-four mark, United raised the roof with a second courtesy of a Tommy Gibb header.

With confidence brimming, Zaragoza would pull a goal back just before half time - making the score 2-1 on the night and 4-4 overall.

United, who had scored twice on the road compared to Zaragoza's solitary strike on Tyneside, would need to hang on in a nervy second half.

And that they did, advancing on away goals to secure a place in the quarter finals.

Quarter finals

As part of a feature in 2019 celebrating 50 years of Newcastle United's Fairs Cup triumph, we take a closer look at the club's run during the final stages of the competition.

Read about the first leg: Newcastle United 5-1 Vitória Setúbal

Read about the second leg: Vitória Setúbal 3-1 Newcastle United (agg. 4-6)

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