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50 years on: Craggs remembers victorious second leg of Fairs Cup final

Written by Mark Hannen

On 11th June, it will be exactly 50 years since Newcastle United beat Újpest Dózsa in the final of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. Last week, Alan Foggon recalled the first leg of the final, which saw Newcastle march into a 3-0 lead; here, defender John Craggs speaks about the all-important second leg as well as taking a look back at his career on Tyneside.

John Craggs was a very dependable right back during his time at St. James' Park and, but for the form of Northern Ireland international David Craig, would surely have made more appearances for United during his first spell at the club before he moved on to near neighbours Middlesbrough ahead of the 1971/72 season.

"Joe Harvey was always very fair with me," the County Durham born defender mused as we talked all things United in the Terminal 3 departure lounge at Heathrow Airport, on the way to Hungary last month as Craggs and some of his former team mates travelled to take part in Újpest FC's own 50-year anniversary celebrations of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup final clash against the Magpies.

"He knew I wanted to play in the first team but I knew too that I was only going to get a game when Craigy was missing. That's how it was and it was something I accepted; David was a real top class player. I was 23 and although it was a wrench to leave it was the right thing to do and, as it happened, it couldn't have worked out any better for me.

"Stan Anderson was the gaffer down at Middlesbrough; of course he knew Joe, who had been his manager at Newcastle, and I knew Stan because when I joined United as a young lad, Stan was club captain and even back then took an interest in the younger players. He was a lovely man and it was very sad to see his sad passing last year.

"Anyway, Joe did me a big favour which was typical of him as he always did the best for his players. I was only on £20 a week but when he knew I'd be leaving he called me into his office and gave me a pay rise taking me to £75 a week and of course that meant when I was moving on, the club who signed me would have to start wage negotiations at a higher level.

"Boro were just down the road and of course in a couple of years time we'd win promotion to the First Division under Big Jack (Charlton) and that was a real thrill. We didn't have any superstars but a team of hard working pros who all played for each other."

John Craggs (front row, third from left) in his Middlesbrough days.

John could have talked all day about his career at Ayresome Park where he was a first team regular alongside the likes of Jim Platt, Willie Maddren and John Hickton - but we took him back to Tyneside and that glorious 1968/69 season.

"I got the call-up from Joe for the two quarter-final ties with Vitoria Setubal when David was missing through injury, and then again for the first leg of the semi-final against Rangers at Ibrox, which was probably the most fiercely contested and intense match I'd played in, and in front of a huge crowd of over 75,000; remember, I was only a 20-year-old lad at the time.

"The Setubal tie was crazy, and I know it's been said a thousand times, but we got lucky with the snow on Tyneside. That's not to say we wouldn't have beaten them in 'normal' conditions but they couldn't handle the snow, sleet, hail and icy wind and the 5-1 scoreline ended up not flattering us at all. The second leg was much tougher, of course, out in Portugal but we put in what a typical gritty Newcastle United performance and came out smiling at the other end.

"Dave Smith, our first team coach, drummed it into us that we had to defend well against the continental style of football. He said they loved playing little one-twos and in neat triangles, so that meant you had to track your man religiously otherwise they'd 'do you.' Little things like that, and the influence of Bob Moncur in holding us together when were seriously under the cosh, were just some of the key elements that saw us eventually lift the trophy in Budapest. And even when we had to revert to Plan B out on the field, we just gelled as a unit and used our strength of character to see us through.

"Rangers was a real 'eye-opening' experience and that began when we got to the stadium and were ushered into the changing rooms. They were massive, like nothing I'd ever seen before, and I even had to stand on the bench to reach the hooks to hang my clothes up! The next thing was the noise; it was incredible, but once again we held firm and Willie (McFaul) pulled off a magnificent penalty save from Andy Penman to keep the game scoreless and send the 12,000 Geordie fans who had made the trip north back home smiling. Joe Harvey said it was a 'heart-stirring' performance, and he was spot on.

"As for the final itself, I was an unused substitute in the first leg when Bob, incredibly, scored twice; I don't think he can believe it to this day that he did, given his goals record throughout his career! To be honest we didn't know that much about Újpest but we'd had them scouted and knew they'd beaten Leeds in the quarter finals and we all know how good a team Leeds were back then. Don Revie had said they were one of the best club sides he'd ever seen but we were far from daunted. We'd got this far and saw no reason why we couldn't go all the way.

"We played to our strengths, attacking down the flanks when we could, hitting big Wyn (Davies) with crosses which our midfielders and Pop (Robson) would feed off, whereas Újpest tried to play more tippy-tappy stuff. Three-nil was an unbelievable lead to take out to Hungary for the second leg and for me, personally, obviously I was very disappointed to miss out on not only the starting XI but a place on the bench as well.

"I watched the game along with some of the other non-playing staff on a bench nearby the dugouts. At half time, after they'd blitzed us in the first 45 minutes to lead 2-0. Joe, of course, gave his famous address to the lads saying that one goal would see them collapse, so go out and get it! And amazingly Bob did just that, banging it into the Újpest net after only three or four minutes of the second half. And I have to say after that the shackles were loosened, the confidence levels grew and watching the game became a whole lot easier - phew!

"Benny Arentoft scored a few minutes later and when Alan (Foggon) scored our third some twenty minutes before the end, we were in cruise control with an unassailable lead. It was magic. We could all breath huge sighs of relief and that's aside from feeling immensely proud to be part of a team that had won a European trophy at the first time of asking.

"The Újpest players and staff were very magnanimous in defeat and that was really nice. Would we have been the same? I don't know but I'd like to think we would.

Craggs on last month's trip to Hungary, where he and some of his former team-mates joined in with Újpest's own 50-year anniversary celebrations of what remains their only major European final appearance.

"Bob got the cup from Sir Stanley Rous and the rest of the night was a bit of a blur to be honest. I can remember drinking champagne out of the cup, sat in the changing rooms afterwards, and then going back to the hotel where they'd organised a special 'winners banquet' for us, attended by all the playing staff and the club directors - men like Lord Westwood and Jimmy Rush, who'd accompanied us on the trip.

"The following morning we got a lovely picture taken down by the banks of the Danube before jetting home and starting party number two!

"We arrived in Newcastle and when we disembarked there were already hundreds of fans on the roof of the airport cheering us on. And then on the bus back to St. James' Park through Woolsington, Kenton Bank Foot, Blakelaw, Cowgate and Fenham, there were literally thousands of fans lining the route and cheering us to the hilt; and that was before we even got back inside the ground. It was incredible and I can imagine it was just like that when the teams from the 1950s brought the FA Cup home from London - the only difference being theirs was a short bus ride from the station up Grainger Street to Gallowgate.

"Wow, what an adventure; what an end to the season, what a team and what memories we will keep forever."

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