50 years on: Fairs Cup quarter final
Written by Mark Hannen
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Newcastle United’s Inter-Cities Fairs Cup triumph. Here, we take a look at the Magpies’ progress to the quarter finals, with the first leg taking place on12th March 1969.
The 1968/69 season proved to be one of the most memorable in Newcastle United’s long and illustrious history, with a ninth-place finish in the First Division eclipsed by sensational form on the Continent.
It was a quirk of the qualifying rules that meant the Magpies had even made it into European competition at all.
Wyn Davies in action against Arsenal in 1968
United had finished tenth in the previous season but a one-club-per-city rule ensured their qualification. While Tottenham, Arsenal and Everton had all finished higher, the success of their respective city rivals, Chelsea and Liverpool, saw them overlooked.
A first European adventure
The Magpies kicked off their first ever European campaign in September 1968 against Dutch side Feyenoord at St. James’ Park, memorably winning that first game 4-0.
Come the spring of 1969, Joe Harvey's men had gone on to beat Sporting Lisbon and Real Zaragoza, with away goals being needed to see off the Spaniards.
On 12th March – exactly 50 years ago - Newcastle United reached the quarter finals.
They entertained Vitória Setúbal, a crack Portuguese outfit, who – although relatively unknown outside their homeland – had themselves just beaten top Italian side Fiorentina in the third round.
Vitória, had finished fifth in the Portuguese League the previous season, only three points off second-placed Sporting Lisbon, and they boasted the likes of Jose Maria and Arcanjo within their ranks.
Left-back Frank Clark, who played 487 games for the Magpies, including all 12 Fairs Cup games that season, still has vivid memories of that famous European night at Gallowgate.
"We’d reached the quarter finals without anyone taking that much notice of us," he says.
"There were teams like Sporting Lisbon, Liverpool and Athletic Bilbao in the competition; clubs who all had a much greater European pedigree than us.
"We were novices really but enjoying every minute of it and as we kept getting through each round, the belief amongst the players and supporters just grew and grew, could we keep the run going?
"We’d just have to wait and see and genuinely, we did apply the old football adage of just taking one game at a time.
"It had been nearly two months since our last game in the competition so when March came around all the lads were eagerly looking forward to the game. The previous Saturday we’d beaten Burnley 1-0 at St. James’ Park so we were in fine fettle as game day drew nearer."
The first leg
"Setúbal flew into Newcastle from what I’m sure was a sunny Portuguese day on the Tuesday afternoon," Clark adds. "But when they were en route to their hotel in the North East, the snow started falling.
"And it kept falling!
"On the day of the game there was yet more snow and we were told there was a serious doubt about the game taking place.
Vitória Setúbal players at St. James' Park
"The officials though were adamant that we would play but I think that was only because it was a European game and they wanted to get it played, had it just been a domestic affair I’m sure they’d have postponed it and rescheduled it for later in the season.
"The referee was from Sweden and I’m guessing he was perfectly used to the conditions. Maybe if he’d been from southern European he might not have fancied it either.
"It all worked to our advantage. We’d played in snow before, where the lines had been brushed, but even for us there was more snow on the pitch than even we were used to!
"We knew when we took to the pitch that apart from the near 58,000 fans who would be backing us to the hilt, that the snow could be our 12th man, and so it proved.
The captains shake hands as the match officials watch on
"They came out wearing tights and socks on their hands and were just incredulous that they were expected to play in conditions that were totally alien to them.
"They had a couple of lads from Mozambique in their team and it was the first time they’d even seen snow!
"I recall our fans being surprised to see us take to the field in an unusual blue kit, which we had to wear as our normal black and white stripes clashed with Setubal’s green and white kit. And in Europe, the rules were such that it was the home team who had to change their strips.
"If we played it right, we knew we had a distinct advantage.”
Newcastle United: Willie McFaul; John Craggs, Frank Clark; Tommy Gibb, Ollie Burton, Bob Moncur; Bryan Robson, Arthur Horsfield (Jackie Sinclair), Wyn Davies, Jimmy Scott, Alan Foggon.
Vitória: Vital, Herculana, Carrico, Batista, Cardosa, Alfredo, Jose Maria, Wagner, Figueiredo, Arcanjo (Petita), Joao (Tome).
Newcastle United adapted to the conditions much more effectively and they got off to a great start as a snowstorm swirled.
Teenage forward Alan Foggon netted the first with a 23rd-minute header from a John Craggs cross. In doing so, he became the club’s youngest ever scorer in European competition.
Pop Robson doubled the lead on 36 minutes, with Craggs once again providing the assist.
A Vitória player picks the ball out from the back of the net
Clark adds: "Apart from the bitter cold, the sleet and the wind, which they clearly didn’t fancy, they found playing on a snowy surface, with slippery mud beneath, impossible at times.
"We fully deserved our two-goal half time advantage. Indeed, I recall it could have been more if we had been a little more clinical."
United side built on their 2-0 half-time lead with another goal 20 minutes into the second half. Robson put Wyn Davies through on goal and with the visitors appealing in vain for offside, the Welshman coolly slid the ball past Vital in the Setúbal goal.
United's players celebrate another goal in a first leg victory
"We went four up with a quarter of an hour left," Clark continues. "Pop netted his second, but then we sloppily conceded one in the last ten minutes before Tommy Gibb grabbed our fifth two minutes from time to give us what we thought would be an unassailable advantage.
"I was told later, rather amusingly, that one of their lads ruefully said they were footballers, not snowmen!"
Newcastle United 5-1 Vitória Setúbal
Newcastle United: Foggon 23, Robson 36, 75, Davies 65, Gibb 88
Vitória Setúbal: Jose Maria 82
The second leg would take place in much warmer climes two weeks later, but the Magpies quickly returned their focus to domestic affairs in the meantime.
Clark explains: "We tried not to think too much about the second leg, especially being only 90 minutes from a major European semi-final, as we had to maintain our focus on the league where we had slipped to lower mid-table.
"That wasn’t too difficult though, as next up at St. James’ Park for us was the small matter of the Tyne-Wear derby – the perfect way to concentrate the mind before we travelled out to Lisbon for the second leg.
"We had a good team in those days, no superstars like George Best or Jimmy Greaves, but a group of lads who all worked extremely hard for each other and were fully committed to the cause.
"Joe Harvey built a strong defensive unit but he liked a flair player too and could spot a good goalscorer as well.
Pop Robson in action
"We had a big man, little man combo upfront with Wyn Davies and Pop Robson and with Jimmy Scott proving the ammunition from the wing, we were always likely to fashion openings.
"And at the back, my usual full-back partner was always David Craig but when he was injured around Christmas time, County Durham lad John Craggs came into the side and performed admirably.
"And that was that, we were delighted with the result but I also got the feeling that they still fancied their chances once they got us back to their place for the return leg.”
26th March 1969