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50 years on: McFaul remembers Rangers clash

Written by Mark Hannen

On 14th May, 1969 – exactly 50 years ago – Newcastle United took on Glasgow Rangers in the first leg of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup semi-final. Experienced campaigners Rangers were playing their tenth season of European football while United of course were mere fledglings in their first. The Gers had just finished as runners up to Celtic (by five points) and came into the game on the back of a 4-3 aggregate win over Athletic Bilbao.

In our last Fairs Cup offering, through the eyes of centre forward Wyn Davies, we reported on United’s 6-4 aggregate win over Vitória Setúbal in the last eight, a result that saw the rest of Europe starting to take notice of this talented and very hard-working side, indeed one that had every chance of going all the way.

But as Wyn had emphasised after that tricky night in Lisbon, the team had “done nothing yet” bar win a few matches in a cup competition which was exactly what manager Joe Harvey kept drumming into his players as the semi-final game drew closer.

Incidentally the two legs of the other semi-final between Újpesti Dózsa (Hungary) and Göztepe (Turkey) had both been played in April and had resulted in a resounding 8-1 aggregate win for the Budapest outfit. That meant the two sides contesting the “Battle of Britain” knew exactly what lay in store for the winners.

Northern Ireland international goalkeeper Willie McFaul cemented his place in the United starting line-up at the start of the 1968/69 season and when he made his European debut against Feyenoord that September it was only his fourteenth start for the club.

An ever-present in the eight Fairs Cup games that led up to the semi-final tie with Rangers, Willie went into the game at Ibrox full of confidence after a string of impressive performances throughout the season.

The matchday programme from 14th May, 1969.

“It had been a pretty good start for me in the first team,” Willie recalled. “We only lost one of our first seven league fixtures and in Europe we had defended very well in every game we played, even across in Feyenoord and Setúbal where we were under the cosh for long periods. Bobby (Moncur) led by example but alongside him, whether it was Ollie (Burton) or big John (McNamee), they were a great unit and with full backs David Craig, Frank Clark or John Craggs – when he stepped in – they were rock solid, and we needed them to be.

“It was a good draw for us, mainly in terms of travel but the confidence we had from beating four top quality sides in the earlier rounds meant we weren’t phased at all. Our approach was the same each game in that it didn’t matter who came our way, we just took them on. We were able to take around 12,000 supporters to Ibrox too which was great for us as we knew the stadium would be absolutely packed and the atmosphere hostile to say the least.

“We hadn’t quite finished our league campaign but in our last couple of games we’d beaten Stoke City 5-0 at St. James’ Park before losing 1-0 to the previous season’s champions, Manchester City, 1-0 at Maine Road. And then we had Liverpool at home in between the two Rangers ties. And funnily enough it had been seven weeks since we’d played Setúbal in the second leg which seemed like an eternity; we’d almost forgotten what the Fairs Cup was!

“Anyway we went into the game looking to keep it tight and if we could score, then that would have been a real bonus. As far as I’m concerned there are pros and cons about playing the first leg at home or away; for example beating Feyenoord 4-0 first time out was just perfect for us but I think this time around, being able to bring Rangers back to Tyneside was ideal as we considered home to be a real fortress for us.

“It was a great occasion, the nerves were jangling before the game but disappeared once we’d kicked off. I thought we started the game well but they began to pin us back a bit and it was getting a bit physical, but at the same time it was played in a good sporting manner. Then of course they got the penalty and ironically it was awarded by a good friend of mine, Northern Irish referee John Adair – who’d reffed a lot of our matches when I was with Linfield. I argued with him but on reflection he was probably right as I did catch the Swedish lad when I was trying to punch the ball clear. It had been a through ball which had caught our back four out and we just clashed just inside the 18-yard box as I was trying to stop him getting the ball down and, in all probability, scoring. It was just one of those things when he just got to the ball before me.

“Andy Penman took the spot kick and it was one of those situations where there was no real pressure on me as penalty takers are probably expected to score eight or nine times out of ten. That said, as it had been me who had been at fault, I guess I owed it to the lads to save it. And that’s exactly what happened. I was watching his run up and decided in an instant to dive to my right just as he struck it and that was the lucky break we needed as I was able to palm it away around the post and we saw out the rest of the half to go in 0-0. My approach to trying to save penalties was never to dive too early, that makes it easy for the penalty taker, but you also need a bit of luck – look at the Chelsea lad (Kepa Arrizabalaga) who saved the penalty against Frankfurt with his legs last week for example. I can’t remember who we were playing but I did save a few penalties for Newcastle.

“Our fans were right behind our goal in the first half and I’m sure they treasured that particular moment too. The noise they made when I pulled off the save was something else and it really made me feel ten foot tall as the game continued.

“I managed to make a few decent saves in the second half too as Rangers forced us back a bit but I never thought we were going to crack or cave in to their pressure. And in the end I think we fully deserved the 0-0 scoreline even though Pop (Robson) almost caught them on the break a couple of times in the closing stages and had a 25-yarder in the final seconds well saved by their ‘keeper. Pop was aptly named as it happened as he always used to ‘pop up’ in the box to grab a goal or two.

“I know it’s been said many times but I can’t stress enough that we got through because we were a team – no stars, no egos, just a group of lads who fought incredibly hard for each other.”

Next week, Scottish international Jim Scott will take us through the second leg at St. James’ Park and what an eventful occasion that was, sadly for many of the wrong reasons. But as far as Willie is concerned – and as a taster for those who don’t know the full story – “Ollie Burton shouted ‘run Willie’ and I did, escaping to the safety of the changing rooms.”

Rangers' Ibrox Stadium.

Rangers 0 Newcastle United 0

Rangers: Gerhard Neef, Kai Johansen, David Provan, John Greig, Colin Jackson, Dave Smith, Willie Henderson, Andy Penman, Colin Stein, Sandy Jardine, Örjan Persson.

Manager: David White

United: Willie McFaul, John Craggs, Frank Clark; Tommy Gibb, John McNamee, Bob Moncur, Ben Arentoft, Bryan Robson, Wyn Davies, Jimmy Scott (Jackie Sinclair), Alan Foggon.

Manager: Joe Harvey

Attendance: 75,580

Match Facts:

  • The first goalless draw of United’s 1968/69 campaign. Indeed, in all of their 134 matches played in Europe from 1968 to date, the Magpies have only played out 12 0-0 draws, the most recent being against Anzhi in the 2012/13 Europa League.
  • Other than cup finals, the attendance of 75,580 was the highest attendance United had played in front of.
  • Back in 1969 Rangers’ Ibrox home was a much different stadium to the inspiring twenty-first century venue that it is now. Then a huge bowl, and only two years before the 1971 tragedy left 66 fans dead on the Ibrox steps, the ground featured the historic Leitch grandstand and vast terraces with oval ends. Opened back in 1877, Ibrox was completely remodelled in 1978 and is now unrecognisable today compared to when United visited. Indeed the same could be said about St. James’ Park which only has the old East Stand from the 1970s era.

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