Newcastle United fan Bill Gibbs tells how he got legend Fairs Cup players back together

A young man’s dream turned into a reality for Bill Gibbs when he teamed up with his football heroes. Reporter Lisa Hutchinson talks to the fan who brought Newcastle United’s golden boys back together to celebrate winning the Fairs Cup in 1969

Bob Moncur holds the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup aloft at St James' Park during Newcastle United's homecoming parade - 12th June, 1969
Bob Moncur holds the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup aloft at St James' Park during Newcastle United's homecoming parade - 12th June, 1969
Die-hard Newcastle United fan Bill Gibbs never thought his youthful passion for his team would lead him to bring his heroes back together again later in life.

Bill was the inspiration behind gathering the Magpies’ Fairs Cup team to celebrate 40 years after bringing home the silverware to St James’ Park.

 

It was an idea that came about when travelling to an away match in 2006 that Bill and his friends decided to put dreams into reality and hook up with the legends they still talk about today. The Fairs Club was born and founder member Bill was in his element.

Bill has been a fan for 53 years and his wife Irene has got used to his obsession with football.

He was the North East football scout for Brighton and Hove Albion, Wimbledon, West Ham United, Coventry City, Bury, Bolton Wanderers, Bradford City and Preston North End - so knows what he is talking about.

But now retired, Bill and the Fairs Club members are the driving force behind the annual meetings which bring together the legendary footballers who brought the Fairs Cup home from Hungry in 1969 to celebrate the last time Newcastle United won a worthy trophy.

Farther-of-three Bill, 64, of Wallsend, North Tyneside, said: “My Uncle Billy Billany took me to my first game in 1961 versus Stoke City and I remember being really disappointed because the great Stanley Matthews was not in the Stoke line-up because he was injured. After that I started going with my friends, Colin McNaughton and Dave Mitchell, on a regular basis.”

But Bill will never forget the moment our boys held aloft the Fairs Cup trophy.

“I was at Newcastle’s first game in Europe when I flew to Rotterdam for the Feyenoord game,” said Bill. “I, like many other fans, could not get a visa for the Hungary trip to play Ujpest Dosza in the final second leg but at least I saw the first leg in a crowd of 60,000 at St James’ Park on a memorable night.

“In fact, two fellow founder members of the Fairs Club, Arthur Spowart and Brian Wilkinson, were among the few hundred fans in the second leg in Hungary.

“When the team returned with the Fairs Cup the atmosphere was electric and one of the great moments was Joe Harvey waving the cup as the fans chanted his name. It was a moment that will stick with me for ever.”

Fairs Cup Club founder Bill Gibbs with the Joe Harvey plaque
Fairs Cup Club founder Bill Gibbs with the Joe Harvey plaque
 

It was Bill’s memories and love of the beautiful game that got him thinking about bringing like-minded fans together to remember Newcastle United’s glory days.

He said: “The idea to set up the Fairs Club was put to a few lads as we set off to Liverpool for a match in 2006.

“I had the idea of going to see Jim Scott in Falkirk, the man who scored Newcastle’s first ever European goal. We had a brilliant day with Jim and he showed us his Fairs Cup final shirt which was framed on his pub wall. One of our members, Bill McNaughton, then said why don’t we try to find as many Fairs Cup players as we could, So Jim Scott gave us John McNamee’s phone number and we arranged to meet him in Workington. After a bit of detective work I found Jackie Sinclair and Tommy Gibb.

“Toffs, the old football shirt company in Gateshead, gave us free replica Fairs Cup final shirts, with the players number in red on the back. We bought modern shirts and put the players names and 1969 on the back. We also gave them a Newcastle United tie and a DVD of the Fairs Cup final.

“We also met non-Fairs Cup players, like Tony Green, Pat Howard, Gordon Marshall, Stan Anderson, Jim Iley, Dave Hilley, Ron McGarry, Willie Penman, Tommy Robson, Dave Hollins and Malcolm MacDonald and gave each one a nice trophy.

“We travelled to meet them or alternatively, we had them travel up to ex-Fairs Cup player Alan Foggon’s former pub in South Shields.

“The final three players we needed to see were the furthest away - Iam McFaul, Benny Arentoft and Dave Elliott, who were in Northern Ireland, Denmark and Cardiff. As fate had it, I decided to write to the then NUFC chairman Chris Mort to ask if they would do something for the Fairs Cup 40th anniversary which was coming up. A week later I received a text from Fairs Cup skipper Bob Moncur to say that my request had succeeded.

“When I told the players their reaction was never to be forgotten. It has to be said that Bob Moncur with a few others did a magnificent job in arranging an excellent evening.

“All the Fairs Club members agreed that the 40th Anniversary black tie dinner was the greatest evening for them - a feeling which was reinforced, when not long after, we tragically lost Jackie Sinclair.

“That evening was so special for me knowing that I had got all the players back together. For many weeks I had been sharing the player’s phone numbers and addresses with them all, and now they had the chance to meet each other after years apart.

“Bob Moncur and Alan Foggon went to Barcelona to get the loan of the Fairs Cup, which was the icing on the cake for all of us. We had a photo session at St James’ Park with the Cup a few days before. Also we were able to meet McFaul, Arentoft and Elliott at Alan Foggon’s pub a few nights before the 40th dinner. Alan brought the Fairs Cup in and handed it to me and I held it aloft to loud cheers in a packed pub. When I passed it to Benny Arentoft and his wife Jane, they were both beaming.

“Since that special evening, we have had various nights at High Howdon Social Club, with loads of ex-players attending and giving me great co-operation. There was a 45th anniversary dinner at the Village Hotel in North Tyneside but sadly Benny Arentoft could not make it.

“Since then the Fairs Club have told the players to keep fit as we aim to give them a 50th to remember. And they have taken that literally as they are gym members already.”

Bill Gibbs with the Joe Harvey Plaque
Bill Gibbs with the Joe Harvey Plaque
 

Bill’s dedication to the Fairs Cup era didn’t stop there.

He helped raise more than £10,000 to have a bronze plaque erected on the Gallowgate Wall at St James’ Park in April in memory of the great former Magpie manager Joe Harvey.

Joe was at the club as a player, coach and manager. It was under his captaincy Newcastle won the FA Cup in 1951 and 1952 and under his leadership as manager that the Magpies won the Fairs Cup in 1969.

Bill added: “In 2006, the year the Fairs Club was founded, I had a dream of getting a fitting memorial to Joe Harvey, our former Fairs Cup winning manager. I phoned Joe’s son Ken Harvey, who said he could not see it happening but wished me good luck as I would certainly need it.

“To be honest I put the memorial on the back burner for a few years. It was only when I saw Sir Bobby Robson’s statue being erected that I thought it was wrong that Joe Harvey, who was the most successful manager in Newcastle United’s history, was forgotten. So with the help of a committee, meetings were held with Newcastle United and they were fantastic with us and said the memorial had their blessing. The idea of a statue was a non-starter as the price of it would have been astronomical, so member Terry Sweeney suggested a plaque, which is what we went for eventually.

“Four of us went to the foundry at Leander Architectural in Buxton, Derbyshire, to view their work and after an hour or so, I shook hands with the owner and the job was theirs. I designed the plaque and from the marvellous images of Joe Harvey, which were drawn by ex Newcastle United legend John McNamee’s son John junior, chief artist Alex Worth at Leander went to work on it. Many weeks later after another trip to the foundry we saw the plaque for the first time and we were delighted.

“Unveiling day at St James’ Park was so special, with all the press and TV there and 21 of Joe Harvey’s ex-players there as well. Newcastle United were so good to us allowing us to have a buffet lunch in a suite in the ground.

“Vic Keeble, the last of the FA Cup 1955 winners, Bobby Moncur the captain of the Fairs Cup winning team, and Joe Harvey’s son Ken were the men who unveiled it. Vic unveiled the FA Cup, Bob unveiled the Fairs Cup and Ken Harvey unveiled Joe’s head. I was so, so happy. The triple unveiling was the idea of Fairs Club secretary Harry Watson. As this happened and the applause rang out, the clouds parted and the sun shone brightly. Joe was obviously pleased!”

The Fairs Club, which has 36 members including eight women, has lots to look forward to. “We have also linked up with Newcastle United Foundation and we have some marvellous things planned for the future with the players,” said Bill.

“It’s an honour to help others learn about Newcastle United’s history.”

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