THE contrast between Newcastle this week and 40 years ago could hardly be greater. In 1969, we were basking in the warm reflected glory of our footballing heroes after an epic cup win in Budapest.
Today, a pall of gloom hangs over Tyneside as the disgraced team and its distraught fans come to terms with the shame of relegation.
To understand why things were better then, travel back in time with me to a Geordie golden age.
Chairman in 1969 was the avuncular Lord Westwood with his silver hair and black eye patch. There were no billionaires on his board, so the canny Scot spent money wisely – no pun intended.
The manager was shrewd Yorkshireman Joe Harvey. As captain of two FA Cup winning sides and coach to a third, he knew what made a team tick. And livewire coach Dave Smith kept the dressing room smiling. Captain was the inspirational Bob Moncur, a defender you could bet your mortgage on. Few centre-halves read the game better.
The nearest thing to a superstar was centre-forward Wyn Davies, a carrot-topped giant with fearsome aerial ability.
But strike partner Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson scored more goals. He had skill, energy and thunder in his boots.
I can see them all now. Dependable Willie McFaul saving a semi-final penalty in front of the Ibrox hordes; full-backs David Craig and Frank Clark, great man markers and smooth cogs in a defensive unit where ball-playing Ollie Burton or muscular John McNamee lined up beside Moncur.
I can see long striding Tommy Gibb, bringing the ball out of defence, slotting it to hard working Ben Arentoft and then a pass rolling out to skilful wingers Jim Scott or Jackie Sinclair. Or maybe pacy Alan Foggon.
A cross, a nod down by the Mighty Wyn. And Bang. Robson had it in the net. Simple. In the second leg of the final, Ujpest Dozsa threw the kitchen sink at United. Defenders were spinning like tops and Davies and Robson were man-marked as the Hungarians pulled back the aggregate score to 3-2 at half time.
Chain smoking Joe Harvey took so long to find the distant dressing room he had time for only one instruction: “Score a goal and they’ll give up.”
Straight after the interval Bob Moncur obliged, rifling home from the edge of the area. Arentoft and Foggon made it 6-2 and before we knew it, we in the Press pack were sharing the team’s champagne from the Cup itself.
Harvey had assembled a team of real triers, with a great team ethic and dogged determination. The jury is out on Alan Shearer’s managerial abilities but he must aim to do the same. Strangely, the Magpies team that has just gone down scored more goals than several who stayed up, including Fulham who finished seventh. It was largely dreadful defending that sank us, but even a Ferguson or Mourinho would struggle to galvanise Caçapa, Enrique and Coloccini.
With the honourable exception of Nicky Butt, the recent midfield has been filled with expensive cart horses or crackpots, more famed for snarling tempers and flying fists than pace and passing ability.
Wing play and crossing has been woeful. Martins generally pulls the trigger before taking aim; Viduka has warmed the fitness table for almost as long as Kieron Dyer; and the often anonymous Michael Owen has been the most expensive flop of all.
Peter Beardsley recently tried to explain to a gathering of fans why Owen couldn’t get on the ball more often. But Beardsley did it and so did Pop Robson on a lot less than £110,000 a week. And what sort of example does a captain set by living in Chester and commuting by helicopter?
Then there are the sick-notes. I can’t remember many long injuries in 1969, but the treatment room has been wall-to-wall with multi-millionaires in recent years. Club owner Mike Ashley may be rich. But a wily and dignified Lord Westwood he is not. His decision to put Newcastle up for sale and then take it off the market has been de-stabilising and many of his appointments have been bizarre, especially putting Dennis Wise in charge of player recruitment.
We learn that 15 players are on £50,000 a week or more. And last week a newspaper naming the 50 biggest transfer flops in Premier League history claimed NINE of them were ours: Owen, Barton, Viana, Boumsong, Luque, Guivarch, Duff, Marcelino and Tomasson.
Striker Xisco, who cost £6.8m and has started just two games, doesn’t even make the list.
The money sloshing about today has had an entirely negative effect on Newcastle. The cup winners earned comparatively modest wages and, when they retired, several took everyday jobs to make ends meet. David Craig is a care worker, John McNamee was a postman and Wyn Davies a bakery worker.
Some of the present bunch weren’t fit to lace their boots yet, thanks to TV money, they became millionaires in six months.
For the Fairs Cup winners, it may not be a huge consolation, but let’s tell them yet again that they have the endless respect of Tyneside.
Enjoy your homecoming, boys. You were magnificent. You won us the Cup and that’s more important than ever – especially this week.
TONY Boullemier left Newcastle for Fleet Street in 1969 and went on to launch his own newspaper in Northampton. He built up a group that he sold in 1988. Now 63, he recently published his first novel. See www.leonieandthelastnapoleon.com