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Newcastle United Louis Azzopardi

I remember that when it was announced in the local papers that Newcastle United were to visit Malta in the close 1976-77 season, I felt a rush coming up my head. In a few seconds a thousand thoughts passed through my mind. I was ‘over the moon’ for a few seconds and totally the opposite soon afterwards. I thought, what if after having been supporting them for so many years, they come over here and they give me the brush, as being just another fan. I was confused, and there were moments that I did’nt relish the fact that they were coming over here. I was happy enough to get all the news and results about them in papers, on radio (no matches on TV then) and the occasional letter to the club itself. But I could not have been more wrong. From the moment they arrived in Malta till the day they took the plane at the airport to return home, it was one big enjoyable event for me.

From day one I was at their hotel, which was about 5 minutes walk from my house, with my two young daughters. Through my football books, magazine posters and newspaper cuttings, I knew that I would recognise every player instantly. In fact, the first one I saw was Stewart Barrowclough, who was outside the front hotel garden. After I introduced myself and got talking, I had a photo with him and then Paul Cannell, who had arrived a few minutes later. Seeing my enthusiasm for the club, they took me into the hotel to meet the other players who were by the hotel pool. I was introduced to all the players present and spent time talking to them over a drink. Some time later Richard Dinnis, the then manager, came over. I remember congratulating him for the good job he had done by guiding the team to finish in 5th place in the final table and qualifying for Europe. All the players I spoke to had the greatest of admiration for Dinnis.

Whilst in conversation, I asked Dinnis if you would grant me a favour by allowing me to having a photo taken with the team before one of the games they were to play. He told me that he had no problem with that, and that if I was inside the stadium before they come out of the dressing room before kick-off, he will tell the players to line up with me. True to his word he did that, and that photo will always be my special one in life. Once inside the ground for both friendly matches against local sides Sliema Wanderers and Floriana, I was also able to get into the pre-match photos of the two teams together.

That Sliema Wanderers game, won by Newcastle United 4-0, was played at the Empire Stadium in Gzira (we still had hard grounds then), was the first time that I had seen the team in action. For the record, the four goals were scored by Cannell in the first half (I managed to grap a photo of the goal – attached), with John Bird, Stewart Barrowclough and Geoff Nulty getting the other three in the second half. In the second game against Floriana on 2nd June 1977, Newcastle could only get a a 1-1 draw. Alan Gowling scored for the Magpies in the first half, while Raymond Xuereb got a second half equalizer for the locals. After the game, manager Dinnis invited Xeureb to go over to Newcastle for a trial. The Maltese lad, who was a very good and intelligent player, came over there and played a few Reserves games, even scoring in a 2-3 defeat, I believe against Aston Villa. But later on in years when I spoke to Xuereb, he told me that although Newcastle wanted him to stay, his then girl friend did’nt like the idea of staying in England, especially because of the weather, and returned to Malta. He was a regular for Malta’s national team for years. But still, Newcastle signed 2 maybe more experienced players from Scotland, Larnach and McGhee. I remember McGhee proved to be a good scorer for the club.

On one of my visits to the teams’ hotel, I met John Gibson, and he gave me an appointment for the following day to give him an interview for the Evening Chronicle. I kept in touch with John for a long number of years. When the Newcastle contingent left Malta, I was at the airport with my wife and 2 daughters with a banner ‘Howay the Lads’. I remember when they arrived at the airport, before they went in for the check-in, Alan Kennedy picked up my youngest daughter and walked with her in his arms. We chanted ‘Howay the Lads’ from the balcony from the airport balcony. A perfect ending to their visit to our island.

Louis Azzopardi

 

 

Newcastle United Foundation have a heritage project for fans of all ages called Toon Times.

Toon Times will culminate with a major Newcastle United exhibition at the Discovery Museum, Newcastle, although in the lead up to this event Toon Times wishes to reach out to all Newcastle United fans across the North East and further afield to get involved and share their memories, experiences, photos and memorabilia what people have collected over the years.

We are supporting the project by helping to collect NUFC memories online - fans can share their memories on the Replay Football website, simply select the Toon Times tag when submitting yours.

For more info contact the Toon Times Heritage Project Coordinator, Newcastle United Foundation, gavin.ferry@nufc.co.uk

 

 

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Toon TimesToon TimesAt the HotelAt the HotelPaul CannellPaul CannellPaul Cannell's goalPaul Cannell's goalwith A Kennedy & D Craigwith A Kennedy & D Craigwith A Kennedy & D Craigwith A Kennedy & D Craig