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Newcastle United Biffa from www.nufc.com

 

There comes a point when watching a team regularly that seasons start to blend into each other and recalling precisely which game took place on which ground in which season becomes an almost impossible task.

Thinking back to one of Newcastle United’s occasional relegation campaigns, the 1988-89 season was mostly miserable, with only occasional flashes of form (such as a credibility-stretching 1-0 win at Liverpool) to suggest that anything other than a grimly inevitable demotion awaited the Magpies.

Under such circumstances, it’s a frequent truism to describe a cup tie as a break from the unrelenting pressure of the league; the chance for players to cast off the shackles temporarily and find form to kick-start their season.

Unfortunately, this being Newcastle, our FA Cup run that season failed to take us past the Third Round - yet encompassed four matches. Paired with Second Division Watford, less than 25,000 paid £4 (or £7.50 in the seats) to stare through the fences enclosing three sides of St.James’ Park on a bleak January Saturday.

In those days of single substitutes, the out-of-form Mirandinha was relegated to 12th man by Manager Jim Smith and when he belatedly appeared to partner talent-free target man Rob McDonald, neither could make any impact in a 0-0 draw.

With the prospect of a home tie against Derby County awaiting the victors after the Fourth Round draw – broadcast on the radio at Monday lunchtime – the teams met again at Vicarage Road the following Tuesday evening.

And when Neil Redfearn smashed a free kick past debutant goalkeeper Tommy Wright after barely 90 seconds without a Newcastle player having touched the ball, it looked like being a fruitless trip to Hertfordshire for the hard-core toon travellers and southern exiles (the author part of the latter).

However, midfielder Kevin Brock found an equaliser before our enigmatic Brazilian rammed home a penalty kick awarded for a handball. Reality though intervened when Ray Ranson was similarly punished and Redfearn netted his spot kick to level the tie again, with no alteration to that score in the extra half hour of allotted time.

With venues now decided on a prior coin toss, a third attempt to settle the tie then took place on Tyneside the following Monday, after a Saturday on which United had slipped to a 1-3 reverse at Aston Villa and the West Midlands Constabulary had threatened to eject travelling fans for the heinous crime of raising their hands above their heads!

That meant another six hour stint on the Clipper bus from Victoria up to Newcastle – cheaper than the rival Rapide service but dropping off on Pilgrim Street rather than the old Gallowgate Coach Station adjacent to the ground.

And after a tepid contest that was even less incident-filled than the first game on Tyneside and inevitably ended scoreless after 12 minutes, it was back on the overnight bus and back to work, awaiting a fourth instalment.

There wasn’t long to wait and just 48 hours later, the long-suffering black & white followers were again trudging along the seemingly endless path that led round some allotments to the covered away terrace at Vicarage Road.

And it proved to be fourth time unlucky for United, as another desperate and forgettable tussle was ultimately settled by Glenn Roeder’s inadvertent own goal, scored deep into injury time at the end of the second half of extra time.

That came just as thoughts were turning to a fifth game - and as a result of the earlier coin toss, a third on Tyneside. Had that come to pass then United would have equalled the record of five games required to settle a tie in the FA Cup proper though (six at the Qualifying Round stage).

This wasn’t quite an unprecedented event in the club’s history, with United needing four games to dispose of Derby County en route to beating Watford – and later going on to actually win the trophy in 1924.

By 1990, the FA had abolished second (and subsequent) replays and although increasingly problems with policing events at short notice were one factor, showing mercy on fans and players alike may just have played some part.

For that season though, the damage had been done and a demoralised and disintegrating Magpie side would win just three more league games before departing through the trap door – with the Hornets spending some of their FA Cup revenue on purchasing their winning goalscorer Roeder.

Glenn would go on to manage Watford and is credited as the inspiration of the Hornets fanzine “Blind, Stupid and Desperate” - a phrase that more than adequately describes the mindset of anyone who endured all 450 minutes of almost unrelenting awfulness, before finally being put of their misery.

PS: For good measure, Newcastle also visited Vicarage Road in another cup competition that season, the unloved Full Members Cup. Inevitably, they lost.

Biffa from www.nufc.com

 

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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