Bucking the trend?
We all know that trends exist within football that can’t rationally be explained. For example, in the modern era, Italy have unfalteringly reached the Final of the World Cup every twelve years (three tournaments), winning the competition every twenty-four years (six tournaments).
In 1970 they lost and in 1982 they won the game in normal time; while in 1994 and 2006, they lost and then won each final on penalties. By the time of the next WC in 2014, this sequence will have remained unbroken for 44 years – now that’s form for you!
Perhaps Newcastle United’s more unfortunate trend – that of two marked declines in the Fairs/UEFA Cup (the forerunners of the current Europa League tournament) – is just as predictable as that for a four-times World Cup winning country. The reverse of that sort of thing is, after all, what we unfortunately seem to do best – or should that read ‘do worst’?
Our trend is not quite so metronomic as Italy’s World Cup record, although it is almost as consistent – but this Thursday night gives us the chance to at least start to break the jinx.
Our record goes even further back than the Azzuri’s. The year before they got thumped 4-1 by Pele’s great Brazil side in the Final of the 1970 World Cup, NUFC won its first, and so far only, major European trophy, namely the Fairs Cup.
Following that triumph, though, there began the first of two steady declines in Newcastle’s performances in serious continental competition: we were KO-ed in the Quarter Finals of the Fairs Cup in 1969/70, the second round in 1970/71, and then the second round of what was by then in the UEFA Cup 1977/78 – although that season, it would more likely have been the first round had we faced any more testing opposition than a bunch of Irish part-timers!
The form book then went out of the window for the next three UEFA Cups we participated in: in 1994 we were eliminated in the second round; 1996/97 the quarter finals; and in 1999, the third round.
But the UEFA rise and fall of NUFC soon got back underway with a vengeance in the new millennium. The year after having reached the second group stage of the more prestigious Champions League in 2002/03, we were ‘demoted’ to the lesser of the two European club competitions at the qualifying stage, although we did still reach a highly respectable UEFA Cup semi final in 2004. The familiar trend soon re-established itself, however: last eight in 2005, round of 16 in 2007. Is the curse set to continue?
Of course, we are now in the round of 32, so failure against Metalist over two legs this Thursday and next will confirm that it is, but will the powers that be at SJP be all that bothered? The sort of team that we put out on 14th Feb will be a reasonable indication…
One thing is for sure, though: unless we do go all the way this season, any trend will almost certainly reach its natural conclusion.
For unless we qualify as holders for next season, the likelihood is that by the next time we get into Europe, the Fairs/UEFA/Europa competition will be history and – if it even exists all – will have been morphed into a full-scale repecharge for an enlarged Champions League format. Of course, that might not be such a bad thing.
With a bit of luck they’ll change the name to the Intertoto – and we always seem to do quite well in that!
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