Is France The New Scotland For Newcastle United?
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, so ends George Santayana’s famous statement.
In the case of Newcastle United this may not be such a bad thing. The recent influx of French players does not represent a totally new path for the club.
If I were to mention the names; Hughie Gallacher, Willie Gibson, Roddie MacKenzie, Alf Maitland, Tom McDonald, Bob McKay and Willie Wilson, all but one will not mean much to many Newcastle supporters (including this one) but this is the bulk of the last Newcastle side to lift the league title (1926/27). There was eleven Scotsmen in that squad overall, but only those seven made over twenty appearances.
Only four English players made more than twenty starts for the club that season: Frank Hudspeth, Stan Seymour, Charlie Spencer and Tom Urwin. Seymour finishing third in the club scoring charts with nineteen goals behind McDonald, who netted twenty three times and of course Gallacher came out on top hitting the target thirty nine times in forty one matches. Another Scot, Bob Mckay, weighed in with eleven strikes to take fourth spot.
Going back two decades or so to the club’s first major trophy win, the 1905 League Title, and it is a similar story. Seven Scots made up the bulk of the side which made successive cup final appearances in 1905 and 1906. The 1906 cup loss coming as a double blow after losing the league title to Liverpool, the trophy returning to NE1 the following season before slipping away again the year after, this time to Aston Villa. The championship trophy returned to what was fast becoming home at the end of the 1908-09 season. Again to a side dominated by Scots – eight making up this latest title wining side.
The Championship trophy hadn’t quite made itself at home inside St James Park and after that season would not grace the trophy cabinet for another eighteen years. The side still dominated by Scots did have one last hurrah, finally winning the F.A cup in 1910 after three failed attempts; this win however marked the end of a golden five year period for the club. A period which had seen Newcastle amass four major trophies as well as the Charity Shield.
They had become the team to beat with their attacking passing based forward play a revelation for the day. The side was to have one more attempt at a trophy before a thirteen year barren spell but failed for a fourth time in 1911 to bring the cup back north, at least not in Black and White hands. The cup was eventually won by Bradford City, Jimmy Speirs scoring the only goal of an Old Trafford replay after a goalless draw had been played out 4 days previously at Crystal Palace.
By the time of the 1924 F.A Cup win, the club had again filled the team with six Scottish players, helping to end the club’s long trophy drought. This also marked the beginnings of the team that would go on to win the fourth and final league title of the club’s history in 1927.
Another spell without silverware followed before another squad laden with Scots won the 1932 F.A Cup. The eleven who beat Arsenal 2-1 at Wembley that year included Jimmy Boyd, Dave Davidson, Tommy Lang, Roddie Mackenzie, Harry McMenemy and Jimmy Nelson. The game itself was shrouded in controversy following Jack Allen’s equaliser. An opportunity which arose after Jimmy Richardson crossed the ball which had already gone for a goal kick to Allen, who promptly dispatched the first of a brace to bring the cup to Tyneside for a third time, as well as proving that officials were no better at spotting things back then than they are now!
This was really the end of a long era in which Newcastle had overwhelmingly looked over the border for quality and value in bringing players to the club. However, it did not end the Scottish association with NUFC entirely. Frank Brennan, Bobby Mitchell and keeper Ronnie Simpson were all members of the side which made Newcastle the first team to retain the F.A Cup with the 1951 and 1952 triumphs. By the time the cup was again wearing Black & White ribbons in 1955, another Scot Jimmy Scoular had been added to the side.
When the club won its last major trophy, the 1969 Fairs Cup, the reliance on Scotland’s finest had subsided. However, the side still contained Bobby Moncur, Jimmy Scott and Jackie Sinclair as the now declining Scottish presence. It’s interesting to note that no Newcastle side has ever won a major trophy without the presence of Scots in the team. The overall trophy haul of 11 still sees us as the 8th most successful club in England (joint with Manchester City, recently pulling level following their billionaire assisted trophy haul). This just goes to show how many clubs actually win trophies, let alone multiple trophies.
So by now you have probably either enjoyed the history lesson or you are wondering what the point of it is. Well Newcastle finding a country with a talented pool of players then exploiting it is nothing new, and has reaped huge rewards for the club in the past. The signs are it can again, provided we can retain players and coach the talent we have into the rough and tumble of the premier league without sacrificing technical ability.
It may also be worth once again exploiting our proximity to Scotland as the club did for the first 77 years of its existence. Scottish football may be at its lowest ebb but a good scouting system such as ours should be able to unearth some talent. As the club did in the past, it can use its position in a superior league and the proximity to home to attract the best of Scotland, highly regarded youngsters such as Tony Watt, Stuart Armstrong and Ryan Jack to name a few of the more well known Scottish prospects. These could all potentially be had for reasonable cost and all occupy positions Newcastle require strengthening. Jack in particular can operate in midfield and defence, a handy type to have in a club which seem intent on keeping as small a squad as possible.
Spending big has not served Newcastle well, although it did get us close briefly and thrillingly in the nineties. The club suffered from persisting with that policy long term. The end product of that period of lavish spending being nothing but a disjointed squad assembled by various managers. Each one spending millions to their own end and no clear long term thinking at the club to influence proceedings.
Ashley has actually shifted the club back to its original policy of finding quality and value in one place with a clear plan when it comes to player recruitment. Only this time looking south across the channel instead of further North across the border.
You can follow Keith on Twitter @KM_Gilroy
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