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In Memory Of – A Father and Friend

7 years ago

This article is taken from my father’s book, which following his sudden passing earlier this month will sadly remain unfinished.

He had hoped to have the book published in some form and also intended to send some stories from his time following NUFC in the 1970’s to this publication.

So in memory of a great Father and friend, with whom I had many fantastic days following this great club together (even if the fare on the pitch wasn’t always so), I hope I have fulfilled a small part of his ambition to be published and I hope you enjoy reading his words.

Keith Gilroy

In Memory Of

Michael (Mick) Gilroy

22ND JUNE 1957 TO 2ND OCTOBER 2013

Dreaming Of Wembley and The Magic Of The Cup

May 3rd 1974 was the happiest day of my life so far. Newcastle United were about to play Liverpool in the FA Cup final at Wembley and I was on my way to watch it. Or wait a minute; perhaps it was the 30th March 1974, 4.45pm precisely. That was the day I stood on the terraces with thousands of Geordies at Hillsborough, Sheffield, in a sea of black and white, watching Newcastle United beat Burnley in the FA Cup semi-final to reach the FA Cup Final at Wembley for the first time since 1955. Newcastle United 2; Burnley 0, goal scorer Malcolm Macdonald (2) ably assisted by two wonderful balls by Terry Hibbitt, “Terry, Terry Hibbitt on the wing on the wing”.

I had always loved the FA Cup and so did all my friends. It was without doubt the biggest football competition in the world in those days, probably even bigger than the European Cup, or at least in my eyes it was. It was followed by the press, media and football fans all across the country avidly every season, from the 1st round draw (the qualifying and preliminary rounds if you were a non-league team) to the final. It was every player’s dream to run out in a FA Cup final at Wembley and every football fan’s dream to watch their team lift the FA Cup at Wembley.

The only problem was my team, Newcastle United, never got to the final. For some reason only other teams reached the FA Cup final and me and all my friends had sadly accepted this as part and parcel of being Newcastle supporters. Since the 1960/61 season when we lost 3 – 1 to Sheffield United in the 6th round, we had never got past the 4th round. The FA Cup final was reserved for the big teams of the era like Leeds, Liverpool, Spurs, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City and Everton.

Occasionally less glamorous clubs like Leicester, Preston North End and Burnley had reached the final and both West Bromwich Albion & West Ham United had actually won it. Even more galling in 1973, Sunderland, a far inferior team to Newcastle United and obviously our most hated rivals, had actually gone and won it. Somehow managing to beat Leeds United 1 – 0 with a goal by Ian Porterfield in one of their few attacks of the game, in the most one sided final I had ever seen. Sunderland getting battered for 90 minutes and their goalkeeper, Jim Montgomery, pulling off some amazing saves. There really was no justice in the world.

So we made the most of a bad job, accepted our fate and every season enjoyed the FA Cup in all its glory. From about 1967 when I was first allowed to go to matches by myself, if Newcastle United had been lucky and got a home draw at St James’ Park, I would go to the match. If we had been drawn away the game would be followed through World of Sport, Grandstand or Match of the Day, but this was very unusual as we were never the team chosen to be featured by the BBC, unless they thought we would get a hammering from one of the London clubs or a humiliation from a lower league, or even a non-league club.

Come to think of it, 40 odd years on nothing has really changed! The next day I would devour the Sunday Papers’ sports pages, reading the report over and over again, checking the goal scorers, times and even the attendance to soak up every minute detail. I would do the same if we had lost, which was more often than not, hoping that the result on Grandstand or World of Sport was wrong and we hadn’t in fact been beaten 3 – 0 by Nottingham Forest (4th round 18th Feb 1967) 2-0 by Man City (4th round replay 29th Jan 1969) or 3 – 0 by Southampton (3rd round 3rd January 1970) to name a few, and that in fact we had won and it had been some terrible mistake by the man who read the scores out, which obviously we never did.

The conversation in the streets whilst kicking a ball around on the dark Saturday January evenings through to the warm late spring evenings as the final approached, would be about the latest rounds, results and scores and getting excited about watching Match of the Day later on that night, if we were allowed to stay up for it. This would all be repeated again at school on Monday morning and the games replayed at breaks and dinner time in the school yard.

Of course Newcastle United were not trophy-less at all during the period since they last won the FA Cup in 1955 through to the 1974 cup final. We had of course won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1969, giving the red hot favourites Ujpest Dosza of Hungary, an absolute hammering, 6 – 2 over the two legged final. That had been a magical journey, dishing out hammerings to much more fancied European teams on the way like Feyenoord of Holland (4 – 0 at home 1st round) Vitoria Setubal of Portugal (5 – 1 at home quarter finals) and fighting like lions in the away legs when we were almost always under the cosh.

But the Fairs Cup was different; it was not the FA Cup and didn’t have the same magic attached to it.  For a start none of the games were televised, not even the final, and the highlights were very few and far between, normally limited to a few seconds on the local Tyne Tees news programmes, if any at all. I went to the home games at St James’ Park, standing on the terraces of the Leazes end, which were amazing affairs with crowds of almost 60,000 for each game. There would invariably be a great atmosphere generated by the home fans and I got to witness the extremely colourful European away fans for the first time. Also the dark evenings and floodlights added to the occasion.

For the away games I listened to Radio Newcastle, which if I remember correctly gave regular updates as opposed to live commentary but not always. It depended who was on that night and I think one of the legendary Radio Newcastle presenters, Frank Wappatt, was untouchable so no scores or updates were allowed during his show in case they interrupted the latest Al Bowly record he was playing.  Failing that I would be glued to the TV screen waiting for the rather bizarre captions giving the latest score to appear at the bottom of the screen on the Tyne-Tees Channel.

This was technology of the highest level at time. During Coronation Street for example, the bottom of the screen (black and white of course) would appear to visibly lift and a black caption with white writing would appear saying “Newcastle United 0 – Real Zaragosa 1”. The caption would disappear, the screen would fall into place and my heart would be in my mouth until the next update appeared.  We actually won that particular tie on the away goals rule. The result over two legs was 4 – 4, we lost 3-2 away, but won 2-1 at home.

Sometimes if we were winning, you would hope there would be no further updates, because the tension from the time it took from the screen beginning to lift, to the actual score appearing, was unbearable. If no further scores appeared, then it was safe to assume we had won. Final confirmation sometimes did not come until the football results on News at Ten at 10:30pm, which again were not necessarily shown every night. It depended on who was playing or how much actual news there was to cover.

Unfortunately, Newcastle United were not usually regarded as being important enough to broadcast their results to the nation, especially if for example there was an amusing story to fill the last 2 minutes of News At Ten.  So occasionally I had to wait until the next morning when I did my paper round to find the scores from the morning papers.

When we won the Fairs Cup final I was overjoyed and it was a perfectly adequate consolation for having been beaten 2 – 0 by Man City in an FA fourth round replay that year. That was a particularly hard defeat to take as the team had been playing really well, we were making progress in the Fairs Cup, doing OK in the league and had successfully negotiated the 3rd round by beating the mighty Reading of the 3rd division 4 – O at home. We had another home draw in the 4th round, against Man City obviously, which ended in a disappointing 0 – 0 draw, before losing the replay 2 – 0 at Maine Road even though City played most of the game with 10 men after Mike Summerbee was sent off.  Man City of course went on to win the FA cup that year, beating Leicester City in the final 1 – 0 with a goal from Neil Young (The footballer not the folk/rock singer). Leicester got relegated to Division 2 that season and we finished above Man City in the league, but that was scant consolation for yet another early FA Cup exit.

I went to the Fairs Cup welcome home parade which was a truly amazing sight, with thousands of Geordies lining the streets to welcome the team home with the cup before parading it around a packed St James’s Park. Later the team went off to a civic reception at the recently opened Newcastle Civic Centre building, which was also besieged by still delirious Newcastle supporters and although I wasn’t there myself, I believe the team had to make another balcony appearance with the cup.

A fantastic occasion, but would have been even better had it been the FA Cup that was being paraded. The celebrations went on throughout the summer, with the cup being put on display at the Tyneside Summer Exhibition, an annual event in the Exhibition Park in Newcastle. I ended my Fairs cup celebrations at the Tyneside Summer Exhibition, by paying John Gibson of the Newcastle Evening Chronicle 5p, which was donated to charity, to hold the cup for about 5 seconds and that was the end of that.

As history clearly shows us, the Fairs Cup was the last major trophy Newcastle United has ever won. Since then they have won meaningless minor trophies like the Texaco Cup, The Anglo-Italian Cup and two Division One, or the equivalent of depending on who is sponsoring that particular league, Championships. We also have lost 3 FA Cup finals, a League Cup Final, a Premier League title and had lots of other near misses and flirtations with success, so I continued to enjoy the magic of the FA Cup more in hope than expectation.

Michael Gilroy

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