Making the dreams of a seven year old boy sat in the Leazes End come true
Magpie Memories – Newcastle United 5 Manchester United 0.
At a time when there is no football for us to talk about, I thought I would start a series of articles looking back at some of my favourite games as a fan of Newcastle United.
Despite some dark times in the recent history of our football club there have also been some great moments that will live long in the memory.
One of these moments for me was our spectacular thrashing of Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United side in October 1996.
I’d been going to St James Park with my Dad since I was old enough to walk. I have vague memories of Andy Cole scoring goal after goal but the first season I can remember properly was 1995-96 when we came so close to winning the Premier League title, only for it to slip agonisingly from our grasp.
As a seven year old boy you bounce back from such disappointments fairly quickly. Your naïve young mind is convinced there will be plenty of other opportunities to taste glory and there might well have been had it not been for the sheer dominance of the team from Old Trafford.
The disappointment of the 1995-96 season had been tempered in spectacular fashion with the world record signing of Alan Shearer from Blackburn Rovers.
With the best striker in the world coming home to Newcastle I felt certain that 1996-97 would be our year and I was eagerly anticipating my first trip to Wembley for the Charity Shield, the first opportunity to gain some small semblance of revenge for the devastation of missing out the previous season. How wrong I would be, as my first trip to English football’s famous twin towers ended with a crushing 4-0 defeat.
After a tricky start to the league season that would see two defeats in our first three league games, Newcastle were on a roll when Manchester United came to town in October, with a run of six consecutive league wins taking Keegan’s side to the top of the table.
Like any game during that era under Keegan you always felt there was a very good chance that you could win at home, whoever the opponent was, but I don’t think anyone expected what was to come.
Despite the attacking talent at both side’s disposal the deadlock was broken by the unlikely form of Darren Peacock. A corner played in by David Ginola was headed back across goal to Peacock by Shearer, who directed his own header towards the far post and the waiting Denis Irwin, who cleared off the line as he fell.
Newcastle hands went up in appeal and a wall of noise broke out from the stands as the referee gave the goal and pointed towards the centre circle. Manchester United players protested that it hadn’t crossed the line but 36,000 Newcastle fans, 11 players on the pitch, and one passionate Kevin Keegan on the touchline didn’t give a stuff.
If our first goal was lucky then our second was spectacular.
A simple ball from John Beresford into the feet of David Ginola, who took one touch to get away from his marker before rifling a right foot rocket past the despairing Peter Schmeichel.
Les Ferdinand, whose struggles to score in the corresponding fixture the previous season had been so costly in our failed title challenge, made it 3-0 with an excellent header following a brilliant Shearer cross.
The only thing missing now was a goal for the Geordie hero, who was being roundly booed by Manchester United’s travelling support every time he touched the ball.
That duly arrived after a Peter Beardsley drive and Les Ferdinand follow up were brilliantly saved by Schmeichel, allowing Shearer to slot home.
In commentary, Martin Tyler says ‘the script is complete for Newcastle United’ but little did we know the best was yet to come.
I can still picture it in my mind to this day as Rob Lee passes the ball infield to Philippe Albert. The big Belgian takes two touches, before spotting the Manchester United keeper in no man’s land and dinking the most glorious of chips over his head and into the back of the net, and making a seven year old boy sat in the Leazes End dreams come true.
A glorious end to a glorious game of football – perhaps the best it’s been at St James Park for decades – Newcastle United 5 Manchester United 0.
It could have been the game that propelled us to the Premier League title and the beginning of a glorious chapter in the club’s history.
In reality though, sadly, it was the beginning of the end.
The team would win only three of their next 11 league games before Keegan resigned, bringing to an end a wonderful five year rollercoaster full of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.
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