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Opinion

“He ate, breathed and slept Newcastle United”

1 month ago
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When you walk around St James Park, echoes of the club’s storied past are a constant presence.

Statues of the clubs greatest ever goalscorers, Jackie Milburn and Alan Shearer, remind supporters of a better time. A time when Newcastle United were one of the greatest teams in the land and had some of the best players in the country. Goalscorers who made us believe in the team we were watching and that success really was possible.

At the south west corner of the ground a three metre bronze figure of Sir Bobby Robson overlooks the approach to the ground which thousands of hopeful Geordies make every other weekend.

Robson might not have won a trophy during his time as manager but he built something special. A marauding team, full of young talent that challenged at the top of the Premier League table and gave us some of the most memorable European nights in the history of our club. The work of his foundation, which has raised millions of pounds to fight the disease that claimed the life of this great football man, has left a legacy in the North East that goes far beyond results on a football pitch.

If you walk just a bit further on from the Jackie Milburn statue you come to a plaque on the wall of the stadium.

The plaque is in honour of Joe Harvey, one of Newcastle United’s true greats, both as a player and a manager. Compared to the statues that surround him, this tribute doesn’t do justice to a man who has been a bedrock of the club’s past success

So who was this man who became a legend of our football club?

Joe Harvey was born in 1918 in Doncaster. He began his career at Wolverhampton Wanderers in 1936, but moved on to Bournemouth the same year without making an appearance. He played 37 times for the south coast club before joining Bradford City. However his promising career was interrupted when aged just 21, with the outbreak of the Second World War. Harvey served in the Royal Artillery before going on to become a sergeant-major in the Royal Army Physical Training Corps.

However, by the 1943-44 season he was back in action for Bradford and his impressive performances persuaded the powers that be at Newcastle United to secure his services for the sum of £4,500. It would prove to be a bargain.

Described by Newcastle United historian Paul Joannou as ‘a tough, uncompromising wing-half who performed best when the contest was at its most fierce’, Harvey was quickly installed as club captain upon his arrival. His strong mind, combative nature and desire to be the best saw him suspended by the club, alongside Len Shackleton, in 1946-47, after they complained about the quality of the accommodation provided to the team.

However it was a minor blip in what was to become an incredible success story, which would begin with promotion to the First Division in 1947-48. Harvey was captain of the side and only missed five games as Newcastle returned to the top flight.

This was to be the start of a golden period in the club’s history, which saw Harvey lift the famous FA Cup in 1951 and 1952. Two Jackie Milburn goals saw the club beat Blackpool 2-0 in 1951 in front of over 100,000 supporters at Wembley. The following year saw a George Robledo goal secure a fortuitous 1-0 victory over Arsenal, with the team from London finishing the match with only seven fit players on the pitch as they suffered multiple injuries in the time before substitutes were allowed in the English game.

Harvey, his team-mates and the jubilant Geordie nation couldn’t have cared less. Surprisingly, Harvey retired from playing just 12 months later at the age of 34, while still a first team regular.

However, there was no chance of him being lost to the game. A man of his leadership qualities was always destined for a career in management, and after being part of the Newcastle coaching staff that led the club to a third FA Cup success in 1955, Harvey had short spells with Crook Town, Barrow and Workington before returning to Newcastle as manager in 1961.

Just as he had done as a player Harvey proved to be a catalyst for a period of great success. It started with promotion as Champions of Division Two in 1964-65, pipping Northampton Town to silverware by just a single point. After firmly establishing the club back in the First Division it was time for United to conquer Europe.

In 1968-69 Newcastle played in the Inter Cities Fairs Cup, which would later become the UEFA Cup. Having only finished tenth the previous season, Newcastle qualified virtue of the one city club rule, which meant we took part in the competition at the expense of Everton, Arsenal and Tottenham, who all finished higher in the league but missed out because they had finished lower than Liverpool and Chelsea in 1967-68.

Regardless of how Harvey’s side got there, they took full advantage of the opportunity afforded them. In the first two legged tie they defeated Dutch giants, Feyenoord 4-2 on aggregate, before sneaking past Portugese side Sporting Lisbon 2-1.

In the last 16 Newcastle went away to Real Zaragoza, losing the first leg 3-2, but won the return leg at St James Park 2-1 to progress to the quarter final on the away goals rule.
Harvey’s men were now on a roll, and they thrashed Vitoria Setubal 5-1 in front of a jubilant St James Park, with two goals from Bryan Robson and one apiece from Alan Foggon, Wyn Davies and Tommy Gibb. Although they lost the second leg 3-1 they had done enough to reach the semi-finals, where they would face a Battle of Britain against Scottish giants Glasgow Rangers.

After a 0-0 draw in Glasgow, goals from Jim Scott and John Sinclair secured passage to the final against Hungarian side Ujpest Dozsa, which would see Bob Moncur etch his name into the Newcastle history books.

Having never previously scored for the club, Moncur scored twice in the second half of the first leg of the final, with Jim Scott adding a third in front of 60,000 fans at St James Park. The cushion should have been a comfortable one but in the second leg two first half goals for Ujpest left the tie delicately balanced with just 45 minutes left to play.

Joe Harvey didn’t panic though. He was calm at half time in the dressing room. He knew his team were the better side and simply told his players ‘score once and this lot will bloody fold’. He was right. Unbelievably, Moncur got another just after half time to reduce the deficit on the night and increase Newcastle’s aggregate lead. Two more goals followed as Harvey’s side won the match 6-2 on aggregate, to secure the trophy. It would be the last major one the club would lift.

Harvey would eventually leave the club in 1974 having also won back to back Texaco Cups, an Anglo-Italian Cup and reached an FA Cup final.

Harvey’s big strength as a manager was his man-management skills. In an interview with the Evening Chronicle earlier this year, Harvey’s son Ken attributes this to his time in the military:

“He got that from the army. When he was a sergeant major, you had to learn the workings of people. None of us are the same, so he learned that some you had to shout at and others be calm and friendly with.”

There have undoubtedly been more charismatic managers in charge of our football club. Harvey was certainly no Kevin Keegan or Sir Bobby Robson. But he knew how to win trophies, something some of the best managers in the English game have been unable to achieve at our club.

He was authoritative, but understated. A quiet man who knew how to get the best out of different characters and personalities. His plaque on the side of St James Park simply doesn’t do his achievements justice.

Although Harvey deserves more, I think he would find it quite fitting. It was never about him, it was always about Newcastle United.

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