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Opinion

Howay il Ragazzi! One night in Florence

4 months ago
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On a humid June night in 1973 at the Stadio Comunale (now the Stadio Artemio Franchi) in Florence, Newcastle United survived a late scare to beat Fiorentina 2-1, to secure their first (and only) Anglo-Italian Cup success.

An own goal from the young Italian goalkeeper Franco Superchi and a second from energetic full-back David Craig gave Newcastle a comfortable 2-0 lead, only for Sergio Clerici to pull one back 11 minutes from time to ensure a tense ending to the game – typical Newcastle, you may say.

However, our defence proved to be resolute (not something we’ve always associated with Newcastle over the years) in the face of a La Viola onslaught and held on for the victory.

Captain Bobby Moncur collected the trophy, with Terry Hibbitt managing to drop it on his way back down the stairs, putting a dent into it.

The Anglo-Italian Cup, or Coppa Anglo-Italiana, was founded in 1970 and was the brainchild of Gigi Peronace, a man who has been described as ‘football’s first real agent’ due to his involvement in several high-profile transfers of British players to Italian clubs, including John Charles (Leeds-Juventus), Jimmy Greaves (Chelsea-AC Milan), Denis Law (Manchester City-Torino, Torino-Manchester United), as well as almost negotiating a move to Juventus for Newcastle United legend Kevin Keegan after his time in Hamburg had come to an end.

A native of Calabria, English-speaking Peronace had helped to arrange football games between British troops based in Italy during the war before going on to study engineering in Turin. What was unique about Peronance’s Anglo-Italian Cup was its point-scoring system. In an era where two points per win was common, the masterstroke for Peronance was to award bonus points for each goal scored too, leading to some high-scoring games in the cup’s early days.

Some of the biggest names in English and Italian football graced the competition at one time or another, with Manchester United, Nottingham Forest, and West Ham all participating over the years, alongside some of the giants of calcio in Juventus, Internazionale, Lazio, Roma, Napoli, and Newcastle’s opposition in the final in ’73, Fiorentina.

Newcastle’s route to the final that year was tough, but one they were able to navigate with relative ease, most notably beating Roma 2-0 in the Stadio Olimpico and thumping Torino 5-1 at St. James’ Park.

As per the tournament’s structure, Newcastle faced English opposition in the form of Crystal Palace in a two-legged semi-final, drawing 0-0 in London before again recording an easy 5-1 win back in Newcastle, booking their place in the final in Florence.

At the time, Newcastle hadn’t won a trophy since the Fairs Cup victory in 1969, which, according to local sports journalist John Gibson, had been ‘four barren years’ for a ‘success-starved’ Newcastle (imagine that?!).

Yet that was all remedied with a victory over a resolute Fiorentina side, who were managed by AC Milan and Sweden legend Nils Liedholm, and had finished a respectable sixth in Serie A the previous season and who would finish fourth in the 1972/73 campaign.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, given that the match was played in June, it was a sultry night on 3rd June 1973 in Florence. The kick-off was set for 9pm to try and combat this but to little avail. Despite the scoreline, it was a game that Newcastle largely dominated. In particular, the brilliance of Terry Hibbitt was complemented by the work-rate of Tommy Gibb and Terry McDermott in midfield, and they overpowered a Fiorentina side which boasted internationals such as Giancarlo De Sisti and contained several players from its title-winning side of 1969.

Despite the game starting off at walking pace, it soon came to life, with Cassidy, Hibbitt, and Tudor all threatening the Fiorentina goal. The 45,000 in attendance, largely, if not all, comprised of Fiorentina fans, were offered a glimmer of hope through sporadic efforts from Merlo and Clerici, the latter notching Fiorentina’s only goal in the 79th minute, but the Magpies held on for a relatively-famous win.

That was to be Newcastle’s last foray into the Anglo-Italian Cup until the 1992/93 season, where a 2-2 draw away to Grimsby Town was followed by a comfortable 4-0 victory at home against Leicester City, and saw Newcastle progress to the international stage of the newly-revamped competition. However, two draws and two defeats against Italian opposition saw Newcastle finish bottom of the English table. This was the season where promotion to the newly-formed Premier League was the main aim for Keegan’s Entertainers and, despite fielding almost full-strength teams in the competition, thankfully Newcastle’s foray into European competition didn’t distract too much.

The Anglo-Italian Cup soon died another death in 1996 when the competition was abandoned because the English First Division and Italian Serie B could not agree on dates for fixtures, alongside fan apathy and the return of fan violence that had cast a shadow over the competition in the ‘70s.

Yet the cup can also boast some footballing legends amongst its alumni, most notably Gheorghe Hagi, Andrea Pirlo, Christian Vieri, and Gabriel ‘El Batigol’ Batistuta all gracing the tournament at various points in their careers.

For fans of a certain generation, the Anglo-Italian Cup will always hold fond memories of an alternative foray into European football.

Given that another side in the North East also lifted a trophy in 1973, it was important that Newcastle ended the ‘barren’ spell and were victorious in Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance. Newcastle underwent a mini renaissance of their own, following up on this success with two subsequent Texaco Cup wins in 1974 and 1975.

Yet major honours continued to allude Newcastle, who suffered two further cup final defeats in the 1970s and endured a new ‘barren spell’ of major trophies that stands at 51 years and counting.

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