When Newcastle United had to replace their very own hugely successful Sir Alex Ferguson
Following a successful manager is one of the hardest jobs in football.
Just look at the struggles Manchester United have had since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.
This was the challenging task Andy Cunningham faced when he was appointed as Newcastle United’s first official manager in 1930 with responsibility for the first team, with the hugely successful Frank Watt continuing his role as club secretary but stepping back from his involvement with the playing operation.
A very successful player with Glasgow Rangers in the 1920s, winning seven league titles and a Scottish Cup, Cunningham had signed for Newcastle in 1928, becoming the then oldest player (aged 38) to make his debut in the English Football League.
He would play just 15 times for the club, scoring once before becoming manager in 1930.
Andy Cunningham would go on to manage the club for five years and 251 games, with his time in charge a rollercoaster mix of highs and lows, successes and failures.
In Cunningham’s defence, he was severely hampered by the decision to sell the club’s best striker, Hughie Gallacher, to Chelsea. It was therefore no surprise that his first season in charge was a disappointing one with the club finishing down in 17th place, just five points clear of the relegation zone.
Despite that low-key start, the next two seasons were ones of steady improvement under his management.
The 1931-32 season would see an improved league finish of 11th place but, more importantly for a club which had become so accustomed to success, there was further glory in the FA Cup with Cunningham leading his side to their third triumph in the competition.
Cunningham’s team would defeat Arsenal 2-1 in the final at Wembley Stadium in front of over 90,000 supporters with two goals from Jack Allen, in what would later become known as the ‘Over The Line’ final. This was in reference to Allen’s equaliser which came from a pull back from Newcastle winger Jimmy Richardson. The referee ruled that the ball had not gone out of play and allowed the goal to stand, though photographic evidence would later suggest that the ball had crossed the line. Allen would score the winning goal in the second half.
Steady progress continued under Cunningham the following season, with a fifth place finish in the league, the club’s highest placing since winning the league in 1926-27, with Newcastle finishing just nine points behind champions Arsenal.
However, inexplicably, the club would follow this up with relegation the following season. The team won just 10 of their 42 league fixtures, with goals proving hard to come by, while their defence was one of the worst in the division.
This would see the club back in the second division for the first time since 1897-98. Despite being relegated though, Andy Cunningham kept his job for the following season. However, after failing to mount a serious challenge for promotion, he was relieved of his duties at the end of the 1934-35 season and replaced by Tom Mather.
Andy Cunningham returned to Scotland, managing Dundee for three seasons before becoming a sports writer after World War Two.
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