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Opinion

When all hope looked lost – Newcastle United 1986/87

4 weeks ago
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As I fully expect this to be a long and arduous Newcastle United season fighting relegation to the Championship, I thought I would revisit a similar scenario when all looked doomed in the season 1986/87.

After a promising 63 points (11th place) in the old First Division months earlier, Newcastle got off to a terrible start and soon found ourselves bottom of the pile…..and seemingly set to be cast adrift.

A popular chant at the time aimed at Newcastle United fans was…”You’re going down with the Villa”…as Aston Villa had also had a woeful beginning to the season and had recently appointed Billy McNeill from Man City to replace Graham Turner.

Our predicament was immediately compounded at Villa Park in October 1986, when a Steve Hodge brace sent us packing with our tails well and truly between our legs. I was on a bus with my brother and remember vividly leaving the second city and witnessing the cheesy grinned Villa supporters lining the streets waving us off, with many pointing at the ground – our ultimate fate already decided by some and we hadn’t even got into winter.

Now some Newcastle supporters still claim that people forget things felt at times just as bleak before Mike Ashley (although I cannot remember when)…but you see, we still had hope and this is what happened.

With all seeming hopeless, Chairman Gordon McKeag and the board gave Willie McFaul a vote of confidence, backed him in the transfer market (no windows back then).

Andy Thomas and Peter Jackson arrived from Oxford United and Bradford City, then the club did something we hadn’t ever seen. They went out and totally smashed our record transfer fee (£250,000 for John Trewick in 1980) and signed Paul Goddard from West Ham Utd for a mind blowing £440,000.

These were brave actions and over the following weeks results began to improve, supporters began to think that just maybe we could pull it off, if all our stars were aligned.

The new signings settled in straight away. Andy Thomas went on a mini goalscoring spree, Peter Jackson created an immediate understanding with our skipper Glenn Roeder, whilst Paul Goddard showed us all the calibre of a real footballer that we had been missing in the Number 9 shirt for far too long. The goals didn’t come straight away for “God”, but he was working hard for the team.

Elsewhere, we had Gazza pulling the strings in midfield alongside Darren Jackson, John Cornwell was also putting in some sterling performances.

Slowly we began picking points up and started gaining ground on the teams above us as we entered 1987. We even got to the 5th round of the F.A Cup (remember what that used to feel like).

Eventually the goals started coming for Paul Goddard and the fan favourite went on a record breaking run, including scoring the winner at Highbury against the recent League Cup victors Arsenal.

The gap at the bottom had been closed but we were still in a perilous position when Alex Ferguson’s Man Utd strode into town, with fellow anglos Gordon Strachan and Brian McClair pulling their strings at the time.

This game was as intense as any I had been to in a while. Glenn Roeder scored for us, Strachan replied for them. The game was on a knife edge at 1-1 for what seemed to be ages and a win desperately needed to help Newcastle’s chances of staying up. Some divine intervention was needed and as the clock clicked down, Paul Goddard wheeled away in celebration after hitting the back of the net (making it seven league games in a row that he had scored in)  in the 80th minute.

Newcastle United were out of the bottom three and we stayed out of the relegation zone (in 17th place) for the rest of the season.

What had seemed impossible months earlier had been achieved by the efforts of the players, manager, fans and also the chairman and the board. For the first time in I don’t know how long….everything about the club at that moment felt strangely United.

(* As a footnote – Billy McNeill became the first manager to ever manage two relegated teams in the First Division in the same season)

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