NICK WELLS takes up the baton in part 7 of our 'Before they were famous' series and focuses on the perilous state of Newcastle United before Sir John Hall and Kevin Keegan rode to the rescue.
The ball you’ve just flicked on is directed back into your path. Win the game and survival seems sure. Lose, and relegation and bankruptcy is imminent.
The ball bounces once, then twice but lower. The second bounce is when you strike. Just the inside of your right foot, and the ball goes spinning by the keeper. No chance.
The ball started with Tommy Wright. A quick throw to Ray Ranson and the play was smooth. A long ball on to David Kelly is caressed back into the path of Micky Quinn. A leg reaches up and flicks it back into the path of Kelly. Pandemonium.
"I think that’s the best goal I’ve scored for the club and for it to come five minutes before the end of the game is tremendous,” Kelly said after the match. “I thought he was going to save it at first, as it was sort of going towards him but it seemed to bend wide and go in.”
It was the early 1990s and Newcastle United were in trouble. Not the trouble that the club has come to be associated with – players fighting on the pitch, buying players based onYoutube videos and Joe Kinnear – but theoretically club ending trouble.
In true Newcastle fashion, the club had sold its best players: Peter Beardlsey, Chris Waddle and Paul Gascoigne and had failed to do anything with the money. The lack of funds to be invested in the team led to manager Arthur Cox’s departure and a carousel of managers including Jack Charlton, Willie McFaul and Ossie Ardiles.
Disaster was imminent. Facing relegation to the Third Division in 1992, which would’ve been unprecedented for the club, there was turmoil on and off the pitch.
Two chairmen had been in charge before the first of the club’s two eventual saviours stepped in, and Ardiles would get the sack after overseeing a dismal run in form.
Gordon McKeag, son of former chairman William McKeag, stepped down after rejecting several takeover bids and then failing to raise capital with a share offering. He would be replaced by George Forbes, a Scottish Newcastle fan, who worked to keep fans onside.
He would depart for Sir John Hall in 1991. The Northumberland-born businessman had been angling to take control of the club for years, launching several ultimately unsuccessful takeover bids before he got his wish.
He had made his fortune in property development, developing the MetroCentre in Gateshead.
"We are haemorrhaging money at the rate of between £600,000 and £700,000 a year in interest charges. The financial position is such that we have reached a point where I couldn't sit on the sidelines any longer,” he said after gaining partial control in November 1991.
He kept Ardiles as manager, but the Argentinian sadly wouldn’t be able to reward that faith.
Ardiles would stay in charge until February, with Kevin Keegan returning to the club he had last departed via a helicopter from the centre circle.
He arrived in February, and immediately went about working to make the team harder to beat.
Brian “Killer” Kilcline was brought from Oldham Athletic and was immediately installed as the club’s captain to provide some much needed grit in the back line.
But it wouldn’t be until April 25, 1992, when Newcastle took on Portsmouth that survival was ensured. David Kelly scored the only goal of the match, ensuring his place in Toon folklore.
A follow-up win against Leicester City sealed the club’s safety.
Newcastle would finish 20th, two places above the relegation zone, ensuring financial survival.
The win would herald a turnaround for the club. Unlike previous regimes, Hall opened his chequebook for Keegan, and the former two-time European Player of the Year repaid that trust with a wealth of shrewd signings and success.
Barry Venison, John Beresford and Paul Bracewell were all brought in, with midfield general Rob Lee arriving later.
Thirty points from ten games, a record for the time, brought a buzz to the club and city. However, Grimsby Town were there to burst the bubble and bring the high-flying team back to ground with a scrappy 1-0 win.
But it would be the £1.75 million purchase of Andy Cole that heralded Newcastle’s transformation. The relatively inexperienced striker would go on to be awarded the coveted number nine jersey, after scoring 12 goals in as many league games – including two hat tricks.
Promotion to the new-fangled Premier League was beckoning. Improvements were made to the ground, and attendance swelled.
Two years on from that fateful swing of David Kelly’s right foot, Newcastle were mixing it at the top of the Premier League. Cole would score 41 goals in all competitions, and the club would finish third behind the Alan Shearer-led Blackburn Rovers and Manchester United. They would also finish top of the goal scoring table, with an impressive 82 to their name.
The club would also record the season’s biggest home victory, a 7-1 spanking of Swindon Town.
Stars Peter Beardsley, Philippe Albert, David Ginola, Tino Asprilla and hometown boy Alan Shearer would all sign for the club, bolstering their European and domestic ambitions.
But sadly, it wouldn’t last for “the Entertainers.” A twelve point lead infamously squandered at the top of the table, followed a year later by the departure of Keegan saw Newcastle slip down the table.
“We had ourselves to blame,” Keegan was noted as saying in the club’s magazine.
But to have come from the near ignominy of being relegated to the old Third Division, followed by a fairytale renaissance under the watchful eye of Keegan and Hall’s millions was more than anything that was running through the minds of supporters on an April day in 1992.
The club earned the title of “the Entertainers” and while it may have ended in tears, they’ll go down in history as one of the most enjoyable sides to watch in the league and one that brought new life into both the region and the club.
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