Newcastle legend opens up on Fairs Cup semi-final against Rangers and 'frightening' fan riots 50 years to the day of infamous clash

It was the greatest adventure that Newcastle United had experienced in their history and it remains the last time that the club lifted major silverware.

By Mark Carruthers
Tuesday, 21 May, 2019, 12:19
Frank Clark.

The UEFA Inter-Cities Fairs Cup journey from Rotterdam to Budapest sparked a whole host of lifelong memories – none more so than the controversial events that surrounding the Magpies’ semi-final second-leg meeting with Scottish giants Glasgow Rangers.

Joe Harvey’s side had successfully negotiated their passage through to the last four of the competition by seeing off the likes of Feyenoord, Sporting Lisbon and Real Zaragoza.

Mark Carruthers and Frank Clark.

Their forays to their continent had been a step into the unknown – but, for the first time in their run, the United boss and his players were aware of the size of the task as Glasgow Rangers stood in their way.

The first leg would take place at Ibrox as the Magpies faced a Rangers side containing legendary names like Willie Henderson, Sandy Jardine and John Greig.

Harvey possessed a number of players that had experienced all that a trip to Govan had to offer, but for the likes of Geordie full-back Frank Clark it was a new experience.

Over 75,000 supporters crammed into the home of the Scottish giants to see United goalkeeper Willie McFaul save a late penalty from Andy Penman to ensure that his side escaped with

Frank Clark.

a goalless draw.

United legend Clark reflected on challenging night at Ibrox as he said: “It was intimidating, but I could deal with it.

“I was concentrating on what was happening on the pitch – the crowd was just background noise and I had enough trying to deal with Willie Henderson.

“They were a great Rangers side and I think the two combined attendances there have been for a Fairs Cup tie.

“I just thought it was a wonderful occasion and to come away with a 0-0 draw was even better.

“We thought we could crack it and we had been under pressure for most of the game.

“The penalty was a bit harsh and you expect a team to score a penalty.

“But it was a big lift for us ahead of the second leg.”

The scene was set for the return fixture as an expectant Tyneside held its breath.

The FA Cup treble of the 1950s was still fresh in the memory, but this was something different, something unique.

The hordes from Glasgow poured over the border and wreaked havoc on Tyneside ahead of the game.

A tense, nervous, but “electric” atmosphere enveloped St James’s Park as nearly 60,000 supporters bared witness to one of the most infamous cup ties in the club’s history.

The first 45 minutes failed to provide the first goal of the tie, but United edged in front seven minutes after the restart as Falkirk-born Jim Scott fired the Magpies ahead.

The crucial goal came 13 minutes from full-time as another Scot – Jackie Sinclair – found the back of the net to put United within touching distance of their first ever European final.

But it also sparked a vicious response from the Rangers supporters as they broke on to the pitch and made their way towards the Leazes End – battling with local policeman on their way.

The United players – including Clark – made a hasty exit towards the sanctuary of the dressing room.

“It was scary,” explained the former European Cup winner.

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“I could see bottles coming over when we were defending the Gallowgate End.

“Then I saw them all come on and I thought ‘I’m off’.

“I got to the edge of the pitch and I am just about to head down the tunnel when I saw Willie McFaul.

“He stopped and turned to back and said that he had left his cap and gloves in the back of the net.

“I said forget them, I’ll buy you a new pair, you’ll get killed if you go back out there.

“It was frightening.”

Play was held up as the police pushed to get the visiting supporters from the pitch and back onto the Gallowgate terraces.

Confusion reigned around the ground, before the players were allowed back on to the pitch to see out the remainder of the game.

“The referee has led us off and nobody knew what was going to happen,” admitted Clark.

“To be fair to Rangers, their chairman came into our dressing room after around 10 minutes and said that whatever happens, we would go through to the final.

“But we managed to get back on and it was surreal.

“The pitch was surrounded by a track and then there was a wall before the terraces.

“That track was ringed by policemen and police dogs that were yapping all of the time.

“So, there weren’t too many volunteers to take a throw-in.”

McFaul, Clark and United skipper Bobby Moncur held as firm as the ring of policeman surrounding the St James’s Park pitch and ended the game with their two-goal lead intact.

Harvey had led his players into the Fairs Cup Final in their first-ever European campaign.

The poisoned atmosphere that has been witnessed failed to spread to the two sets of players and bonds were formed that remain in place to this day.

“I didn’t hold the players responsible for what happened,” said Clark.

“In fact, we had a good relationship with them during the game and after the game.

“Since then we have seen players like Willie Henderson and Colin Stein come down here and support the Fairs Club.

“No, the only satisfaction I had was that we were through to the final of the competition.”

Hungarian giants Ujpest Dosza would provide a stern test as Joe Harvey and his players looked to add the Fairs Cup to a trophy cabinet that already contained four First Division titles and

six FA Cups.

But nobody will ever forget the night that United held firm against Rangers on and off the pitch.