Four days, two momentous cup defeats – and 10 years of hurt for Newcastle

LOYAL ... Newcastle fans after a cup defeat.
LOYAL ... Newcastle fans after a cup defeat.
  • Ten years to the day since United played in FA Cup semi-final
  • Magpies haven’t come close to reaching Wembley since then – despite Souness pledge
  • Disenfranchised fans planning boycott of Sunday’s game against Tottenham
  • Cash-rich Newcastle must strive for sporting AND financial success

A DECADE ago, every Newcastle United fan wanted a ticket.

Who wouldn’t want one?

IN CHARGE ... John Carver.

IN CHARGE ... John Carver.

After all, the club had a chance of lifting a trophy.

It seems a lifetime ago now set against the planned boycott at St James’s Park on Sunday.

Ten years ago today, the team took on Manchester United at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

The day didn’t end well.

Trust needs to be rebuilt between the club and a support which feels disenfranchised and disengaged.

Just three days earlier, Newcastle had been knocked out of UEFA Cup almost a 1,000 miles away in the Estadio Jose Alvalade by Sporting Lisbon, a club which features prominently in United’s own European history.

The result that night arguably would have been different had Newcastle, leading 2-0 on aggregate in the 20th minute, not lost three players to injury during the game.

But luck is one thing United have not been blessed with since its last major trophy success in 1969.

As it was, Newcastle, then managed by Graeme Souness, were beaten 4-2 over the two legs.

PLEDGE ... Graeme Souness.

PLEDGE ... Graeme Souness.

And so it was on to Cardiff.

After another night in Lisbon, the players, backroom team and journalists boarded a flight to the principality.

By the time Graeme Souness and his team disembarked, thousands of United fans were already in Wales ahead of the following day’s game, which was being staged at the Millennium Stadium with the new Wembley still under construction.

But would Souness’s weakened and jaded team crumble?

IN PROFIT ... Mike Ashley.

IN PROFIT ... Mike Ashley.

Fans, whatever their reservations, enjoyed the build-up to the game,

More and more streamed into Cardiff.

“Across the South West of England and into Wales, a Geordie invasion had resulted in bumper takings for bar owners from Swindon to Swansea and beyond,” wrote nufc.com at the time.

“And sore heads were soon cleared on Sunday morning round the Stadium as supporters whiled away the time towards kick-off by supping, playing football and singing their heads off.”

By the day itself, all around the stadium, proudly stood on the banks of the River Taff, were equally proud Newcastle fans.

If only everything was this black and white.

Robson, controversially sacked early that season by then chairman Freddy Shepherd, was there to back his beloved team on a damp and ultimately depressing day in Wales.

Again, it didn’t end well. It rarely does for United.

The fans who made the journey to Cardiff weren’t found wanting in the stands, but the team put in a pitiful performance on the pitch.

Souness’s side, including disastrous January signings Jean-Alain Boumsong, Amdy Faye and Celestine Babayaro, were beaten 4-1.

Supporters couldn’t get out of Wales fast enough, but the roads out of Cardiff were gridlocked and the airport and train stations chaotic.

An hour of so after the match, the players headed to the airport to catch their flight, the first to leave for Newcastle.

The travelling journalists were sat at the back of the aircraft.

Aside from the tapping of fingers on laptops in the rear rows, it was a quiet flight.

The players hadn’t felt like talking in the mixed zone either – Nicky Butt was given a consoling hug by Sir Alex Ferguson, his former manager, as he strolled past the waiting media – but Souness had spoken.

“We’ll be back for another semi-final, maybe not at Cardiff, but we’ll be back,” said Souness.

A decade later, United are yet to visit the new Wembley.

Gateshead have been there. So too have Dunston UTS and West Auckland Town.

Newcastle haven’t come close.

Fast forward to the present day, and thousands of United fans are planning to stay away from the Premier League home game against Tottenham Hotspur.

Asked about the boycott last week, head coach John Carver said: “People will do what they want to do, but I know the majority will turn up, as they love the club.”

The majority probably will turn up.

But those that choose to stay away are doing so because they love the club.

They’ve got precious little back for their emotional and financial investment in the club since that fateful day in Cardiff.

And since Mike Ashley took over, the club’s domestic cup record has been appalling.

In a guest blog for ashleyout.com, George Caulkin, of The Times, wrote: “From a trophy to atrophy; this has been Newcastle’s journey under Mike Ashley.”

Newcastle had £34.1m in the bank last summer and recently posted a £18.7m profit for the 2013-14 season.

Yet the club has looked to be near-bankrupt on the field in recent months.

This can’t go on, something head coach John Carver, a fan himself, acknowledged ahead of the Tottenham game.

United MUST strive for sporting as well as financial success, and the playing staff, as it stands, is not fit for that purpose.

But it isn’t just the squad which needs to be rebuilt.

Trust needs to be rebuilt between the club and a support which feels disenfranchised and disengaged.

And that could take a lot more time.