The inside story of Newcastle United's remarkable Fairs Cup triumph – 50 years on
The away dressing room door at Ujpest Dozsa’s Megyeri uti Stadion flung open.
Newcastle United’s players sat awaiting instruction from manager Joe Harvey after they had been outclassed by their Hungarian hosts during the second-leg of the Fairs Cup final.
Goals from Ferenc Bene and Janos Gorocs had put United’s 3-0 first-leg advantage under serious threat.
In reality, in balmy conditions, the Magpies had failed to lay a punch on Ujpest, and any hopes of securing the club’s first ever European title were wilting.
Harvey – a United FA Cup hero of the 1950’s – assessed the scene and asked his players “what’s the matter?”.
A lingering silence met his question.
United captain Bob Moncur finally responded by suggesting that the Magpies had barely had a kick.
Harvey needed to find some words of inspiration to help his players give a silver lining to the club’s first European campaign.
They had run a gauntlet of top European clubs.
It started with a four-goal demolition of Dutch giants Feyenoord, and there were narrow wins over Sporting Lisbon and Real Zaragoza.
Portuguese club Vitoria Setubal succumbed easily in the snow at St James’s Park, and Glasgow Rangers were finally seen off in a turbulent two-legged semi-final tie where the off-field action overshadowed an intoxicating tie.
The competition rules meant that only one club from a city could qualify, meaning United got in through the back door.
They were making the most of their unexpected opportunity to compete on the continent.
“We had never really thought of the competition as one we could qualify for, but once we realised we were in, there was excitement and no apprehension,” explained Magpies defender Frank Clark. “He (Harvey) had the same attitude as us – he was going to enjoy it and have a go at it, and see how far we went.
“There was none of the rubbish you see these days – there was no resting players or squad rotation. We played the strongest team every game, and just kept on going.”
After seeing off Rangers, it was to be a two-legged final against Hungarian outfit Ujpest Dozsa.
The first-leg was a tight, nervy affair, but United that took a three-goal lead to Hungary after Moncur came to the fore.
United were on the verge of glory after he struck a brace, and a Jimmy Scott added a third to put them in complete control of the tie.
“The home leg couldn’t have gone any better” admitted Clark. “They were a very good side and we were stretched – we did very well to contain them.
“Bobby goes and scores two goals in a short space of time and you start thinking that fate is with you. We were confident at 2-0 up, and Jimmy Scott goes and gets the third. That made a big difference and we were pretty confident – without being complacent.”
United weren’t complacent in the first-half of the second-leg, but they were struggling in the intense atmosphere created by the home support.
Their hosts dominated possession throughout the opening 45 minutes, and halved the deficit with a goal from Ferenc Bene just after the half-hour mark.
Ujpest doubled their lead just before half-time as Gorocs grabbed the goal that put the Magpies’ advantage in serious peril.
The United players trudged back towards the sanctuary of the away dressing room, and awaited their manager.
“The first-half, they murdered us, and ( goalkeeper) Willie McFaul was magnificent,” said Clark. “We were hanging on at half-time, really hanging on.
“Joe came in, looked around and he told us to get our chins up. He said all we needed to do was score a goal – a classic quote.
“Bobby said we hadn’t had a kick and he was right.”
Harvey’s response was every bit of strong and straight-laced as he had been during his illustrious playing career on Tyneside. The United boss looked around the room, and informed his players that all they needed to do was score a goal and their hosts would “collapse like a pack of cards”.
It was a line that would go down in Magpies folklore, and it would prove to be somewhat prophetic.
Moncur crashed a volley past Ujpest keeper Antal Szentmihalyi within two minutes of the restart, and confidence and belief flowed through United’s players.
Three minutes later, Danish midfielder Benny Arentoft levelled up the scores and gave United a three-goal aggregate lead with a vicious volley of his own.
The icing on the cake came with 16 minutes remaining when supersub Alan Foggon produced a fine solo effort to break the minimal resistance being offered by the Hungarians.
United’s name was on the cup, and Clark was left to reflect on his manager’s iconic team talk.
“Joe was right, and I hadn’t realised it, but they just wilted when Bobby scored,” said Clark. “They needed four goals, and you could see them thinking about it. The last half-hour was a joy to play in. Benny got another goal and then Alan came on and that was great for him.
“We had beaten supposedly the best team in Europe twice in a final, and it was amazing really.”
The celebrations got underway as soon as the full-time whistle was blown.
United’s players had written themselves into the club’s history books and 50 years later they still remain the last group of players to secure a major trophy for the club.
“The celebrations were brilliant – what I can remember of them,” said Clark. “Some of the lads’ wives were on the pitch at the end of the game, and I didn’t know what was going on.
“We went and got the cup and the dressing room was mobbed. There were people singing and entertaining us, and it was wonderful.
“We came back to Tyneside and the reception was amazing. The roads were packed, St James’s Park was packed. It was one of the best days of my life.”
Any Geordie that witnessed that historic run will echo that sentiment.