Ahead of Newcastle Uniter’s clash with Manchester United in the Carabao Cup final, images emerged of a message manager Eddie Howe had for his players at the training complex earlier in the season.
Resembling a slide from a PowerPoint presentation, “we haven’t won a national trophy in 67 years” was written below the club’s name and crest in bold white.
There were equal measures of shock and derision at the message, which had reportedly been on display since November.
Howe was only too happy to offer a bit more detail about what he was trying to explain in the time that Magpies fans haven’t celebrated a victory on home soil.
“In the early rounds we definitely used (the trophy drought as a motivation tool), but as we’ve moved to the other end of the competition, we’ve tried to ease the pressure rather than increase it,” he told reporters.
“Sometimes it can be a very delicate balance of how you psychologically prepare for these games. Like I say, when you get to this stage, I think the players know the responsibilities. The pressures they’re going to face, it’s a case for me to take them away and focus on the match itself.”
It should be noted that it has been 54 years since Newcastle United claimed a trophy of any kind, the last crown being the claimed European Fairs Cup in 1969.
Either way, there have been at least two generations of supporters in the North East who have never seen or do not remember their club winning silver.
Regardless of whether Newcastle United manage to edge past Manchester United to claim their first title in over half a century, the wealth the team now has at their disposal makes the drought unlikely to last more than a couple of years.
Unlimited, at least in football terms, the funds are behind the club and success is inevitable.
As Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp noted after the takeover by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund was completed: “Newcastle is guaranteed to play a dominant role in world football for the next 20 to 30 years.”
However, Howe’s message to the players demonstrates just how hungry for success fans in the Northeast have been.
Not that the club’s reputation has faded by that fact, appreciation of Newcastle United’s potential has been consistently universal.
In a nation replete with teams known as ‘sleeping giants’, clubs that have great but unrealized power, it is the best example.
The likes of Nottingham Forest, Leeds United, Everton and Aston Villa have tasted success much more recently than Newcastle, yet the perception that cavernous St James is perfectly suited to host a soccer powerhouse is somehow more compelling.
Why that has a lot to do with the 1990s, the last time Newcastle United came the closest to winning a trophy.
English football memory bias
For those who remember football in England before the Premier League was created in 1992, it is a source of constant frustration that collective memory often seems to begin with breakaway competition.
But, before its creation, the number of television cameras at English top-flight matches was limited and that changed things.
Memories of the glory days for fans of any of the teams that dominated the sport in the pre-television era will be etched in fans’ memories, but for the general public, they are much more difficult to comprehend.
The brilliance of Blackpool’s Stanley Matthews in the 1950s or Nottingham Forest’s back-to-back European Cups in the 1970s is harder to comprehend for generations raised on HD TV when the only pictures are flickering black and white or film. granulated.
The 24-hour sports coverage culture that developed rapidly in the 1990s didn’t just change the game at the time it altered our view of the past.
Probably part of the reason rival fans constantly accuse Manchester City of “having no history” is because there is literally no footage of their 1969 league championship triumph and because the flickering black and white of their success in the European Cup Winners’ Cup it has little broadcast time.
Manchester United, on the other hand, have gone ten years without a league title, but their glory period in the 1990s is as fresh as ever. Ole Gunnar Solkesjaer’s winning Champions League goal is repeated endlessly from so many angles that it seems like yesterday.
And, it was during this period, Newcastle United made its dramatic resurgence as a powerhouse in English football.
A beautiful flop: Newcastle United 1995-96
Under the charismatic leadership of soccer icon Kevin Keegan, in the 1990s, the Magpies transformed from a reasonable second division side to contenders for the Premier League crown.
The teams had captured the imagination of the English public in the past, Manchester United’s Busby Babes and Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest being just two of many whose charm reached beyond those clubs’ fans, but this was different.
When Newcastle United went to a 12-point lead in the 1995-96 season, earning the nickname ‘the entertainers’ due to their expansive style, it was played on the nation’s television screens every week.
As the title bid began to falter, the story Newcastle represented to the English public became even more compelling.
In the final months of the season, when the Magpies beat Manchester United but suffered a cruel 1-0 defeat, thanks to some incredible goalkeeping from Peter Schmeichel and terrible refereeing decisions, the injustice was visible to the nation.
Even more iconic was the sight of Keegan collapsing into a billboard as he watched Stan Collymore walk away in celebration after scoring and gaining extra time. It was the defining image of what became a legendary 4-3 game, one that Newcastle managed to lose despite twice leading.
But both memories are crowned by the tirade Keegan delivered in a live television interview sparked by comments from rival coach Alex Ferguson.
The crackle in Keegan’s voice when he says, “I’d love to beat them, I love it,” has become so legendary that it dwarfs any statement Ferguson has made in a far more successful career.
Newcastle United’s collapse that season and failure to win the league have been etched in football history more vividly than anything that has come before.
The glorious failure gave the club a far more compelling history than the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea managed, despite actually collecting trophies.
And it’s that sense of ‘what if?’ They have been in the air in St James’ Park ever since.
Modern Newcastle United has been understood through the prism of that season’s unrealized potential.
When new ownership Newcastle United finally delivers what Kevin Keegan’s team of the 1990s couldn’t, we have to remember that it’s unlikely it would have happened if they hadn’t gotten so close.
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