NUFC 1978/79 - Season Summary
Although the massive turnover in players meant that it would inevitably take time to gel, the complete lack of a decent challenge for promotion and deteriorating performances represented a hugely disappointing season.
There were early exits in both Cups with United beaten by Third Division Watford in the League Cup.
United broke their record transfer fee to sign Peter Withe from League Champions Nottingham Forest.
The Newcastle Supporters Association continued their campaign against the current Board; but their threat of legal action was subsequently dropped.
|Captain||T Hibbitt, I Nattrass|
|Top Scorer||P Withe (16)|
|Ave Lge att||20,494|
League Division 1
|A||Millwall||L||1 - 2|
|H||WHU||L||0 - 3|
|H||Luton||W||1 - 0|
|A||Cambridge||D||0 - 0|
|H||Blackburn||W||3 - 1|
|A||Wrexham||D||0 - 0|
|H||Orient||D||0 - 0|
|A||Notts. C.||W||2 - 1|
|H||Leicester||W||1 - 0|
|A||Sunderland||D||1 - 1|
|A||Charlton||L||1 - 4|
|H||Cardiff||W||3 - 0|
|A||Bristol R.||L||0 - 2|
|H||Millwall||W||1 - 0|
|A||Luton||L||0 - 2|
|H||Cambridge||W||1 - 0|
|H||Oldham||D||1 - 1|
|A||C. Palace||L||0 - 1|
|H||Stoke||W||2 - 0|
|A||Fulham||W||3 - 1|
|H||Burnley||W||3 - 1|
|A||Sheff. Utd||L||0 - 1|
|A||Brighton||L||0 - 2|
|A||Orient||L||0 - 2|
|A||Leicester||L||1 - 2|
|H||Sunderland||L||1 - 4|
|H||Charlton||W||5 - 3|
|A||Cardiff||L||1 - 2|
|A||WHU||L||0 - 5|
|A||Oldham||W||3 - 1|
|H||Preston||W||4 - 3|
|H||C. Palace||W||1 - 0|
|A||Burnley||L||0 - 1|
|H||Sheff. Utd||L||1 - 3|
|A||Preston||D||0 - 0|
|H||Notts C.||L||1 - 2|
|H||Fulham||D||0 - 0|
|A||Blackburn||W||3 - 1|
|A||Stoke||D||0 - 0|
|H||Bristol R.||W||3 - 0|
|H||Brighton||L||1 - 3|
|H||Wrexham||W||2 - 0|
There is no doubt that despite selling twenty players United had a pretty strong squad. Therefore their failure to mount any sort of promotion challenge was deeply disappointing and frustrating.
In the first four months of the season United struggled to score goals and although their home form was acceptable they only won once away.
The arrival of Martin and Shoulder sparked a mini run of victories prior to Christmas which took United up to 6th and had McGarry believing that they were on their way.
But they lost the next two games and with bad weather causing chaos they ended up playing seven away games and only two home games from the end of December until the beginning of April. Seven of those games ended in defeat and United tumbled down to 16th.
Another three game winning run pulled them back into mid-table where they remained before finally finishing 8th.
United were let down by their away form which was particularly poor between mid-October and mid-March when they lost 10 out of 11 on their travels. Although it was commensurate with other seasons it was not the form of a promotion challenging team. Especially galling was the fact that they lost their away matches against six of the bottom seven clubs.
|R3||H||Torquay Utd||W||3 - 1|
|R4||H||Wolves||D||1 - 1|
|R4r||A||Wolves||L||0 - 1|
R3: Despite being gifted an early lead by the visiting 'keeper United were outplayed by their Division 4 opponents for an hour before they benefitted from another mistake from the goalie.
R4: A keenly contested game played out on a treacherous frost bound pitch. The Hibbitt brothers were opposing captains and Wolves' Kenny volleyed in an equaliser five minutes from time.
R4r: After nine postponements Wolves win a very poor game; Newcastle are controversially denied a penalty when Withe is body checked in the box.
|R2||A||Watford||L||1 - 2|
R2: Watford were newly promoted from Division 4 - United started well and took the lead but were eventually undone by young substitute Luther Blissett.
The Newcastle Supporters Association (NSA) presented a winding up petition (signed by a number of shareholders) to the High Court of Chancery with the aim of forcing the directors to answer allegations of "ill-administration" and "oppressive conduct". Four directors were specifically named: Westwood, Rutherford, Seymour and Rush.
They made a number of accusations of "mis-use of power". Blocking share transfers to ensure that shares go only to those most likely to vote in favour of the board. Stifling discussions at general meetings to prevent matters of concern being given proper consideration. Failing to be "open and frank" about matters relating to business interests of two directors relating to contracts with the club. Undermining dressing-room morale by not ensuring payment of money promised to a players' pool.
Two weeks before the hearing was due to take place the NSA dropped the legal action but vowed to carry on the fight.
The club needed a gate of 28,000 to break even and with £750,000 required to complete work on the Leazes paddock money was very tight.
Former director/manager Stan Seymour senior passed away.
Peter Morris was appointed assistant manager.
One thing that McGarry did seem to understand was the passion of the fans. "The area is a furnace. Football is an obsession with the fans. They are fanatics in a way no other area can match. You learn that you are representing an entire area. It puts a lot more pressure on you - but any rewards must be that much greater".
With a huge movement of players in and out it was always going to be difficult; McGarry likened it to a game of "musical chairs" and called for patience from the fans. However, as performances dipped in the New Year he became more defensive. "It's not possible to build a team overnight. I tried to do this. I have not done it - but that's not to say I'll not do it in the end. I had to build it from scratch.... the club needed clearing out. There were players who did not want to play for the club.
McGarry didn't hold back on publicly criticising the players and in January he was furious with the amount of effort put in during a training session and blasted "some players have got to pull their socks up or they are out!"
At the end of the season McGarry was one of a handful of British managers approached by Athletico Madrid. He admitted speaking to them but said he had not been offered the job and had "not given it a lot of thought". United chairman Westwood confirmed that Bilbao had not approached the club and made it clear that "Bill is under contract and we would wish him to honour it".
|Sugget Colin||08/1978||Norwich City||£60,000|
|Withe Peter||08/1978||Nottm F||£200,000|
|Shoulder Alan||12/1978||Blyth Spartans||£20,000|
|Wharton Kenny||01/1979||Grainger Pk Jnrs|
United had lost a lot of experienced players and McGarry clearly thought that he needed to replace like-for-like. All his purchases were of an age and had plenty of top flight games behind them.
In the highest profile move the club broke their transfer record to bring in Championship winning Nottingham Forest centre-forward Peter Withe; it was a significant coup for McGarry.
Mick Martin (Eire) and John Brownlie (Scotland) were both internationals and Pearson and Suggett were established First Division players.
The signing that really caught the imagination though was the capture of miner and part-time Blyth Spartans striker Alan Shoulder.
Inevitably the club had to look at some of their younger players too and Wharton and Halliday both made their debuts after signing pro forms.
|Craig David||/1978||Blyth Spartans|
|Owens M||/1978||Local Non-L|
|Burns Mick||08/1978||Cardiff City||£72,000|
|Blackhall Ray||08/1978||Sheff Wed||£20,000|
|Mahoney Mick||11/1978||Chicago Stings||£40,000|
The exodus of established first-teamers who had become disenchanted by Dinnis's sacking and relegation continued. Kenneddy, Nulty, Burns and Mahoney were key members of the side and would be sorely missed. However only Kenneddy brought in a substantial fee.
A number of younger players who had been an integral part of the first-team squad also left; notably Blackhall and McCaffrey.
A number of recent purchases (Callachan, Larnach and McGhee) ended unhappy short stays at the club.
Mahoney asked to be dropped after only 3 games and replaced by Hardwick who lasted most of the season before he too was dispensed with and replaced by youngster Carr.
With Nattrass injured Kelly established himself in the side at right-back, but he suffered an injury and Brownlie moved across from the left.
McGarry struggled to replace the departed Kenneddy. Brownlie (a right-back by trade) was used first and when he moved to the Number 2 shirt, Mitchell took over in most games, although a number of players were used.
Bird and Barton shared the Number 5 shirt alongside Blackley until the last couple of months when Nattrass took over.
Cassidy struggled for form and fitness and Martin took over from him following his arrival from West Brom. Hibbitt took over as captain and worked extremely hard for the team. Suggett disappointed and was made available for transfer and youngster Nigel Walker looked an excellent prospect on occasion.
Withe led the line, but it took a while to find a partner for him. Pearson started quite well, but was injured and then the signing of Shoulder gave a fresh impetus to the side. Connolly was vey effective on the left.
The players had a new indoor sports pitch to play on at at Benwell.
Terry Hibbitt returned to the club three years after his infamous exit at the hands of Gordon Lee. He was made captain and worked tirelessly for the cause, although McGarry handed the captaincy to Nattrass towards the end of the season as he felt the responsibility was affecting his form.
Terry Hibbit (44) and Peter Withe (43) were the two top appearance makers.
Peter Withe was top scorer with 16 goals, Shoulder scored a creditable 11 goals in 24 games and Connolly (8) netted a decent haul for a winger.
After the previous season's relegation and the mass sale of players it is fair to say that expectations were not very high at the start of the season. And as United failed to seriously challenge the promotion places at any point expectations sank further.
Not surprisingly the average League attendance took a hit - dropping from to 20,494 (some 15%).
However this does not tell the full story. In the 12 games up to and including the Tyne-Wear derby the average held up pretty well: 24,677. But in the last 9 games after that match the average was only 14,921 and if you remove the Brighton game (attended by many thousands from the South Coast) 13,232. So almost half the fans had had enough after the Tyne-Wear debacle.
McGarry went out of his way to praise the fans at every possible opportunity. He was particularly impressed with the 7,152 brave souls who attended the abandoned home match with Wrexham: "we've got to do something for these supporters of ours, they are absolutely magic".
There were also plaudits from Luton manager David Pleat after his side were beaten on Tyneside suggesting the crowd "willed Newcastle to victory; their encouragement was tremendous".
However the poor form of the side led to increasing levels of disenchantment on the stands. As usual individual players were often targeted: Cassiddy (against Orient) and Hardwick later in the season suffered more than most.
Fans caused trouble (including 3 pitch invasions) at the pre-season friendly at Berwick. On the first day of the season at Millwall pitched battles around the stadium caused thousands of poundsí worth of damage. And the Tyne Wear derbies were both marred by violence.
Stage 1 of Phase II of the redevelopment of the Leazes End was completed. The floodlights were improved and a new tower was erected behind the West Stand. The £500,000 spent was provided by the Newcastle United Development Association.
The Newcastle Supporters Association was set up by Alec Gibson and Malcolm Dix at the end of 1977 and their avowed aim was to change the executive structure at the club.
At the beginning of July they presented a winding up petition to the High Court of Chancery with the aim of forcing the directors to answer allegations of "ill-administration" and "oppressive conduct". Four directors were named: Westwood, Rutherford, Seymour and Rush.
They also get enough support to force the club to hold an EGM later that month to discuss a vote of no-confidence in the Board. However the directors claimed that none of the resolutions could be discussed because the "whole matter is sub-judice because of impending High Court action". A vote was taken on whether the Court action did prevent discussions taking place and the result was 650 to 434 in favour of the Board.
A couple of weeks before the hearing the NSA dropped the court action but they later made it clear that they had not given up the fight and were going to press for an inquiry by the Department for Trade and Industry to investigate "certain matters" at the club.
The Newcastle United Supporters Club Chairman Alan Robinson was scathing of the group branding them "deliberately destructive, naive, sensation-seekers; seeking self-glory".
Strange but Toon
During the summer of 1978 the NSA held a secret meeting with eight senior players in Eldon Square. They put forward a proposal whereby they would give £10,000 to fifteen senior players if they agreed to stay at the club with a further £50,000 made available to less senior players.
Football League Secretary Alan Hardaker warned the players that they and the club would face "serious repercussions" if they become involved with any financial inducements offered by the NSA. He claimed the players could be banned from playing and "could end with the club being expelled from the Football League".
Alan Shoulder only agreed to sign for United after he had received assurances that he would be able to continue his mining studies. He has just started a 3-year course to become a deputy pit manager and was concerned that he was giving up a long-term career for what would be a short-term career as a professional footballer.
United fan Michael Earley won a claim for unfair dismissal against Newcastle Area Health Authority. He was sacked in May 1978 after refusing to deliver some urgent medical supplies. He had refused to take them because he was only twenty minutes from clocking-off, the journey would have taken him much longer and it would have made him late for a testimonial game that he had tickets for.
Bill McGarry, Peter Withe and Alan Shoulder illustrations by Tommy Canning
Alan Kenneddy painting by Piotr Jozefowicz by Tommy Canning
Kit illustration from Historical Football Kits
Newspapers from Newcastle Central Library Local Studies
Newspapers from British Newspapers Archive
Plus various books.