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NUFC 1988/89 - Season Review

Division 120th
FA CupR3
League CupR2
ChairmanG McKeag
ManagerW McFaul > C Suggett > J Smith
CoachC Suggett > J Pickering > B Saxton
CaptainD Beasant > K Sansom
Top ScorerMirandinha (11)

This was a disastrous season for the club, but United's downfall was put into perspective by the horrific scenes at Hillsborough and the emotional farewell for Jackie Milburn. It was a season when tangible hope turned to real despair.

There was a mixture of optimism and fear before the start of the new season. McFaul had - on paper - signed a quartet of decent looking players: Dave Beasant, Andy Thorn, John Hendrie and John Robertson. However we had not only sold Gascoigne but, arguably more importantly, we had also lost Paul Goddard.

It only took a matter of seconds at Goodison Park for the United fans to find out which emotion would dominate. Thousands had travelled to Goodison Park in celebratory mood, but United became badly unstuck against the Toffees.

Although there had been insufficient time for the new players to be assimilated McFaul was sacked after a poor start. Without a succession plan in place United floundered around for six weeks and plunged to the foot of the table.

The United hierarchy’s embarrassment was finally ended when they persuaded the experienced Jim Smith to take charge. With two thirds of the season left and - on paper - a reasonable side, there was every reason to believe that the situation could be rectified.

An upturn in form followed Smith's arrival, but it did not last and he decided to embark on a major mid-season rebuilding programme. As a result a grand total of 35 players were used during the campaign. His plan failed and United were relegated having spent the whole of the season in the bottom four.

The average crowd actually rose but the disenchantment with the Board was getting into full swing with "Sack the Board" becoming the most popular chant and sit down protests becoming a regular occurrence. The supporters gained a new mouthpiece as "The Mag" appeared on the streets for the first time.

However there was a different aspect to the protests this time as a group of high powered and influential business men led by John Hall formed the Magpie Group with the publicised aim of democratising the club. It was to be the start of a massive battle of power with new Chairman Gordon McKeag.

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Kit images copyright Historical Football Kits and reproduced by kind permission


League Division 1

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Four defeats in the first seven games resulted in McFaul being sacked and the failure to land a new permanent manager brought another five defeats which saw the Magpies plummet to the bottom of the table.

Jim Smith was appointed and two wins and two draws in his first four games suggested better times ahead, but four defeats followed.

Smith's attempt to drastically remodel the side failed and United's League record during 1989 of 3 wins, 5 draws and 11 defeats resulted in relegation. During the whole campaign the highest position attained had been 17th

27/8 A Everton L 0-4 H
03/9 H Tottenham D 2-2 H
10/9 A Derby L 0-2 H
17/9 H Norwich L 0-2 H
24/9 A Charlton D 2-2 H
01/10 A Liverpool W 2-1 H
08/10 H Coventry L 0-3 H
22/10 A WHU L 0-2 H
26/10 H Middlesbrough W 3-0 H
29/10 H Nottm F L 0-1 H
05/11 A QPR L 0-3 H
12/11 H Arsenal L 0-1 H
19/11 A Millwall L 0-4 H
27/11 H Manchester Utd D 0-0 H
03/12 A Luton D 0-0
10/12 H Wimbledon W 2-1 H
17/12 H Southampton D 3-3 H
26/12 A Sheff Wed W 2-1 H
31/12 A Tottenham L 0-2 H
02/1 H Derby L 0-1 H
14/1 A Aston Villa L 1-3
21/1 H Charlton L 0-2 H
04/2 H Liverpool D 2-2 H
11/2 A Coventry W 2-1 H
26/2 A Middlesbrough D 1-1 H
11/3 H QPR L 1-2 H
15/3 A Nottm F D 1-1
22/3 H Everton W 2-0 H
25/3 A Norwich W 2-0 H
27/3 H Sheff Wed L 1-3 H
01/4 A Southampton L 0-1
08/4 H Aston Villa L 1-2 H
15/4 A Arsenal L 0-1
22/4 H Luton D 0-0
29/4 A Wimbledon L 0-4
03/5 H WHU L 1-2 H
06/5 H Millwall D 1-1 H
13/5 A Manchester Utd L 0-2 H
W D L F A Pts
01 Arsenal 22 10 6 73 36 76
02 Liverpool 22 10 6 65 28 76
03 Nottm Forest 17 13 8 64 43 64
04 Norwich 17 11 10 48 45 62
05 Derby 17 7 14 40 38 58
06 Tottenham 15 12 11 60 46 57
07 Coventry 14 13 11 47 42 55
08 Everton 14 12 12 50 45 54
09 QPR 14 11 13 43 37 53
10 Millwall 14 11 13 47 52 53
11 Man. United 13 12 13 45 35 51
12 Wimbledon 14 9 15 50 46 51
13 Southampton 10 15 13 52 66 45
14 Charlton 10 12 16 44 58 42
15 Sheff Wed 10 12 16 34 51 42
16 Luton 10 11 17 42 52 41
17 Aston Villa 9 13 16 45 56 40
18 Middlesbrough 9 12 17 44 61 39
19 West Ham 10 8 20 37 62 38
20 Newcastle 7 10 21 32 63 31

FA Cup

R3 07/1 H Watford D 0-0
R3r 10/1 A Watford D 2-2 H
R3r2 16/1 H Watford D 0-0 H
R3r3 18/1 A Watford L 0-1 H

League Cup

R2 L1 27/9 A Sheffield Utd L 0-3 H
R2 L2 12/10 H Sheffield Utd W 2-0 H

Squad and Team

Anderson, J 23 0 1
Beasant, D 24 0
Bogie, I 4 6
Brazil, G 3 4
Brock, K 25 0 3
Cornwell, J 9 1
Craig, A 0 1
Gourlay, A 0 1
Hendrie, J 40 0 5
Howey, S 0 1
Jackson, D 15 2 2
Jackson, P 1 0
Kelly, Gary 9 0
Kristensen, B 4 1
Lormor, A 3 0 1
McCreery, D 40 0
McDonald, R 7 7 1
Mirandinha 26 7 11
O'Brien, L 21 3 4
O'Neill, M 20 11 3
Payne, L 6 1
Pingel, F 13 1 1
Ranson, R 17 1 1
Robertson, J 7 7
Robinson, D 0 1
Roche, D 0 2
Roeder, G 21 0
Sansom, K 24 0
Scott, K 35 0
Stephenson, P 8 1
Sweeney, P 6 2
Thorn, A 28 0 1
Tinnion, B 14 1 1
Wharton, K 20 4
Wright, T 11 0
own goals 1

Total Games: 47

Total Number of Players Used: 35

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01: (3) Beasant > Kelly

02: (5) Anderson > Ranson

03: (4) Tinnion > Sansom

04: (2) McCreery

05: (5) Scott

06: (4) Thorn > Roeder

07: (7) Hendrie

08: (15) Bogie/Hendrie > Pingel

09: (10) Mirandinha

10: (6) Jackson D/ O'Neill > O'Brien

11: (8) Robertson > Payne > Brock

Player Moves

Toon In

Name Date From Fee
Beasant Dave 06/88 Wimbledon £850,000
Hendrie John 06/88 Bradford City £500,000
Robinson Dave 06/88 Internal Free
Roche David 08/88 Professional
Thorn Andy 08/88 Wimbledon £850,000
Payne Lee 09/88 Barnet £25,000
Mcdonald Rob 11/88 PSV Eindhoven £150,000
O'Brien Liam 11/88 Man Utd £300,000
Brock Kevin 12/88 QPR £300,000
Ranson Ray 12/88 Birmingham £175,000
Sansom Kenny 12/88 Arsenal £300,000
Pingel Frank 01/89 Aarhus £260,000
Brazil Gary 02/89 Preston £250,000
Kristensen Bjorn 03/89 Aarhus £260,000
Sweeney Paul 03/89 Raith Rovers £100,000

D Beasant

A Thorn

K Sansom

Toon Out

Name Date To Fee
Thomas Andy 06/88 Bradford City £80,000
Gascoigne Paul 07/88 Tottenham £2.65m
Goddard Paul 07/88 Derby £425,000
Mcdonald Neil 08/88 Everton £525,000
Bailey John 09/88 Bristol City Free
Jackson Peter 09/88 Bradford City £290,000
Jackson Darren 11/88 Dundee Utd £200,000
Stephenson Paul 11/88 Millwall £300,000
Thomas Martin 11/88 Birmingham Free
Cornwell John 12/88 Swindon £50,000
Robertson John 12/88 Hearts £750,000
Beasant Dave 01/89 Chelsea £725,000
Craig Albert 01/89 Dundee Free
Bogie Ian 02/89 Preston c-ex
Payne Lee 03/89 Reading £30,000
Tinnion Brian 03/89 Bradford City £150,000
Wharton Kenny 05/89 Retired (inj.) Free
Roeder Glenn 05/89 Released

P Gascoigne

P Goddard

G Roeder

Drop Out

Name From To Club
Craig Albert Northampton
Craig Albert12/88 12/88Dundee
Kelly Gary Blackpool
Lormor Anthony Norwich
Thomas Martin10/88 10/88Birmingham


McKeag replaces Seymour

Solicitor Gordon McKeag took over as Chairman from Stan Seymour junior. He had joined the Board in 1972 following the death of his father William who had also been Chairman during his time at the club.

His father had been involved in an elongated and controversial battle with fellow Chairman/Director Stan Seymour during the late fifties and early sixties but it is fair to say that Gordon faced an even tougher time.

Within a couple of months he had sacked manager McFaul and then had an embarrassing struggle to replace him before finally persuading Jim Smith to join.

And although he was officially endorsed as the man who the First Division clubs wanted as Chairman of the Football League, he lost out in the overall vote.

But his major battles were with John Hall and the Magpie Group. McKeag adopted a hawkish and non-conciliatory approach due to his complete lack of trust in their motives and his determination to prevent them from taking control.

Share Wars Protagonists

Magpie Group

The Magpie Group we’re led by John Hall and and included Bruce Stephenson (Scottish and Newcastle MD), former comedian Bobby Pattison, long-time board adversaries Malcolm Dix and John Waugh and local businessmen Brian Reed and Joe Robertson.

They formally lodged the names of six potential directors with the club: John Hall, Joe Robertson, David Stephenson, Bobby Pattinson, Brian Reed and Malcolm Dix.

They set out their plans in a 12-page document entitled "A pledge for the future". They wanted the club "democratised" with a £5 million share issue where no individual or group would be allowed to earn more than 10% of the shares and with the majority of shares to be held by fans.

The share issue would also contribute towards a £10 million financial injection which would be used to finance a 45,000 capacity stadium and allow for team strengthening.

With their base in the Metro Centre and a concerted publicity campaign supported by the Evening Chronicle they attempted to win the "hearts and minds" of the fans and the shareholders.

They claimed they were willing to work with the current board if they would relinquish their control of the club and agree to the share issue.

Hall's rhetoric continued unabated as he set himself up as the man who had the financial clout and vision to take the club forward and the power to break the "closed-shop" (as he saw it) of the current board.

Hall continually reiterated that the Magpie Group "never intended to take over the club but merely to democratise it and to inject into the club a substantial sum of money".

"It's an upstairs downstairs situation. It's isn't their silver, it's all our silver in the North East".

The Board

Chairman Gordon McKeag with vice-chairman Ron McKenzie and directors Stan Seymour, James Rush, Sir George Bowman, George Dickson, George Forbes and Eddie Dunn.

In their initial statement at the end of the 1987/88 season, the Board had stated that "to see its (the club's) name dragged through the mud on the back of thwarted personal ambition is tragic".

And once they had released their document, Mckeag branded them as "particularly naive about all aspects of football management" and criticised the plans as "long on gloss - short on detail".

He also believed that Hall's "driving ambition was to take personal control" of the club and "we do not need a Robert Maxwell here".

Repeated requests for a meeting were steadfastly refused with McKeag demanding detailed plans before he would even consider the prospect.

In October McKeag scored an own-goal by saying "one does not attempt to reach a compromise with someone who tries to break in at the front door to steal the family silver".

And he had an alternative perspective on the financial impact: "Mr Hall has not offered to put any money into the club - all he has offered is to buy 300,000 worth of shares for himself". These shares would then be sold to fans at £300 a time to enable him to claw his money back "before anything came in for the benefit of the club".

Share Wars - Ownership and Power

With McKeag refusing to negotiate or compromise the only way the Magpie Group could further their plans was to start "buying-up" shares.

Two thousand shares were issued in the first issue in 1890; of these 150 were thought to be lost.

The current board and their families owned approximately 300 shares with the rest spread out amongst between 200-300 shareholders worldwide.

Shares meant votes at the AGM, one vote per share (up to 10 shares) and one vote per five shares (between 10 and 100 shares). Therefore McKeag's 36 shares gave him 15 votes.

The face value of the shares was 50p.

Crucially (as it was a private limited company) shares could not be transferred without the board's consent therefore the Magpie Group could "buy" shares but not officially own them unless the transfer was ratified by the board.

What were the targets?

The Magpie Group needed the support of 10% of shareholders to force an Emergency General Meeting.

They needed 51% to gain control of the board.

They needed 75% to undertake the share issue.

Share Wars - Timeline

10/06 - The Magpie Group launch their twelve-page document "A pledge for the future".

12/06 - McKeag challenges the Magpie Group to take the "honourable course" and make a £20 million bid for the whole club.

15/06 - The club blocks Frank McCardle from transferring some of his shares to Hall.

29/06 - McKeag rejects a face-to-face meeting as the Magpie Group have failed to respond to requests for written clarification of certain aspects of the proposed strategy.

26/07 - McKeag again refuses to meet with the Magpie Group because they have not provided the requested additional details about their plans.

28/07 - The Magpie Group sends a letter to all shareholders asking them to support a call for an EGM following the Board's refusal to meet.

14/09 - The Group offer all traceable shareholders £500 a share and a £50 non-returnable deposit upfront.

17/09 - All United shareholders receive a letter from McKeag advising them not to act on the share offer.

03/10 - The Magpie Group respond with a £1,000 upfront offer.

05/10 - The Board matches the Magpie Group £1,000 a share offer.

09/10 - McKeag’s states: "one does not attempt to reach a compromise with someone who tries to break in at the front door to steal the family silver".

15/10 - Hall refutes rumours that they are going to call it a day, and claims that the Board no longer have the support of the 75% shareholding required to push through any major policy changes.

27/11 - Director George Dickson, who is the largest shareholder, has agreed to sell them to the Magpie Group.

29/11 - Hall claims that the Board are contacting local businessmen to try and get them to buy 200 shares from them for £200,000.

11/12 - With shares now changing hands for up to £6,000 McKeag denies that he has had to persuade two directors not to sell-out.

12/12 - It is revealed that former Chairman Lord Westwood and several members of vice-chairman Ron McKenzie’s family have sold out to the Magpie Group.

29/01 - McKeag states that he would be willing to meet with Hall if an agenda was agreed beforehand.

08/02 - Leicester businessman and Newcastle fan Peter Mallinger has bought 100 shares from the club worth £130,000 and has guaranteed another £150,000. It is thought that he will be offered the chance to be a director.

14/02 - Vice-chairman Ron McKenzie resigns and sells his 84 shares to the Magpie Group. He had offered to sell them to the Board but they were not prepared to match the bid.

15/02 - Hall reveals details of the “Peace Plan” that he has sent to the Board. The main points being: a minimum £5m share issue, development of the ground and a new “interim board” to oversee the plan He also slams the news that Peter Mallinger has divided his 100 shares with nine other members of his family to maximise their voting value.

16/02 - McKeag reveals that there is a clause in the Plan which states that some of the money raised by the share issue will be used to pay back the money used to purchase shares by the two groups.

17/02 - Hall responds by saying they have always made it clear that they believe no-one should own more than 10% of the shares as they: “wanted to give this great club back to the fans not to have it as our personal seat of power. We are trying to rid it of dictators.”

21/02 - The long-awaited AGM turns out to be a damp squib. Both sides treat each other with courtesy and McKeag runs the show with aplomb. when Hall states he will provide plans to develop the Gallowgate for free McKeag retorts with: "l accept two things that you have said. I accept that you are a property developer and that no property developer does something for nothing".

22/02 - City Council leader Jeremy Beecham offers the services of the Council as “honest brokers” between the two sides.

26/02 - McKeag reveals that he has contacted Northumbria police having received a number of death threats and up to fifty abusive telephone calls over the weekend. Hall “utterly condemned” those responsible and also claims to have been receiving abusive calls over the last few weeks.

05/03 - Although Hall accepts Jeremy Beecham’s offer to mediate, McKeag has rejected it.

28/04 - Hall says: “We intend to call an EGM. What we want is an open debate and it appears this is the only way we are going to get one". McKeag refuses to comment.

12/05 - George Dickson has handed in his resignation from the Board.

14/05 - Bob Young, a wealthy Consett businessman, takes Dickson’s place on the Board.

31/05 - Director Eddie Dunn has sold the bulk of his shares to Bob Young and officially resigned.

Share Wars - Final Position

The Board

Directors George Dickson and Ron Mackenzie and their family members had sold out to the Consortium as did former Chairman, Lord Westwood. The "defections" disappointed McKeag but he had no intention of surrendering. Most of the smaller shareholders had also sold to Hall, but others did sell to the Board.

McKeag looked to local businessmen who would support him and also buy shares. The Shepherd family and Peter Mallinger were two who helped out with the latter joining the Board.

Mallinger also agreed to split the shares he had purchased amongst nine family members so as to make best use of them in terms of voting power.

The Board also split up their shares they owned amongst “friends” including “Rugby Union men” Danie Serfontein and Gerry Cooper.

Bob Young joined the Board at the end of the season, pledged his “personal wealth” and claimed that the Magpie consortium's money was not required anymore. "With my contacts in the City I am more than happy that the club will receive all the funding necessary for development and players".

Young also made a personal plea to Hall to step back their campaign for a couple of years to give the club a chance to rebuild, otherwise the continuing battle “could destroy the club”. But he was also full of praise for Hall and vowed to try and find a compromise which could see Hall and McKeag working together. However he was also wary of a public share issue as he believed, if it failed, power could be concentrated in even fewer parties.

McKeag felt that the Consortium had played a significant part in the club’s demise.”There's no doubt that the pressure exerted by the Magpie Group has seeped through to the players and everyone connected with the club. I would like them to get off our backs.”

And he resumed his attack on Hall. He claimed he could have become a director in 1986 if he had been willing to stand as a guarantor for a loan to build the new West Stand, "but he would not help us". “Mr Hall has not offered to put any money into the club - all he has offered is to buy £300,000 worth of shares himself. These shares would then be sold to fans at £300 a time to enable him to claw his money back."

Such was the level of bad feeling and suspicion that (as Peter Mallinger reveals in his brilliant book "So You think you want to be a director of a football club") there were personal threats made against the directors, the boardroom was regulary "swept" for bugs and sniffer dogs were sent to the ground to search for explosives.

Magpie Group

Despite their notable coups - and spending of almost £4 million - the Magpie Group still only had approximately 40% of the shares which was still 11% away from taking over.

And they had no representation on the board having withdrawn their five applications before the AGM, as they knew they would not get sufficient support.

Hall firmly laid the blame for relegation on the Board and asked: “how long is this Chairman going to be so bloody-minded”.

Hall was also unimpressed with the "Bob Young" money and suggested that using City money would take control of the club out of the area when he thought control should be "shared" between local businessmen and supporters. He also claimed that the £500,000 Young had provided would simply been used to buy shares from Dunn and McKeag.

Share Wars - Views from the Edge

Kevin Keegan was on Tyneside doing promotional work and he criticised the club for having a "small club" mentality and suggested that there was some "dead wood" on the Board.

When asked about the Magpie Group he suggested "l don’t think a change would be a bad thing," but asked if he fancied the manager’s job he replied ", not at the moment, no".

He also criticised the club for letting Cox, Beardsley, Waddle and Gascoigne leave suggesting that whilst they had invested in the ground there had been a lack of investment on the playing side.

The Council were of a similar view. They offered to mediate between the two parties but council leader Jeremy Beecham was fully supportive of the share issue and believed that McKeag was "obsessed" with retaining control.


Willie McFaul

Willie McFaul started the season with a newly signed three year contract in his pocket following United's impressive 8th place finish in the previous campaign.

With a number of new faces McFaul admitted there "was a buzz about the place"; "everything looks right, let's hope it is right". There were concerns about a lack of height up front and a lack of a midfield playmaker, but McFaul preferred to give the players "in the building" a chance first.

From day one he found himself under great pressure. He had to "blood" four new players and had to satisfy a crowd who often bordered on the mutinous. But most importantly he was working under a new Chairman who was under severe pressure from Hall and the Magpie Group.

A bad start culminating in a disastrous home thrashing by Coventry cost McFaul his job. McKeag praised his "loyalty and integrity" but stressed that it was "results that matter" and expressed his disappointment at the "level of commitment" shown by some of the players and the failure of the team "to gel”. Newsclip

Reserve Team coach Colin Suggett was put in temporary control with chief scout Mick Martin acting as his assistant. McKeag confirmed that an appointment "will be made as soon as possible".

Search for a Successor

McKeag was confident that he could get former manager Arthur Cox from Derby County. However Rams chairman Robert Maxwell was having none of it and a new lucrative deal for Cox helped him remain loyal.

Over the next few weeks there was an embarrassing public round of rejection. It was reported that United approached eight managers in all and certainly Howard Kendall, Joe Royle, Mel Machin and David Hay all turned the club down. They even had a press conference set up to announce Hay only for the Scot to try and renegotiate the terms of the contract offer at zero hour.

With the hope that they might be able to get Howard Kendall at the end of the season McKeag made Suggett the temporary manager until the end of the campaign. It was quite a turnaround for Suggett who had voluntarily dropped down from first team coach during the previous season as he thought it would benefit the team.

The results got even worse, United won only one in eight and failed to score in the other seven. McKeag was forced to look again.

The Eagle has Landed.

Two months after McFaul was sacked McKeag finally got his man when QPR manager - "The Bald Eagle" - Jim Smith agreed to take over.

Smith was a well respected manager with a decent pedigree and McKeag seemed to have made a sound decision. He signed a three-year contract worth £300,000 in total, making him one of the best paid managers in the country.

Some questioned his decision to take over a club in such turmoil, but Smith seemed unfazed. “It doesn’t worry me at all that the club is in such a precarious state or under threat from a possible takeover. I have been involved in worse situations before and it won’t stop me getting on with the job. I will be leading from the front because one thing I am not short of is bottle. Newcastle should be up there with the Manchester United's, Everton's and Liverpool's of this world. In two years, I would like to feel that we are. That's how long I am looking to take to turn things around".

Newcastle and QPR agreed a compensation deal thought to be about £175,000 and Blackpool assistant manager Bobby Saxton agreed to become his right-hand man.

McKeag said he was not asking him to "produce miracles", but was hoping for an "improvement of fortunes" and a "respectable" finishing position.

Smith believed the club had some "good players" with a "very strong backbone" to the side and thought that with some additional "motivation" and tweaking of "style" everything would be ok.

However, Smith would state in his autobiography that once he had seen the players in action his viewpoint had changed somewhat, telling Saxton: "this is the worst set of players I have ever come across". He decided to set about a high risk policy of extensive rebuilding mid-season. Six players arrived and eight were shown the door.

He summed up his feelings when relegation was confirmed. "l know I have to take some of the blame for the club being relegated. I know I have made mistakes. But when I came here it was the worst football club I have ever taken over and I know that I tried to do too much too soon. The club needed major surgery and I tried to do in 5 months what needed 2 or 3 years. I won’t be running away. Too many people have walked out because they couldn't handle the pressure.”

He later admitted he was surprised they had lasted that long; he thought they would have been relegated by Easter.

St. James, Sponsorship and Super League


The club signed a new three-year sponsorship deal with brewers Greenalls said to be worth £500,000 a year.

United’s balance sheet was published in January and revealed that the club now owed £3m following the building of the new West Stand. United borrowed half the cost of the £5m stand. Newcastle made a profit after tax of £80,685, compared to a loss of £193,725 in the previous year, with a profit on transfers of £448,645. The club's wage bill soared by 25 per cent, with 11 people earning more than £35,000, including three on salaries over £50,000.


A new £150,000 scoreboard was installed. Reputed to be one of the most up to-date in the country, it was based on models already in operation at Wimbledon, on the M4 and “popular TV show” Family Fortunes.

West Stand

The new West (aka Peter Beardsley) Stand was fully opened at the beginning of the season. Well almost, 350 fans who had bought exclusive £350 seats were told that their area would not be available for the first two games.

The club claimed that the facilities within the new West Stand put them among the top four clubs in the country; commercially. There were now 63 executive boxes available and all these were sold. £1,000 "superfan" tickets were also on sale offering pre-match meals and seats next to the directors amongst the "perks".

Hillsborough and Fencing

At the end of the season the fans had to come to terms with relegation but everything was put into perspective by the horrific events at Hillsborough where 94 fans were killed and about another 150 seriously injured.

With the tragedy in mind Hall called for the warring factions to “bury their differences” and for the Council to call a conference involving all interested parties to see how to best redevelop the ground.

Following advice from the City Council, the fences at St. James’ were dismantled although, somewhat controversially, a small section at the Leazes End, where the away fans were housed, was retained “for their safety”.

Broadcasting Break-up?

During the summer of 1988 twelve clubs, including Newcastle, were involved in talks with ITV which would have seen them sign an exclusivity deal which would be worth £32 million to the clubs over a four-year period. The other clubs wanted to accept a BBC/BSB deal offer of £39 million which split the revenue across all 92 clubs.

The teams involved could have been expelled from the Football League if they had signed the deal but McKeag stated: "if there is to be a Super league then Newcastle want to be part of it". The other clubs involved were: Liverpool, Everton, Man. United, Arsenal, Spurs, West Ham, Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa, Sheffield Wednesday, Derby and Southampton.

The Football League took out a High Court injunction to block the completion of a deal between ITV and the rebel clubs and after an eight-hour meeting in Manchester the rebel clubs backed down.


Attendances and Mood

Season ticket sales surpassed £1 million for the first time with almost all the 8,000 tickets being sold. A delighted McKeag boasted that: “there’s no doubt the fans are backing us to the hilt”.

There was a significant degree of optimism at the start of the season and six thousand travelled to the all-ticket match at Goodison Park on the opening day with 4,000 other applicants missing out. The party atmosphere was punctured within 34 seconds when Cottee (making his debut) scored with his first touch.

A shambolic defeat in the next home game against Norwich saw the crowd turn and chants of "what a load of rubbish" and “sack the board” were regularly aired before jeering the players off the pitch.

And when the next match on Tyneside against Coventry brought an even worse performance the players were booed off at the break and abuse was hurled at the directors with Police having to move in to quell the trouble. The players were booed as they returned and the second half brought sit down protests and chants of "sack the board" and "Johnny Hall." Coventry moves were applauded and Newcastle players were jeered.

When United were thrashed 4-0 by Millwall at The Den fans chanted “we’re so bad it’s unbelievable” and “now you've got to believe us, we'll never score a goal”. Then when McDonald headed in just before the end, but the effort was disallowed for offside, they changed the words to: “now you've got to believe us, we've nearly scored a goal”.

The televised home fixture with Manchester United was seen as an opportunity for fans to show their strength of feeling. There were demonstrations before, during and after the game. A "sack the board" banner was displayed before the match started. “Sack the Board” was chanted repeatedly along with "and now you gotta believe us, they're going to wreck the club".

A home defeat against Charlton in January saw the attendance drop below 20,000 and there was a sit-down protest towards the end of the game. Following the game supporter Eddie Knox reported the club for breaching the Trades Description Act. "My protest is quite serious. Newcastle's last game was so bad that I left ten minutes before the end, something I've never done before in my life".

Eight fans were injured when three coaches taking United fans back from the game at Middlesbrough were involved in a pile-up.

In April vandals broke into St. James’ and started tearing down some of the advertising hoardings. Luckily they were spotted on the club’s CT cameras and security staff chased them off.

United’s relegation was confirmed by a home defeat to West Ham and season tickets were ceremoniously hurled and ripped up. Just after the Hammers’ winner the crowd cheered fan Joseph Mattinson who held up the game as he ripped up his shirt and kicked it around the centre-circle. He would later be fined £100 for using language likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress. A cordon of police ringed the Director's Box at the end of the game.

There were calls for a boycott of the final game and the Mag fanzine suggested that fans turn up, but do not go into the ground. John Hall said that fans “have to make up their own minds,” but stressed that they had the “economic power” to force change.

The last home game was a mass demonstration with sit down protests, season ticket tossing, scarf burning and even a mini pitch invasion. The players entered the field to a chorus of boos. Injured Mira spent the first half in the directors box before watching the match with fans in the West Stand and was reduced to tears by their support.

A defeat at Old Trafford brought the season to a close At the finish the United supporters applauded the team off and sang “we’ll meet again”.

Everything was overshadowed by the tragic events at Hillsborough and the sad passing of United fan Darren Heslop who suffered a fractured skull when he and his friends were attacked by a fifty-strong mob after they left a pub in the West End after the match at Wimbledon.


At the first home game against Tottenham Gascoigne was bombarded with Mars Bars and other assorted confectionery when he warmed up prior to the start of the match at home to Tottenham.

At the start of the second-half the police had to move in when Chris Waddle was pelted with mars bars, coins and bits of rubble when he prepared to take a corner. The referee reported the missile throwing incidents to the FA. The club immediately announced that the Gallowgate East section would be closed for the next game and also threatened missile throwers with a twelve month ban.The FA took no further action.

After the shambolic home defeat against Coventry fans demonstrated outside the main entrance and had to be cleared by mounted police and dog handlers. Others rampaged through Eldon Square scattering shoppers in their wake. McFaul was sacked a couple of days later.

After the game at Millwall some Newcastle fans attacked the Millwall director’s suite, where they believed the United directors were. A door was kicked down and a couple of windows were smashed. Sports Minister Colin Moynihan, Margaret Thatcher’s main ally in the plans to introduce a compulsory ID scheme, was there as a guest of the club and witnessed the trouble first hand. He said: "this reinforces my conviction that further measures have to be taken to secure the future of the game".

On the same day there was also trouble at Kings Cross and on the Underground where United fans clashed with fans of Middlesbrough. And a terrifying arsenal of weapons was found in the car of a couple of teenagers from Tyneside. It included CS gas cylinders, stanley knives, coshes, billiard cues and a smoke grenade.

After the home defeat against Charlton there was a sit-down protest towards the end of the game. And after the match a 250-strong crowd demonstrated in Strawberry Place. When the police moved in to break it up bricks, bottles, stones, coins and cans were hurled at them and two were injured.

Identity Crisis

Margaret Thatcher - supported by Sports Minister Colin Moynihan - was determined to tackle hooliganism and it was her desire was to introduce a compulsory ID scheme from the start of the 1989/90 season.

The scheme had virtually no support within the game. The fans didn't like it because you would have to pay your dues even if you only wanted to go to the odd game. The clubs and football authorities didn't like it because of the cost of administration and the fact that it would almost certainly reduce crowds.

As a precursor, clubs were forced to make a certain percentage of their stadium's "member only".

United distributed 100,000 application forms to households in Newcastle and Tyneside to try and drum up support for their membership scheme. Nine thousand places were set aside in line with the government's requirements.

The Mag

Following the lead of other supporters; fans Mark Jenson, Steve Brennan and Chris Tait set up United's first fanzine: "The Mag".

It launched itself as an "effective and well-used outlet for the news and opinions of Newcastle supporters".

The main issues amongst the fans were (not surprisingly) the state of the team, the battle for the board and the government’s plans for an ID scheme.

Six thousand disgruntled fans signed a petition organised by the fanzine backing plans for a share-issue.

Player Shorts


No fewer than 35 players were used during the 44 games and even more startling was the fact that only 15 of them remained at the club by the start of the following campaign.

There were a number of big money comings and goings during the summer as United broke both their record inward and outward transfers.

But the pace really hotted up when Jim Smith took over and completely rebuilt the side by the start of the following campaign.

Job security was not good and many players including Dave Beasant, Frank Pingel, Lee Payne and Rob McDonald didn't even last a year.


The headline hogging move during the summer of 1988 involved Paul Gascoigne moving to Spurs for a British record transfer fee. Although he still had a year left on his contract he wouldn't sign the new one offered to him and United (fearful of having his fee settled by an independent tribunal) were forced to sell.

United claimed that Gazza had demanded £6,000 a week to stay at United. This was denied by agent Garvie, but United countered by stating the figure was accurate when the "extras" (such as houses for him and his family) were included.

Later statements from Man United chairman Martin Edwards corroborated the club's version of events.

Gazza says the Spurs contract "knocks for six" what United offered although it was the desire to "play for a successful club" rather than the money that motivated his move.

In February he appeared before an FA Disciplinary Committee for allegedly calling former Chairman Stan Seymour "brainless" for selling him. He argued that he had been upset by Seymour referring to him as "George Best without the brains". He was not punished.


The little Brazilian was equally controversial. There had been suggestions he wouldn't return to Tyneside, but he came back vowing he was "fitter than ever".

However his performances and his level of commitment was at best fitful and although McFaul was prepared to put up with him he was soon on a collision course with workaholic Smith.

Mirandinha also spoke out about his “living nightmare” since arriving on Tyneside. His move to England had not brought him the riches he'd anticipated due to him having to pay higher taxes than he expected and not earning as much from endorsements as he had been led to believe he would. Having taken out loans on the basis of the money he was expecting to buy a pig farm in Brazil he found himself saddled with huge interest payments and complained that the Board were not doing enough to help him.

Once Smith had taken over there were consistent rumours about him leaving and a whole host of clubs said to be interested in his services.

Despite being upset over McFaul’s sacking and his personal tax problems Mirandinha initially claimed he wanted to stay. And he angrily reacted to suggestions the club were willing to sell him. “I’m not going to take the rap for the whole squad…I want to be part of Newcastle United’s future. It seems to me that the Board are looking for a scapegoat. It won’t be me. I won’t be their sacrificial lamb. There are exciting things about to happen - the good times that the fans have been waiting for for years”.

In December Smith conceded that he "would consider an offer for Mirandinha in the same way I would for most other Newcastle players" and a month later he was transfer-listed. “I have agreed to go on the transfer list because the manager wants me on the transfer list. Newcastle want to sell so they can bring in money to buy other players. When you are not wanted the only thing to do is leave.”

Mirandinha then said he wanted to return to former club Palmeiras and claimed United were “scared” to sell him to another English club. “I have had no support from the Board or manager in the last three months and I am very unhappy.”

After some improved performances including a goal against Everton which saw him dance a little jig around the corner flag after scoring Smith tells Mirandinha he will be staying until the end of the season at least saying: “he has a crucial role to play on our bid to stay in the First Division”.

But he is out of the side a few weeks later and tells Smith that if he is not going to play him, let him return to Brazil.

After the final game Mirandinha is quoted in one of the tabloids saying that he believes that mistakes by the management were why United were relegated. He believes they were too defensive, chopped and changed the team too much and should not have sold Beasant. It prompted an angry response from coach Bobby Saxton who refuted all the criticism and pointed the finger at the Brazilian suggesting that: “the problem with Mirandinha is Mirandinha, we have never known whether he was fit or not and whether he wanted to play or not.”

United eventually agreed a fee of £275,000 with São Paulo for him, but he turned down the move because of the personal terms on offer.


After the bad start McFaul revealed that he has been warning his players about their attitude. “I won’t tolerate players who show a lack of character. I haven’t been pleased with the lack of determination shown by some people. When we have lost a goal, certain heads have gone down”.

And when McFaul was sacked McKeag talked of his disappointment at the "level of commitment" shown by some of the players.

Chief coach John Pickering left at the same time as McFaul and in a pointed comment he revealed : “I said goodbye to the players I respect. I deliberately didn't say goodbye to others. That's all I will say".

Jim Smith had a different view in February after criticism in the press of the players’ lack of character and backbone. He claimed that although they have not being playing well, “there has been no shortage of fight or commitment”.

But he was less protective once relegation had been confirmed. “They have let the club down, let me down and, most important of all, let the fans down, by not being able to handle the pressure of the situation. People automatically think there’s a lack of endeavour from the team, but it’s fear that gets to them.”


Most players kept their counsel over the battle for control of the club although Beasant did admit that it was having an impact on the players. Others spoke more freely.

Albert Craig labelled the club as a "shambles" and Mira (interveiwed for a TV documentary on the state of the club) claimed that most of the players wanted the MG takeover to go through.

Blakelaw Boy

Kenny Wharton had joined as an apprentice in January 1978 and signed pro forms a year later and was rewarded with a testimonial at the end of the year.

A specialist advised him in April that his knee would not stand up to the rigours of professional football. Smith said he was “absolutely devastated”.

But although he was freed he decided to go against specialist advice and continue trying to play.

Lee Clark was called up for the England Youth team for the first time.

David Beasant’s signing from Wimbledon for £850,000 made him the costliest 'keeper in the country and United's record signing.

Supporters Player of the Year David McCreery (32) was stunned to be given a free transfer. “It has knocked me flat. I wanted so much to finish my career in the North-East. It isn’t the way I expected to be treated”. Glenn Roeder was also freed as expected.

Strange but Toon

In January, Hartlepool chairman John Smart floated the idea of having a pre-season competition between the five North-Eastern league sides and Carlisle.

Neil Warnock said that the reason he quit as boss of Scarborough at the end of 1988 was that the Yorkshire club’s chairman, Geoffrey Richmond, had tried to sign Mirandinha without informing him.

1980s Seasons

1980/81 1981/82 1982/83 1983/84 1984/85 1985/86 1986/87 1987/88 1988/89 1989/90