The Amazing Journey
TechTo Sports, 2019
Hardback 274pp £19.99
Fifty years ago, two amazing events happened. There was, of course, the first manned Moon landing. An intrepid, courageous and thrilling journey that travelled somewhere that no human had been before. Just a month earlier, however, there was the culmination of a very similar trip into the unknown, and one that took people (from Tyneside at least) to previously unreached locations. Newcastle United won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in their first European competition. It remains the last major trophy they have won.
Briefly, for our younger readers, this was the predecessor to the UEFA Cup which itself transmuted into the Europa League. At the time, and this was its eleventh year, it was behind the European Cup and Cup-Winners Cup in terms of status but still had the glamour of international competition and had only been won once previously by a British club, Leeds United the year before. Newcastle had finished 10th in the First Division and it was only due to the expansion of the competition from 48 to 64 clubs that it got in as England’s fourth representative.
It’s true to say that any emphasis on success by the club was a slow burn. Compared with the detailed planning and preparation that teams that nowadays carry out, it was almost a “turn up on the day and play” approach in the early rounds. Away to Sporting Lisbon in the first leg of the 2nd Round, there’s been no scouting of the opponents. At the airport on the way out Coach Dave Smith picked up a magazine that had a two-page feature on Sporting and reading that on the flight over was the extent of knowledge as to what to expect. Manager Joe Harvey was a great man-manager but not a tactician and would generally, when asked about the opponents by his players, tell them not to worry and play to their own strengths. It obviously worked as Newcastle disposed of Feyenoord, Sporting Lisbon, Real Zaragoza, Vitoria Setubal, Glasgow Rangers, and, in the two-legged final, Ujpesti Dosza to bring home the club’s first, and only, piece of European silverware.
The book is written in a distinctive manner. The words are those of players, fans, journalists, and other were present for some or all of this “amazing journey”. The Newcastle side is set in a fictional recreation of the club’s celebration banquet whilst there are also similar get-togethers of players and others associated from other clubs in the competition. The style is of conversations amongst the participants and nearly all the words can apparently be attributed to those quoted, although they may have been said in written articles, other interviews and so on. There are wonderful anecdotes and recollections although, for me, the supposed conversations do come across at times as a little awkward. Notwithstanding that, this is a very good record of, and tribute to, the club’s triumph and an insightful look at a different and distinct period of European football.