The historical success of the ‘cursed’ Magpies

In 1905, Newcastle United won the English Football League title within twelve years of joining the league.

But much like their mascot, the cursed Magpie, Newcastle have since endured a tough, some say unlucky run in the search for silverwear.

Owing to the religious segregation in England the Magpie were considered cursed birds ever since they failed to comfort Jesus during his crucifixion. One would not be too far out from thinking that the eternal curse would eventually befall upon Newcastle United.

However, back in the club’s formative years Newcastle United had another mascot. A black and white Great Dane named Rex. He appeared prominently alongside the club’s players and staff in the early 1900s.

Coincidentally the 1900s were also the years in which Newcastle United would truly rise to the top of English football.

Newcastle as a city always boasted of a rich tradition during the late Victorian Period. This upheaval in sociocultural traditions coincided with a similar renaissance in their football.

This great Newcastle United team would last till the outbreak of the First World War. They would go on to create a brand of football which could give many top division clubs of the 21st century a run for their money.

The first real glimpse of the surge of the Tyneside club was the FA Cup Final loss to Aston Villa on 15th April,1905. This was after Newcastle had won the league for the first time. The final recorded the second highest ever FA Cup attendance, and the fourth highest overall. Back in those days, one would easily trade the League title for an FA cup triumph.

For one, the FA cup was highly prestigious, and has been established in 1871, a full 17 years before the league kicked off. Needless to say, the passionate Tyneside supporters were left utterly disheartened after the loss to Villa.

However, the defeat at the highest level proved to be the catalyst for the resurgence of the Tyneside spirit. Newcastle would go on to win back to back titles in 1906-7 and 1908-9.

Newcastle reached the FA Cup Final five times in the years leading up to the World War.

The Geordies had discovered a ravenous appetite for the main event, and seemed destined to win the coveted trophy. They would finally go on to lift the trophy in 1910, beating Barnsley.

As far as the league was concerned, Newcastle had always managed to end up in the towards the top of the table. Additionally, St James’ Park had acquired the notorious reputation of being one of the most feared away grounds to visit.

Newcastle did not boast of a flamboyant style of play like Liverpool or Everton, instead the club imbibed the Geordie spirit of creating something out of nothing. Their “never say die” attitude followed from the cultural renaissance the city witnessed during the Victorian era.

Newcastle United played a scientific brand of football, which did not appear quite as aesthetically pleasing, yet managed to get the job done with ruthless efficiency.

This scientific brand of football coincided with the arrival of a large Scottish cavalry. The Scots believed in strictly adhering to a short possession based game.

It was in fact the basis on which the Scots dominated the English on the international arena during that time.

The system arrived at Newcastle with a Scottish Boss, Frank Watt; A Scottish trainer, James McPherson. Throughout the late Victorian and Edwardian era, it seemed almost at times, Newcastle were a Scottish team playing in the English league.

Of the eleven Cup finalists in 1905, six were Scots. Full back Andrew McCombie, captain and centre-half Andy Aitken, left-half Peter McWilliam, and inside right James Howie.

The other two Scotsmen who ended up playing more than 300 games for the club were Glaswegian goalkeeper Jimmy Lawrence, and Alec Gardner.

These Scottish players coupled with the prominent Scottish background staff laid the groundwork for the club’s success in the early 1900’s. They played the thoughtful, steady, short passing game of their country, which had utterly dominated the English on the international scene.

The team’s fulcrum was based on maintaining a rigid structure, and keeping their shape intact. Rarely would you witness a mazy individual run through the opposition defence. Maintaining such a solid structure equipped Newcastle to withstand a long and rigorous league campaign.

They won the 1905 league, leapfrogging Everton to the title, despite stuttering and stumbling in the final few games of the league. They needed a favour from bitter rivals Aston Villa to see off Manchester City, who did not disappoint. Villa won the game 3-2 crowning Newcastle as champions of England.

The year of 1905 marked the arrival of one of the great European teams of the Edwardian period, and whose stature would fall only due to the outbreak of the World War.

Despite the lousy managers and directors, bad players never looked like being killed off after 1905. The Magpies would rise like a phoenix from the ashes of its past, and turn the whole of Tyneside into a folklore.

Nearly one hundred and ten years later, Newcastle United appear vibrant and energetic under Rafa Benitez as they stormed back into the Premier League. The Tyneside spirit will once again flood the Premier League.

The current Newcastle side need not look much further than their own history. A history of languishing and despair coupled with grit and passion, which inevitably led to success.

Much like the Magpie who is termed lucky after being seen twice, Newcastle United have the chance to rise from the ashes of its past once again.

Author Details

Shounak Banerjee
Shounak Banerjee

Law Student. Sports Lover. Writer.

Leave a Reply