FA Cup Third Round Replay

18 January 1995

Blackburn Rovers 1-2 Newcastle United

August and September 1994 might just be the best any Newcastle team has ever played in my lifetime. Three goals up in the first half hour in our opening home match of the season, we strolled our way to a ridiculously easy 4-0 victory against Coventry. The next two home games would be a 5-1 win against Southampton and a 4-2 defeat of Chelsea. Meanwhile, we won our first three away games too, scoring three goals each time, at Leicester (3-1), West Ham (3-1), and then, implausibly, Arsenal (3-2).

Twenty-two goals in six matches. Five for Rob Lee, four for Andy Cole, and two each for Beardsley, Watson, and Fox. In between times we’d steamrollered Antwerp in our return to Europe with Lee’s astonishing hat-trick. We wouldn’t lose a match until the very end of October. Trust me to be stuck 500 miles away in Hamburg for the year, relying on dodgy radio reception and delayed match reports in newspapers.

Oh, and the obligatory Irish pub– Finnegan’s Wake, next to the Rathaus in the city centre. There we would gather religiously on Sunday afternoons in front of Sky Sports, the usual diverse collection of exiles: a group of students on their year abroad, a bunch of brickies straight out of the set of Auf Widersehen Pet, and the odd curious local. The only place you could buy a proper packet of crisps that wasn’t bloody Erdnuss flavour.

By the time the FA Cup came round that season, the wheels had inevitably well and truly fallen off. We managed only one win in a run of 11 league matches into January. We’d been knocked out of the UEFA Cup on away goals by Atlético Bilbao in November and out of the League Cup at home in a gut-wrenching replay defeat to Manchester City in December. Having just stepped off the plane before Christmas I somehow contrived to watch that one in the old Man City social club in Moss Side. No, I’ve got no idea either.

The annual ritual of Cup disappointment looked set to be completed mercifully early when Blackburn went ahead in the third round with a first-half goal from everyone’s favourite Suffolk gobshite Chris Sutton. A second-half equaliser from Rob Lee (again) sent us to a replay at Ewood Park. Two days later and KK was on the steps of St James’ explaining the truly seismic departure of Andy Cole, to Old Trafford of all places. The shockwaves reverberated as far as Germany.

Facing a Blackburn team that would end up as Champions that season – with Sutton and Shearer, Wilcox, Hendry, Ripley and Flowers – it’s safe to say I didn’t hold out much hope as I took up my position on a bar stool for the replay. It was a random Wednesday night in mid-January, and the outlook was distinctly gloomy. There were three of us. Me, a Southampton fan, and a Reading fan. Febrile it was not. The locals were more interested in the obligatory mock Irish folk band churning out the usual staples in the corner of the bar.

Marc Hottiger didn’t do much at Newcastle. He was a reliable enough right-back that season, one of those novelty post-World Cup signings that were a particularly 1990s thing. He never got a look in once Warren Barton signed the following summer. But he did score one goal. And that goal was a perfectly drilled strike into the bottom corner from 25 yards that put us 1-0 upin that replayafter 58 minutes, as utterly clinical and unerring as it was entirely unexpected.

When Sutton equalised with a quarter of an hour to go, assisted by a certain Alan Shearer, familiar resignation settled in as extra-time and another Cup exit loomed.It was already after 10, I had an hour’s journey home to the wilds of Schleswig-Holstein, and I was teaching shortly after 8am the next morning. I considered leaving. After all, there’s only so many times you can hear Dirty Old Town being murdered by a bar full of tuneless Germans. Instead, I sought solace in the depths of my Erdinger.

Still, on we pushed, and, with five minutes to go, the ball fell fortuitously to Lee Clark on the right-hand side of the penalty box. Clarkie never could finish. Wasn’t the old joke that he was nicknamed “Jigsaw” because he fell to pieces in the box? The angle was narrowing, and Tim Flowers had his near post covered. No point in even getting off my seat.

Except I couldn’t help it. Maybe he didn’t have time to think, maybe it was a fluke, but Clarkie lashed the ball off the near post in the manner Andy Cole had done for the previous two seasons.Sweet Mary Mother of God. It was one of those joyous, glorious, utterly unexpected moments, a precious incongruous jewel in the most unlikely setting. To this day, I’ve no idea how it happened. Needless to say, we stayed into the early hours.

Obviously, we didn’t win the FA Cup that year. Because we never do. It’s only ever a question of the manner and timing of our exit. That year, it was a suitably anti-climactic 1-0 defeat to Everton in the quarter-finals, just when we’d dared to invite hope into our homes, poured it a drink, and asked it to make itself comfortable. It was ever thus.

We don’t have trophies. We only have moments. And the best moments are the most unexpected moments. I shouldn’t really remember exactly what I was doing, exactly who I was with, and exactly how I was feeling at 10.26pm on 18 January 1995. But I do, just like it was yesterday. Who knows, one day those moments might even extend into May.

 

 

Matthew Philpotts @mjp19731