The man who earned the nickname “Mr Newcastle United”? He was a forward and an England international, a true great as both a player and manager, and a goal-scorer in an FA Cup Final. No, not Alan Shearer, Kevin Keegan, or Jackie Milburn. The most successful and influential figure in the club’s long and storied history, a man whose professional life was so intimately intertwined with the club, Stan Seymour was Mr Newcastle United.

When he died on Christmas Eve 1978, Seymour was Club President – as his son and namesake would be in the early 1990s – and had been on the board for forty years. More than five decades earlier he had been an integral part of the last United team to win the league title in 1927 and had starred in our first FA Cup win at Wembley in 1924. In between times, he’d managed the club during the most successful period in its post-war history and overseen three more Wembley wins in the 1950s, in the process becoming the first man to win the FA Cup with the same team as both player and manager.

Born in the Durham mining village of Kelloe in May 1893, George Stanley Seymour’s route to United was not a direct one. As a young man Seymour had been rejected by Newcastle – some things never change – and played non-league football for Shildon Athletic in his teens while working down the pit. In 1911, he signed for Bradford City but played only once, before his career truly got underway at Greenock Morton the following year. After nine years, more than 200 appearances, and 85 goals in Scotland, Seymour finally signed for Newcastle in 1920 for a transfer fee of £2,500.

Only 5’ 6”, Seymour was an outside left, but he was also a more than handy goal-scorer. In United’s run to the 1924 Cup Final, he scored four times, including the winner in the quarter-final against Liverpool and one in the 2-0 victory over Manchester City in the semi-final at St Andrews. On a rain-soaked day at Wembley, his 85th-minute strike from 20 yards sealed victory over a much-fancied Aston Villa side who had beaten United 6-1 in a league match only a few days earlier. An ever present in the title-winning side three years later, Seymour contributed 19 goals alongside the incomparable Hughie Gallacher.

After a dispute over wages and a testimonial match, he left United in 1929 and opened a sports shop in the city centre. In the years that followed he also worked as a journalist, but in 1938 he returned to the club and joined the board as the director responsible for first-team affairs. As was the norm in those days, he didn’t pick the team. That was the job of the Directors’ Committee, although Seymour had more input than his predecessors. He held the post of manager in three spells over the next twenty years.

In 1943 he gave a trial to a 19-year-old local lad by the name of Milburn who would go on to score both goals in the 1951 FA Cup Final against the Blackpool team of Stanley Matthews and Stan Mortensen. Seymour had won the club’s first silverware in 20 years, and the following year, Georg Robledo’s goal against Arsenal would make Seymour’s United the first club to retain the Cup for more than 50 years.

Writing in the early 1980s, Milburn provided insight into Seymour’s methods as his manager: “The big boss was Stan Seymour, who was always reminding us about how he’d won the Cup in 1924 and, as all footballers will tell you, there’s nothing more galling than the gaffer going on about success in his day. But he was crafty, was Stan, and he knew what would egg us on. It certainly worked!”

According to Milburn, Seymour’s knowledge of the game was second to none and he had a real knack for spotting talent. But he was no disciplinarian. In fact, he indulged his players. They had a special carriage at the back of the train for away matches and their own chef. Training trips away at Blackpool or Brighton fostered team spirit among the Cup-winning team, together with an extra £2 a day spending money. Above all, he treated his players as grown-ups able to make their own decisions. Milburn recalled that no fewer than nine of his team smoked and that he himself had enjoyed a relaxing cigarette at half-time in all three of his Cup wins. Another future manager, Joe Harvey, was allowed to have a couple of pints of Guinness on the morning of match, and Seymour would even buy little Ernie Taylor, his 5’4” inside right, a pint in the hotel bar on a Friday night.

In December 1954, Seymour stepped down as manager to become vice-chairman and appointed Doug Livingstone as his successor. But when Livingstone tried to drop Milburn for the 1955 Cup Final, Seymour relieved him of his responsibility for picking the team and did the job himself. Of course, that decision brought a third trophy in five years and Seymour took up the role of manager again when Livingstone left six months later.

But there were controversies and difficult times too. Over the next couple of years, the team went into decline and only avoided relegation on goal average. Seymour’s boardroom rival William McKeag removed him and replaced him with Charlie Mitten in 1958. Three years later and now facing the prospect of a second consecutive relegation, Seymour waited until his bitter rival was out of the country before dismissing Mitten.

Most controversial of all was Seymour’s treatment of one of the cornerstones of the great Cup-winning side of the 1950s, Frank Brennan. Apparently infuriated by Brennan opening his own sports shop in Newcastle, Seymour cut Brennan’s wages, dropped him from the 1955 FA Cup side, and ordered the other players to boycott the shop. Brennan was eventually forced out after ten years and more than 350 appearances. He even had to hold his testimonial at Sunderland, while the outcry at his treatment saw a public meeting held at the City Hall and interventions by trade union leaders. Clearly, Seymour had a steely side, particularly when his own interests were threatened.

There have only been three truly great eras for Newcastle United, at least when it comes to winning trophies. First, there were the Edwardian masters who won three League titles and reached five FA Cup finals in the first decade of the twentieth century. Then, there were the League champions of the 1920s and the Cup winners of the 1950s. Stan Seymour was a pivotal figure in both of these latter sides, as player and then as director and manager. And for that, if nothing else, his place in the history of the club will always be unrivalled.

Matthew Philpotts @mjp19731