It’s no secret that Newcastle United have lofty aspirations for the future, aiming high as Eddie Howe’s Magpies look likely to play in Europe next season- perhaps ahead of schedule. Currently occupying the top four, Newcastle’s Champions League dreams could soon become a reality, twenty years after their last appearance in the tournament. Despite recent struggles, Newcastle have a rich European history, featuring in the Champions League and Europa League many times. Here are the most notable Geordie journeys in recent European history.
1997/98 Champions League- Group Stage
The 90’s was a particularly memorable time for Geordies. This was because of ‘the entertainers’, a team moulded by club legend Kevin Keegan that came so close to a Premier League title in 1996. The 1996/97 season saw Keegan depart Newcastle in January, handing the reins to Sir Kenny Dalglish. Under the tutelage of Dalglish, Newcastle finished second for the second consecutive year, sealing a place in the Champions League.
The qualifying round against Dinamo Zagreb was filled with drama, as Igor Cvitanović scored in the 90th minute for Zagreb to send the second leg to extra time. Temur Ketsbaia would come off the bench to grab a last-gasp winner in the 119th minute, putting Newcastle through with a 4-3 aggregate win.
Newcastle’s opponents in Group C of the Champions League would be Barcelona, Dynamo Kyiv and PSV Eindhoven. Barcelona won the Copa del Rey, Supercopa de España and Cup Winners’ Cup the previous season, so expectations were high. The Catalans would lose 3-2 at St. James’ Park in September, with Faustino Asprilla scoring a memorable hat-trick.
A trip to Kyiv was next, and Newcastle would be two goals down before half-time. Prolific Ukrainian duo Serhiy Rebrov and Andriy Shevchenko inflicted the damage with John Beresford and an own goal from Oleksandr Holovko levelling the score, a promising start for the Toon.
This promising start wouldn’t last long, as the Magpies missed the goals of Alan Shearer. The striker had been out of action since July with a knee injury, and by November, Newcastle were 12th in the Premier League. As for the Champions League, there were two consecutive losses against PSV and one to Barcelona, all without scoring.
Newcastle’s final game of this Champions League adventure would be against Dynamo Kyiv at St James’ Park. The home crowd witnessed a 2-0 win, with England favourites John Barnes and Stuart Pearce scoring in the first half. The Geordies were already eliminated but ended the cup campaign strongly.
As for the rest of the season, Shearer’s return would do little to boost Newcastle up the league table, finishing in 13th place. The Toon would reach the FA Cup final, losing 2-0 to Arsenal, completing a double for the Gunners.
2012/13 Europa League- Quarter Finals
The most recent European competition Newcastle have partaken in saw the Geordies eliminated in the quarter-finals by eventual finalists, Benfica. A 5th place Premier League finish in the 2011/12 season secured a place in the Europa League for the Magpies. The Geordies defeated Atromitos 2-1 over two legs in the qualifying round, seeing them through to the group stage.
Occupying Group D alongside Bordeaux, Marítimo and Club Brugge, Newcastle finished second in the group, securing nine points. Wins against Bordeaux and Club Brugge at St. James’ Park were pivotal in securing qualification, keeping three clean sheets in the six group games.
The round of 32 saw Newcastle face Ukrainian side Metalist Kharkiv. Kharkiv would hold Newcastle to a goalless draw at St. James’ Park in the first leg, but Newcastle would scrape through in the second leg, courtesy of a 64th-minute penalty from Shola Ameobi.
A trip to Russia was next, with Alan Pardew’s side facing a cash-injected Anzhi Makhachkala. Managed by former Chelsea and Real Madrid boss Guus Hiddink, the Moscow-based team wanted to make a statement. Anzhi were a real threat to the Magpies, possessing star power with the likes of Samuel Eto’o and Willian. A goalless draw in Moscow provided a winner-takes-all fixture back in Tyneside, with a last-gasp winner from Papiss Cissé seeing the hosts through to the quarter-finals in another 1-0 win. A fourth consecutive European clean sheet for Newcastle was impressive, but the team would have to bring their A-game should they progress to the final four.
Benfica were next, a tough test for any team, especially a team struggling domestically. Speculation swirled surrounding the long-term future of Pardew as the Magpies struggled in the Premier League. Going to Lisbon off the back of a 4-0 mauling at the hands of Manchester City, morale was low. Despite Cissé giving the visitors an early lead, Benfica were dominant. The hosts ran out 3-1 winners with goals from Rodrigo, Lima and Óscar Cardozo. With the away goals ruling coming into play, there was still hope for Newcastle going into the return leg. The Geordies filled out St. James’ Park to support the team, with 52,157 fans in attendance to witness the quarter-final. Cissé’s 71st-minute header gave hope, but Eduardo Salvio’s last-minute goal would see Benfica through in a 1-1 draw. A valiant effort, but the quality of the Portuguese giants would show.
Newcastle would underwhelmingly finish the Premier League season in 16th place, the catalyst for several issues at the club.
2003/04 UEFA Cup- Semi-Finals
In a particularly memorable season, Newcastle excelled in England and Europe. Managed by the iconic Sir Bobby Robson and spearheaded by all-time top goalscorer Alan Shearer, this squad lives long in the memory of Geordies. Having finished third in the Premier League the previous year, Newcastle played a qualifying game for the Champions League. Shockingly, Newcastle would lose over two legs to Partizan Belgrade, crashing out on penalties. Newcastle dropped down to the UEFA Cup, becoming one of the favourites to win the tournament. Newcastle breezed through rounds one to three, beating NAC Breda, FC Basel and Vålerenga IF. Alan Shearer, Craig Bellamy and Titus Bramble would be the most regular scorers, delivering dominantly.
The first tricky test came against RCD Mallorca, a team that sealed qualification into the UEFA Cup by winning the Copa del Rey. As was the case nine years later, Samuel Eto’o was the danger man, having scored 14 goals in all competitions for Mallorca before this matchup. The Spanish side were also coached by Luis Aragonés, a well-renowned coach in Spain, leading the national team to European Championship glory four years later. Despite these factors, the Toon would beat their opponents 4-1 at St. James’ Park. Bellamy, Shearer, Bramble and Laurent Robert would all score second-half goals, with the return leg proving even better. A 3-0 victory in Spain saw Newcastle progress to the next stage, with Shearer (2) and Bellamy striking again.
PSV Eindhoven, Bobby Robson’s former club, were next in the quarter-finals. Guus Hiddink managed the Dutch giants at this time, who had a plethora of talent at their disposal. Mark van Bommel, Ji-Sung Park and Mateja Kežman are well-known names in this crop of PSV players, with Kežman scoring within 15 minutes of the first leg. Jermaine Jenas would hit back, levelling the score at 1-1 going into the second leg at St. James’ Park. This game would also be close, with Shearer scoring a trademark goal before Kežman equalised from the penalty spot. The game’s decisive goal was scored by Gary Speed on 66 minutes, sending the home crowd into raptures. A semi-final awaited against one of Europe’s biggest clubs, Marseille.
Newcastle were in the mix for a Champions League place, level on points with Liverpool in 5th place in the Premier League. However, Robson and his men would want to guarantee their place by winning the UEFA Cup. There were 52,004 fans inside St James’ Park to watch a goalless draw. This intriguing strategic battle raised the stakes for the second leg. A Stade Vélodrome crowd of 58,000 played host to a memorable night, but only for the French team. Didier Drogba scored in each half to see Marseille into the UEFA Cup final.
Winning a European trophy at Newcastle would’ve been a dream scenario for Robson, but this didn’t happen. The Magpies would finish the season in 5th place, four points shy of Liverpool in 4th. Shearer would end the season with 28 goals, an impressive feat for the club legend.
2002/03 Champions League- 2nd Group Stage
The season before the UEFA Cup campaign saw Newcastle compete in the Champions League, securing qualification by finishing 4th in the 2001/02 Premier League season. Željezničar Sarajevo were dispatched over a 5-0 aggregate score line, meaning Newcastle progressed to Preliminary Group E with Dynamo Kyiv, Feyenoord and Juventus. The Toon faltered initially, losing to each of these clubs, putting them bottom of the table. However, Robson’s men would hit back, winning the next three games to progress to the second group stage.
Intermediate Group A would see Newcastle face Inter, Barcelona and Bayer Leverkusen. The Magpies would face the wrath of Europe’s elite, conceding seven goals in two games against Inter and Barcelona. Bellamy received a red card after five minutes against Inter, with Hernán Crespo and Alvaro Recoba notable scorers for the Nerazzurri. Dani, Patrick Kluivert and Thiago Motta scored for Barcelona in a 3-1 victory for the hosts.
Newcastle fared better against Bayer Leverkusen, winning both games 3-1. Ameobi scored a brace in Germany, whilst Shearer delighted the home crowd with a first-half hat-trick at St. James’ Park. The penultimate game of the group saw Newcastle earn a point against Inter at the San Siro, but the visitors would twice lose the lead after Christian Vieri and Ivan Córdoba each equalised after strikes from Shearer.
A capacity crowd would witness the final group game against Barcelona, with the visitors winning 2-0. Kluivert and Motta would again score, eliminating Newcastle from the Champions League. This campaign was highly successful in the Premier League, with Newcastle finishing in 3rd place, their highest league finish since the 1996/97 season. Shearer scored 25 goals, with names such as Kieron Dyer, Jermaine Jenas, Jonathan Woodgate and Aaron Hughes also emerging.
European memories may be distant for many Newcastle fans, but fresh memories are around the corner. Investment is bound to happen this summer, sparking more optimism around Tyneside. Eddie Howe is currently succeeding as the man in charge, coming mighty close to silverware this season in the Carabao Cup. The European nights and lucrative deals make the future look bright on and off the pitch, raising anticipation around Tyneside.