Newcastle United may have fallen on difficult times recently, but in the 1990s they were a force to be reckoned with - boasting a side consisting of players like Stuart Pearce, Louis Saha, Nolberto Solano and Premier League record goal-scorer Alan Shearer.
The calibre of player that was on show at St James’ Park saw the Magpies soar all the way to the FA Cup final for the second year in a row in 1999, hoping to finally end Newcastle’s domestic trophy drought that stemmed all the way back to 1955. Thousands of screaming Geordies headed to the Twin Towers of the old Wembley in full force, to be Ruud Gullit’s 12th man.
However their opponents, Manchester United, had their own agenda. Sir Alex Ferguson’s men had just won the Premier League and were days away from a Champions League final - a final that would eventually complete a historic treble. United came out of the FA Cup final 2-0 winners after goals from Teddy Sheringham and Paul Scholes.
But take nothing away from Newcastle. They were deservedly in this final after an impressive run in the cup.
Newcastle had their captain to thank for their first victory in their FA Cup run. Crystal Palace were their opponents and they took advantage of Shay Given being sent off in the tie, taking a 1-0 lead. Yet, not long after half time, Gary Speed levelled things for the home side and Shearer popped up for the winner.
The Toon Army were then given another home game, this time against soon to be promoted Bradford City. The then First division side were easily rolled over by a 3-0 scoreline, with goals coming from Dieter Hamann, Shearer and Temuri Ketsbaia. Bradford still had an eventual promotion to the Premier League to look forward to, however.
The Magpies needed a replay to defeat a struggling Blackburn Rovers side in the following round, who were eventually relegated from the Premier League. After a goalless first game at St James’ Park, Newcastle travelled to Ewood Park where Saha scored the deciding goal in another tight affair.
Everton were the visitors in the last eight as Newcastle marched on. In stark contrast to their matches against Blackburn, Gullit’s men found themselves winning this match 4-1. The Dutchman was guiding Newcastle to a disappointing finish in the league, but this match gave his fans something to cheer about.
After a solitary Ketsbaia goal gave the team the lead in the first half, both sides came out after the break wanting more, and David Unsworth responded to his manager’s half time talk by levelling the tie for the Toffees.
This only seemed to spur Newcastle on further though. Gullit’s style of football was of the European breed, not heavily focused on defending but more reliant on a free scoring attack. The idea that it doesn’t matter how many you score because we’ll score more was very evident in Newcastle’s approach.
Georgios Georgiadis scored less than five minutes after Everton had equalised and he was followed by Ketsbaia doubling his goal tally for the game, giving Newcastle a comfortable two goal cushion. Nine minutes before the end, Shearer scored what seemed to be a customary goal from Newcastle’s captain, making sure they sent Everton crashing out of the cup in emphatic style.
Just over a month later, Newcastle faced off with Tottenham Hotspur in the semi-finals of the FA Cup. The sides had previously met just six days earlier in a 1-1 draw, with both teams seemingly unable to overcome the other.
This continued into the cup match, with neither side capable of scoring in the 90 minutes. With extra time needed to break the deadlock, Newcastle needed someone to lead from the front if they were to reach the finals. Cometh the hour cometh the man - Shearer showed how important he was to his side by scoring two goals in nine minutes. The only thing standing in the way of Newcastle and the FA Cup now, was Ferguson’s Manchester United.
Newcastle’s historic cup run was finally ended by Manchester United. The game was disappointingly one-sided, with United dominating football on a whole that season. However, with Newcastle charging towards the final, fans and neutrals alike were expecting - and in some cases hoping - for a tightly contested affair.
Yet, the Mags ended their season with a defeat. With the fans already unhappy with Gullit’s performance in the league, a lacklustre performance in the final of the FA Cup only hindered his chances of remaining in charge, and shortly into the following season, he resigned.
A lot has changed in the North-East since then. 16 men have been in charge of Newcastle since Gullit resigned. The side have been relegated from the Premier League once, but were promoted back to the top flight in the following season.
Mike Ashley has taken control of the club, with many fans very much against his regime after making controversial decisions, such as changing the name of the stadium, and some have suggested that the money he has given the club has been under-whelming. But Ashley has stated that he will not leave the club until they have won something, vowing to be the man who was in charge of Newcastle when they ended their trophy drought.
Steve McClaren is now the man tasked with giving Newcastle solidarity in the league as well as overseeing a strong push for a trophy this season. It remains to be seen whether he is the man to feed their hungry trophy room though, or whether the Magpies are doomed to another year without a silverware as they prepare to start their FA Cup campaign this weekend, facing the in-form Watford.