by Susan Jardine

When Newcastle set foot on the turf at the Estadio da Luz (Stadium of Light) -no, not the one on Wearside but the one in Portugal where they will face Benfica in the Europa League quarter finals they will be two steps from a European final.

But of course it would not be the first European final the Magpies would reach. Indeed such has been the run of success in this Europa League for the Geordies that memories have flooded back from their glory night in 1969 when they won the Fairs Cup. Not least because of a couple of parallels.

So let me take you back to 1969 – some of you will remember it a lot better than I can – mainly due to the fact I wasn’t born. As the final whistle blew in Hungary on the 11th June the Ballad of John and Yoko had just knocked Dizzy by Tommy Roe off the top spot. It is fair to say that Newcastle fans were dizzy with delight at what had happened on the pitch, which in turn had maybe become the ballad of the Geordies.

Qualification for this campaign has been rather more straightforward – in contrast to how teams participated in the Fairs Cup. Back in the 1969 campaign Newcastle had to overcome a few big names before Bob Moncur finally lifted the trophy in Budapest. They opened their campaign against Feyenoord dispatching the Dutch masters 4-2 on aggregate. The reward was a tie against Sporting Lisbon.

Little wonder that the name Lisbon, where of course Benfica are based, has set the fans of the Toon wondering if Newcastle could do it again. Just as in that campaign Newcastle play their first leg away from home. In that 1968/69 season a crucial away goal from Jimmy Scott in the first leg meant it was advantage Newcastle for the home one at St James’s, with Bryan “Pop” Robson hitting the target.

Having negotiated their passage against one part of Iberia they then went into a humdinger of a match against Real Zaragoza. A 3-2 defeat in Spain combined with a 2-1 triumph at St James’s saw the match score tied at 4-4. But those two critical away goals in Spain from Robson and Wyn Davies gave Newcastle the tie.

So to the quarter finals, and here is where another parallel kicks in, as they faced a Portuguese side. It wasn’t Benfica, but Vittoria Setubal. The Magpies destroyed them at St James 5-1, and despite a 3-1 defeat in Portugal in the return leg the North Easterners sailed through to the semi final showdown against Rangers. After a goalless draw in Glasgow the stage was set for the return on Tyneside. One goal would send Newcastle through to the final, providing of course Rangers did not score. Those who attended the semi final second leg will doubtless remember what happened, namely three pitch invasions. The match itself was settled with goals from Jimmy Scott and Jackie Sinclair as Newcastle ran out winners 2-0 on aggregate.

The other half of the draw though had seen Leeds removed by Ujpest Dosza in the quarter finals. So there was no chance of an all England final. The Hungarians joined Newcastle in the final after seeing off Turkish side Goztepe in the semis.

So to the final. The first leg at St James’s and a brace from Bobby Moncur combined with a strike from Jimmy Scott gave Newcastle a 3-0 advantage to take to Budapest. Bene and Gorocs soon slashed the deficit to just one goal at the interval. Newcastle’s response was emphatic as Moncur, Preben Arentoft and Alan Foggan all scored leaving Newcastle with a commanding 6-2 advantage. As referee Joseph Heymann blew for time a magical journey had reached it’s destination.

So far Newcastle have seen off Metalist Kharkiv and Anzhi Makhachkala in the knockout stages after easing their way through the group phase. There is still the challenge of Benfica to overcome in the quarter finals, before a semi final that should they win will lead to the final in Amsterdam. How ironic that given Newcastle’s first victims in that Fairs Cup campaign were indeed Dutch, and who knows what magic may await them in the Dutch capital.