The Toon Army have made a bright start to the Premier League this season with three consecutive victories, and optimistic Newcastle fans may begin dreaming of watching their club compete on the European stage once again. The Magpies haven’t played in a European competition since their 4-2 aggregate defeat to Benfica in the Quarter-Finals of the UEFA Europa League during the 2012-13 season.
It’s been a tumultuous few years for supporters who have followed the Toon but there appears to be plenty of optimism around the club following a bright start to the campaign, and boss Rafa Benitez has particularly endeared himself to the fans on Tyneside over the past couple of years. Can the Spaniard help guide them back to the Europa League?
Newcastle United’s European History
Alan Shearer remains the clubs all-time top goalscorer in European competitions and he found the target during Newcastle’s biggest ever win on the continent, which saw Dutch outfit NAC Breda walloped 5-0 at St. James’ Park. It hadn’t been a good start to the Premier League season for the Magpies and this win gave them plenty of confidence for the remainder of the campaign. The Toon went on to reach the Semi-Finals of the UEFA Cup before falling at the hands of Marseille. The following season, they swept past Heerenveen and Olympiakos before losing 4-2 on aggregate in an entertaining two-legged affair with Sporting CP. The European campaign was once again spearheaded by club legend Alan Shearer who netted 11 times during Newcastle’s passage to the last eight. The striker, who has had a statue erected outside St. James’ Park, netted 30 times in Europe, 18 more than the clubs second highest scorer Shola Ameobi.
Older Newcastle fans will hark back to the 1969 Inter Fairs Cup Final when the club won their only European trophy. Managed by Joe Harvey, the team included the prolific Jim Scott, Bryan Robson, Bob Moncour, and Dave Smith, with all of the heroes reuniting forty years on to toast their success. Hungarian side Upjest Dozsa were beaten 6-2 on aggregate, which included a memorable 3-0 success at St. James’ Park in front of 60,000 spectators. The following year, they reached the Quarter-Finals before Anderlecht knocked them out of the competition.
Champions League Campaigns
Newcastle have featured in the Champions League on three different occasions, although they failed to get past the qualification stage in 2003-04. It was a more fruitful campaign twelve months earlier when progressing to the 2nd Group Stage, having beaten Juventus, Bayer Leverkusen and Dynamo Kiev at St. James’ Park. They netted 16 times during that campaign but it wasn’t enough to prevent them being eliminated from the competition. A brief stint in the tournament back in 1997 saw them welcome Barcelona to the North East with a hugely memorable occasion for the packed-out stadium who roared their side on to a 3-2 success against the Catalan giants, with Faustino Asprilla netting a hat-trick for the Toon Army. Rivaldo and Pep Guardiola both featured for the losing side.
Newcastle’s exploits in this competition helped them attract a number of top players to join the club and Rafa Benitez, who has terrific pedigree in this event, will be hoping his side can mount an unexpected challenge for the top six positions, which would ultimately give the club more power in the transfer market. It was a frustrating summer for the former Liverpool boss who failed to land a number of top targets; although, as super-agent Jon Smith explained in his exclusive interview with Betway, it isn’t always easy to get deals across the line and they regularly take at least three to four months to complete. Smith adds that persuading the club to sell their star-asset, agreeing an agents fee and negotiating personal terms can hold up any potential deal, whilst players may take a number of days to decide whether they wish to go through with the move. If a club is playing regular Champions League football, it is likely to make the decision much easier and help persuade new recruits to sign lengthy and lucrative contracts.
There have been plenty of memorable European nights at St. James’ Park over the years, with eight Europa League campaigns and a further three in the Champions League. There were also three Intertoto Cup outings including a meeting with Troyes in the final during the 2002-03 season. Fans on Tyneside will be hoping Rafa Benitez can guide them back to the European stage this season as they begin to look up the table following their excellent start to the new Premier League campaign.