• Andy

Newcastle United: The Sixties Rollercoaster

Updated: Jan 22

To any Newcastle United fan born in 1970 or later, life in black and white has always been one filled with colourful memories but devoid of trophies. The rollercoaster journey through the divisions, to cup finals and European competitions has always stopped short of the ultimate peak of silverware but for those born earlier, the 1960s was the biggest ride of all. The decade began with Newcastle being relegated after thirteen years in the top flight but ended with the players lifting a European trophy.

The history books show the results and the goal scorers but the experience of the supporters who were there is often found only in conversation. The noises, the smells, the emotions and the everyday lives that revolved around a local football team are nostalgic details that do not deserve to be lost over time.

Perhaps now, more than ever, we need to hear these stories. We are all living in this temporary age of isolation and virtual communication, depriving us of human contact and a feeling of belonging. Our football team, too, has never felt further away from us - both physically and metaphorically - as empty stadiums and television deals have replaced paying supporters in the stands.

I spoke to John Regan (62), David Taylor (67), Ray Mossom (72) and Bob Edmunds (73) about their recollections of being a Newcastle United fan in the 1960s, as well as their reflections on how football has changed over the years.

(Newcastle United squad 1960-61 season - picture credit Evening Chronicle)

First match

John's first match was as an eight-year-old, in 1966, and was a family affair with his Dad, Uncle and Grandad. He recalls being in the paddocks, towards the Leazes End for that game but when in The Gallowgate End later that season, he had a better vantage point thanks to his Dad's handywork. "My Dad was a welder and made these hooks with a rope and a little swing so hooked me to the back of the wall and I was able to stand on it and look over the back of the heads, so I had a great view!"

John's Grandad was a pub manager in Shieldfield. The pubs shut at 3pm so they would leave it as late as possible to head to the ground and walk in. Despite not having tickets and having to pay on the gate, you could still get in just before kick-off. Rather than the sights, it is food and drink that dominates those early memories for John, "I remember the smells. There was the really strong smell of hops from the breweries and then inside the ground it was Bovril. I’d never heard of it until I started going to the match but once you were in there, it's all you could smell. Then there were the peanut sellers. They sold bags full! They’d walk around the pitch perimeter and the guy had the best arm I’ve ever seen. He’d catch money thrown at him and throw the bags of peanuts into the crowd. It was amazing, when you think about it! The accuracy of these blokes was unbelievable!"

David's first game was as a nine-year-old in 1963, again paying at the gate, but when he passed his eleven-plus exams a couple of years later, he was given the gift of a season ticket. He recalls, "We'd just been promoted back to the First Division and I got this season ticket for the paddocks - I had one for four years. It was six guineas and then the price went up one guinea each season until it ended in the 1968/69 season."

St. James' Park

At the beginning of the 20th century, Newcastle United and St. James' Park were at the forefront of stadium development but it was then left largely untouched until the early 1970s, with the exception of four large floodlight pylons installed in 1958. For decades, landlord and tenant could not reach agreement over development plans until this issue reached its climax when St. James' Park - and therefore Newcastle upon Tyne - lost out on a host venue spot for the 1966 World Cup.

(St. James' Park in the sixties - picture credit nufc.co.uk)

David, "The ground was really basic - I reckon it must have been the worst in the division, with an old wooden stand, the open terracing stands and concrete crash barriers. There were some seats in the main stand but not many."

Bob, whose first game was during the 1960/61 season, also recalls the conditions inside St. James' Park, "The toilets were basically a three-sided wall with a pipe in the ground to act as a trough. They were out in the open air as only one side of the ground was covered so you were totally exposed. Football supporters were treated like shit basically - the conditions in the grounds were awful."

Ray's first game was as an eight-year-old in the 1955/56 season, "I don’t remember much about the actual match but I do recall all these huge blokes shouting and screaming and swearing and these men on the pitch with massive legs, kicking lumps out of each other. They’re the vivid memories. My Dad took me down the front of the paddock next to the Leazes End. The policeman lifted me up and sat me on a little wall by the track and my Dad came down at the end and picked me up and we headed home. I was instantly hooked."

John also recalls this experience of being passed forward, as a child, "I remember being pushed forward and I lost my Grandad and my shoe! I was passed down to sit at the front. We scored and all the kids ran onto the pitch – I remember this policeman taking me down to the ground but it was too cold to move and get up! My Mam contacted the club the next day and I actually got my shoe back! Someone had handed it in!"

(St. James' Park - picture credit Evening Chronicle)

The Leazes End

All four of the gentlemen didn't take long to get onto the subject of the infamous Leazes End and how, as they got a little older, that was the place they all wanted to be. When it was full, the stand held 15,000 and by the late-sixties had a repertoire of around sixty terrace songs.

John recalls, "As I got older, we’d go to the Leazes End. So there’d be about twenty of us from the same village and we’d all go together and pay on the gate and be able to stand together. Obviously you can’t do that now. Every town or village or local area had their own space in there so you’d all stand together. You'd have Scotswood, Denton Burn, Blakelaw, etc. and they'd all have their own spot."

Ray was always in the Leazes End and remembers the singing, "It was great. Some songs were a bit crude but they were so funny. You'd hear the different sections sing about which area they were from or sing about the players or even really daft things, like one group would start shouting "Celtic" so another would shout "Rangers". It was all good fun. The singing only ever came from The Leazes, though. The Fairs Cup Final was the first time I heard all four stands singing, "United! United!, for most of the second half. It was incredible."

(St. James' Park - picture credit Evening Chronicle)

Despite having his season ticket for the paddocks, David queued with his mates for tickets for the Leazes End prior to The Fairs Cup semi-final and final, "I could have easily got my ticket for my normal spot but wanted to be in The Leazes - it was electric when you were in it. There was no segregation so in theory there was nothing to stop away fans going in there, other than the fact they’d have faced 10,000-15,000 Newcastle fans.

There was this lad, Arthur Spowart, who stood in the middle of the terrace - he was nicknamed “King of the Leazes” – and he used to stand there and orchestrate things. There’d always be a member of the opposition fans standing by him as his guest and he would have the same privilege afforded to him at away grounds. The crowd would sway forwards and end up about 20 yards from where you were and then have to make your way back to where you started. The Keegan era was the best football I’ve seen but in terms of being at the match, nothing was as exciting as the sixties."

The Fairs Cup

The Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, essentially the forerunner to the UEFA Cup, was undoubtedly the highlight of the sixties for Newcastle United and its supporters. Although the tournament is not considered by UEFA as part of clubs' European record, as it was not organised by them, it is recognised by FIFA as a major European honour.

For the Fairs Cup matches, the club used to sell tickets from the ground on a Sunday morning and the queues would stretch into Leazes Park from the Gallowgate End.

John, "I missed the Feyenoord game with tonsilitis and then my Mam wouldn’t let me go to the semi-final against Rangers in case there was trouble. She was right, of course. The Inter Milan game was a classic – when their keeper was sent off for punching the referee. The final itself was amazing though. Nobody would have believed you if you’d said we wouldn’t win anything else again – we thought we were on the cusp of something great."

For that infamous semi-final against Rangers, a 60,000 all-ticket crowd for the second-leg saw Newcastle take a 2-0 lead, with the second goal triggering the Rangers fans streaming out of the Gallowgate End and on to the pitch. Bottles and cans flew through the air as supporters battled with police for twenty minutes, before order was restored.

(Crowd trouble in the second-leg vs Rangers - picture credit flashbak)

David, "For the Rangers game, I was at the back of The Leazes and they were in The Gallowgate so it was never close to me and I never felt in danger. I was fifteen years old, so maybe I just saw things differently but nothing was near us. I got home late and my mam was really worried because everyone knew there’d be trouble at that game. I think my main emotion at the time was hoping they were able to get a grip of them so the game could continue and we could celebrate. Everyone was so happy when we won the final - I never thought that would be it in my lifetime though! There was a piece of graffiti near where I lived that said ‘It’s Wor Cup’ and it always made me smile when I walked past it for months afterwards."

Ray, "The Fairs Cup Final was the best experience I’ve ever had at a sports event. I’d just turned twenty-one. We queued from the really early hours on a Sunday morning to get tickets for the Leazes End. There were three of us. We got about fifty yards from the front and they said that’s it, it’s full. No tickets left. So we’re walking away thinking, “Shit, what are we going to do?!” Somebody said there’s tickets in the Popular End so we raced around and got three tickets and stood in there for the final.

We got there and there were a load of cockneys stood near us – all about our age and we said, “What you doing here?” and they were the London supporters branch who’d come up for the game! They were all sons of Geordies who’d moved down south for work. That game was the only time I ever heard all four sides of the ground singing – even the people in the seats.

After the match, we had a little pub crawl. Everybody was happy. It was only the first leg but we were 3-0 up so what could go wrong? Of course, it nearly did. Me and my girlfriend at the time, who became my wife, were watching Tyne Tees Television and it came up along the bottom Ujpest Dozsa 1-0 Newcastle United and I thought well that’s not too bad, we’re still winning 3-1. Then it came up 2-0 and I thought, that’s it I’m taking you home. We’re going to get beat here. It was half-time at that point.

So I pull in to get some petrol and the attendant has the radio on so I ask him the score and he says it’s 2-1! We’d scored straight away in the second half! So me and him stood for the next forty minutes in the forecourt of the petrol station while my girlfriend stayed in the car. Obviously we won 3-2 so had two more goals to celebrate! Me and him were hugging each other, jumping around and dancing around the forecourt. I’d never seen him before and never seen him since. It was amazing!"

(Fair Cup winners 1969 - picture credit mediastorehouse)

Keeping up to date

With little-to-no live coverage of football on either radio or television, the newspapers were the go-to source of information for the masses. Launched in 1895 as the Football Final, The Pink - as it was named from 1963 onwards - was Saturday's must-have.

John, "The Pink was like a bible – the must have every Saturday night."

(The front page of The Pink in 1969 - picture credit Evening Chronicle)

Ray, "We religiously bought The Journal and The Chronicle but every Saturday we’d buy The Pink. From around age fourteen, me and my mates would go out on a Saturday night to a coffee bar and sit and read it and talk about whatever games we’d been to that week."

Bob, "I used to get The Pink sent down to me – I paid a subscription and it would turn up on a Monday. The national papers would have results in too and the classifieds would come out around an hour after the games were finished, I think. The Sunday papers would have the match reports in and all the results. It was usually the next day when I found out results though, unless I managed to get ahold of the Saturday evening classifieds."

David, "The Chronicle was how you found out about what was going on at the club. It wasn’t the sensational, over the top stuff you sometimes see now – it was a lot more sober, factual reporting. You simply had to wait to find out results though. I remember a midweek game in 1968/69 against Tottenham. Television stations closed down around 11pm but just before the national anthem they’d have the local news and I had to stay up to hear that we’d won 1-0. There was no local radio until the 1970s so you didn’t get any information straight away and had to wait for a lot of things."

Away fans / away days

John, "They had away fans but there was no segregation. I don't remember seeing much trouble inside the ground. About ten minutes before the end you would see some of the lads leave The Leazes End and wait for the away fans outside but I never saw any bother inside the ground."

David, "I used to travel with the supporters club – they would organise coaches but they wouldn’t drop you at the ground. I remember they dropped us in Leeds city centre and we had to make our own way to Elland Road and then pay on the gate. I was fifteen years old and these lads spotted our accent as we were talking and we got filled in on our way to the ground!"

(Two away fans escorted out of the ground by police - picture credit Evening Chronicle)

Bob, "There was no segregation and in those early days there were never any problems inside the ground. If Newcastle weren’t playing, I’d go and watch Arsenal or Tottenham. I notice it now and see the hatred in the crowd, like when someone comes to take a corner. It was never like that in those days. You got on with other supporters and you’d have a laugh together – a bit like how rugby supporters are now. You would turn up in your little group and pay your money at the turnstile and then try and find some more away fans. There were stands you knew would be all home fans – so at Anfield, you wouldn’t go into The Kop – but otherwise you’d just try to find some more away fans and stand with them."

Standout games or players

Charlie Mitten had been appointed Newcastle manager for the 1958/59 season and his signing of Ivor Allchurch, as well as the emergence of George Eastham, complimented long-serving Len White as a potent attacking trio. However, in the 1960/61 season Newcastle conceded an incredible 109 goals and 'Mitten's Marvels' were relegated into Division Two.

Bob, "My first game was in the 1960/61 relegation season. I have relations from the North East but was born in Kent so went to White Hart Lane in the March of 1961. Spurs did the double that year but we beat them 2-1 at their place. I was the school goalkeeper at the time and we’d just signed Dave Hollins. He saved a penalty from Danny Blanchflower, had a blinder and became my hero forever more. The following week, we lost 1-6 at St. James' Park, with Jimmy Greaves scoring four! That was the type of team we were during that season, though. We scored 86 goals and got relegated because we conceded 109! It was rollercoaster football. Len White scored 35 goals until Dave McKay did him – we probably wouldn’t have gone down if he hadn’t been injured."

(Len White in action - picture credit Evening Chronicle)

This is also a moment etched into Ray's memory, "My first hero was Len White, as well as Ivor Allchurch and George Eastham. I remember playing Tottenham away and we won 2-1. I've hated Dave McKay since that day as he broke Len White’s leg. They won the double that year and I think we were the only team that beat them on their ground. The next week we played Chelsea and we were thinking, we’ve just beat Tottenham, we’ll hammer these and we got murdered with Jimmy Greaves scoring four. Dave Hollins - who was a flash goalkeeper, making every save look like a great save – was absolutely brilliant at Spurs but then let in six the next week. That was how Newcastle played that season, though."

For a team that had won three FA Cups during the 1950s to be relegated at the beginning of the following decade was a shock and a change was needed. The club turned to the captain of two of those trophy-winning sides, in Joe Harvey. Newcastle's youth team won the FA Youth Cup in 1962 and Harvey nurtured the likes of Bob Moncur, Alan Suddick and David Craig into the first team, as well as Frank Clark and Bryan Robson. Combined with influential forwards Ron McGarry and Dave Hilley, and the quality of John McGrath, Stan Anderson and Jim Iley, Newcastle headed to the top of the Second Division in the 1964/65 season.

(Celebrating promotion back to the First Division - picture credit Evening Chronicle)

On Good Friday, a crowd of 59,960 was present for Newcastle's game with Bolton, knowing that a win would secure promotion. Newcastle won 2-0 and were promoted with three games to spare, having only conceded 45 goals all season. The young fullback pairing of David Craig and Frank Clark, perhaps the best that Newcastle has ever had.

For Ray, though, what really sticks out from that Bolton game is an opposition player, "Wyn Davies murdered John McGrath. He won absolutely everything in the air. The footballer who could fly – he could hang in the air, he was incredible." Davies hit the woodwork twice that game with towering headers before John McGrath eventually kicked him out of the game but the Welshman had done enough to set up a Joe Harvey move for his signature in 1966.

Ray recalls, "I remember when we signed Wyn Davies. I’d just started work and we rang the club from work and said we’d heard these rumours, is it true and they said, " Yeah we’ve signed him. £80,000."

Davies became the poster boy - quite literally - for two of the gentlemen.

John, "There wasn’t a great deal of memorabilia back then. My first hero was Wyn Davies so I had pictures of him on my wall but memorabilia-wise, I didn’t have anything. There wasn’t a lot of wearing team colours in the sixties. Maybe a black and white scarf but that’s all I remember ever seeing."

David, "I’ve still got the scarf I wore at the Fairs Cup Final and it hasn’t been washed since. How sad am I? I used to buy a programme before the match and collect them. I had a Wyn Davies poster though and that took pride of place. You had to collect and send off coupons for it. There were scarves and bobble hats but no tops. I had a rattle that my dad painted black and white. There wasn’t a lot of colour inside the ground though."

Bob fondly remembers the song belting out of The Leazes End, “Come all without, come all within, you’ll not see nothing like the mighty Wyn...”

(The footballer who could fly - Wyn Davies - picture credit Evening Chronicle)

A Southern Supporter

Bob, a southern-based supporter with family ties in the North East, had a different experience to the others but still made it up to his spiritual home for the football.

"You could be a bit more liberal with your kids back then – things were a bit safer. I was fifteen and we lived in Islington, so Kings Cross was about a ten minute walk away. I’d get a £3 return train up to Newcastle, get on around 11pm and travel up overnight. I'd arrive in Newcastle early morning and get the train out to South Shields to my Aunty’s for a quick sleep and then head back in to Newcastle for the game. I’d have time to kill after the game because the train back wasn’t until late at night so would usually go to the pictures and fall asleep in the warm!"

(Dave Hollins leaves the pitch with his brother, John, after a game against Chelsea - picture credit nufc.com)

The Newcastle Supporters Club London Branch was a massive part of Bob's life in the sixties. "I came across Harry Rodden – who set up the London branch of the supporters club in 1964 and I’ve been a member since. We used to run coach trips to a lot of away games and would go up to some home games, depending on budget. We’d pick up a coach from outside Euston station and went all over the place – coach travel was quite cheap. One season, I think I went to around two thirds of the away games. There were places I went that I’d never been to in my life and that I never would have went to if it wasn’t for football.

It was a mixture of Geordies who were living in London or southerners like myself who had family from the North East. We used to go and drink in the supporters clubs or pubs and we’d all sing our songs and there was never any trouble in those early days. Until Wolverhampton Wanderers – we lost 0-2 - after the game, a brick came through the back window of our coach. That was the start of football hooliganism and it put me off a bit. I still used to go but that was the first time I’d encountered and it got steadily worse into the ‘70s.

I was on the committee but Harry was the driving force of the supporters club. We had our own football team and would play on Hackney Marshes and it was such a great time. It was a great time to be a football supporter back then, it really was. The standard of football was rubbish, generally, but the overall experience was amazing.

We’d been to see us play Manchester United and we went up on the train this time. We drew 2-2 and we were coming back and the train was packed so we were all standing. Wyn Davies - Wyn the Leap - was on our train with us and he said, “Come on, lads!” and took us all in the bar and bought us a drink and had a good chat with everyone. He was a lovely bloke.

Heading up for home games was always wonderful though. As you came in on the train, you’d see the floodlight pylons on the horizon. They leaned in at quite an angle because of the fog. They weren’t like a normal set of lights. They’d lean at a 45 degree angle to penetrate the fog so coming in on the train once you saw those lights that was always a special moment."

(The floodlight pylons at St. James' Park - picture credit nufc.co.uk)


Having watched football across seven or eight decades, I wondered what the overriding emotions were and their overall feeling about how the game has changed over the years.

John, "There’s nothing about the game today that’s as good as it was back then. Every match kicked off at 3pm on a Saturday – it was built into your school week or working week and you knew that's when your team was playing. The players were in tune with the local area. They were just normal blokes and most lived in normal houses in normal streets – you had more contact with them back then and they didn’t feel unapproachable. You might spot one of their cars by a park and they'd sign autographs. Football is too sanitised now, though. Especially inside the grounds - you think are you at the theatre or the football match?"

David, "It’s very sanitised now, the whole experience. You can’t just decide last minute that you can go to the match. You could do things on the spur of the moment then and with your group of mates. There was bother – but it was such that if you were looking for it you would find it but if you weren’t, you weren’t generally likely to get into it. Maybe if I was transported back at the age I am now, I wouldn’t like it but when you’re a teenager you feel invincible and everything was just so exciting. Nowadays, going to the match has been more about going to the pub and meeting my pals and the match itself is an afterthought really. It’s so sterile now, it's lost its spark."

Ray, "For me, it’s no longer the ordinary man in the street’s game. Ten of us could decide to go to watch the game and all walk in together and then stand together. It made it feel like you belonged. The money as well – it makes it unaffordable to so many people and it makes the players too different from the supporter. It was a working man’s game, you know? People on basic wages could afford to go to the match every week. Now it's £30-40 for a ticket! The players as well - they just felt like normal people but they’re a different world now and there's no connection.

So many people don’t support their local side anymore too. You see kids wearing all sorts of football shirts now or even two kids from the same family and one supports Chelsea and one Man City - how does that happen in the North East? Everyone supported their local side back then. Everyone I knew back then – friends and colleagues - was either a Newcastle fan or a Sunderland fan."

(St. James' Park - picture credit Evening Chronicle)

1969 is always likely to be remembered by Newcastle United fans but it remains firmly engrained in all of our memories as the last time our beloved club lifted a major trophy. Each generation often looks to the ones before with a nostalgic hint of admiration and jealousy but surely there has never been a generation of Newcastle supporters who experienced so much as those present in the sixties. From the despair of relegation to the elation of European glory - what a decade.

My heartfelt gratitude to the four gentlemen who each gave me their time and their stories, in order for me to write this. They all contacted me afterwards to say how enjoyable it was to talk about those days again and how it brought back a lot of memories. It is so easy to become embroiled in the current turmoil that is Newcastle United and become disillusioned with the disconnect and lack of pleasure our club offers. To take time to look backwards and reconnect with our history, from those who lived it, was exactly what I needed and I have since become lost in Newcastle United history books. Our club is special and its history is remarkable but our most valuable asset is our city and our people.

This quote from Ray deserves the final line, "What makes us different is that Newcastle upon Tyne is Newcastle United and Newcastle United is Newcastle upon Tyne. They’re one and the same."


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