League Cup Final: Newcastle United, 1976 Calendar
22 Feb 2023
The roll call of League Cup winners features the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United. Oxford United, Swindon Town and Stoke City. Yet despite their stature within the English game, Newcastle United’s name is not among them.
By 1976, United were one of the most successful FA Cup sides in the country; only Aston Villa had lifted the trophy on more occasions. Joe Harvey, a two-time winner in his playing days, had guided Newcastle to their eleventh final two years prior, but the Gallowgate hero could not steer them beyond the quarter-final stage of the League Cup.
Harvey’s replacement, Gordon Lee, would go on to become a controversial figure on Tyneside. Before the sale of Malcolm ‘Supermac’ Macdonald later in 1976, and his own abrupt mid-season departure for Everton, Gordon’s workmanlike side and “no superstars” policy was yielding some dividends – not least a League Cup final berth.
Newcastle belatedly secured that inaugural appearance with a fine victory over Tottenham Hotspur. They lost the first leg 1-0 at White Hart Lane, but Spurs were no match for their north-east hosts on a bitterly cold night at St James’ Park. Goals from Alan Gowling, Glen Keeley and Geoff Nulty overturned the narrow deficit, with the Magpies winning 3-2 on aggregate.
As the programme notes, Newcastle had won every other major cup competition they had ever entered at that point – “only the League Cup has escaped!” The same column expressed some sympathy for Lee, opining that following in Harvey’s footsteps was hard enough, “but to take over the reins of a club with Newcastle’s traditions was doubly taxing”.
Lee’s starting eleven featured a number of Harvey’s men, including Macdonald, captain Tommy Craig and a young Alan Kennedy. Their League Cup final opponents, Manchester City, had two north-easteners in their squad: Geordie boy Dennis Tueart, an FA Cup winner with Sunderland, and Durham-born Colin Bell, though the latter was ruled out of the final, having incurred what proved to be a career-ending injury in the Fourth Round.
Manchester’s own Peter Barnes had scored a “stunning goal” against Middlesbrough in the semis, and the winger was on the scoresheet again in the final. His close-range volley in the 11th minute wasn’t quite as pretty, but was enough to give City the lead for much of the first half. With ten minutes to go until the interval, ‘Supermac’ showed some of the flair that was purportedly missing from Lee’s blueprint, spinning his marker and providing a low cross for strike partner Gowling to prod home.
Another Geordie moment of magic would settle the tie – but not in Newcastle’s favour. Tueart, described as “one of the finest wing strikers in the modern game”, met Tommy Booth’s header with an outrageous overhead kick, bouncing in beyond ‘keeper Mike Mahoney at the far post. Newcastle could not muster a response in the second hal, as City lifted the cup for the second time in their history.
Prior to the 2022-23 season, Newcastle had failed to progress beyond the last eight in the competition for a further 47 years. Can the Magpies end their decades-long wait for top-tier silverware (no, we’re not counting the Intertoto Cup) and finally bring the League Cup back across the Tyne?