Celebrating their 130th anniversary in 2011, the Newcastle United Football Club started out in 1881 as Newcastle East End through the merger of two minor teams in Tyneside: Stanley and Rosewood. Meanwhile, a rival club named Newcastle West End took up residence in 1886 at St. James Park, the future home of Newcastle football.
As inaugural members of the Northern League, East End finished a respectable fourth on the table in 1899-90. West End, however, came in runner-up that season to Darlington St. Augustine, proving their prowess on the field, if not in back offices. Indeed, the West Enders fell into financial distress and a takeover by East End was all that saved them and their grounds near the city centre in 1892.
The reinforced Newcastle franchise joined the Second Division of the Football League in 1893-94. Although the legal title of the Club would not become Newcastle United for several more years, the new name was agreed upon, and by 1894 their famous black-and-white striped shirts were introduced along with their nickname, the Magpies. By the close of the century, they would be promoted to Division One.
The years leading up to World War I were simply stellar for the Black’n’Whites. They captured three League Championships and reached the FA Cup finals on five occasions prior to 1914, winning their first in 1910. Post-war, the team enjoyed even more success, lifting their second FA Cup trophy by beating Aston Villa at Wembley in 1924. It was soon followed by a fourth League Championship in 1927.
Newcastle got a third FA Cup victory in 1932, but it was tainted by an infamous “over the line” goal against Arsenal. That controversy seemed to mark the end of four great decades on the rise. Two years later, the Magpies were relegated for the first time in Club history and would need to rebuild all the way through World War II.
It took until 1948, but Newcastle United eventually managed to return to Division One play, and vast crowds poured forth to show their support. By winning the FA Cup in 1951, 1952 and 1955, the Magpies proved they were back to top form. In 1946-1957, striker Jackie Milburn set virtually every Club record for goal-scoring: Most League Goals (177), Most FA Cup Goals (23) and Most Career Goals (200).
United slipped back to Division Two in 1961, but climbed back to the top tier as that Division’s champion in 1965. Then, in 1969, the Magpies shocked the world by winning the European Inter Cities Fairs Cup—the forerunner to the UEFA Cup.
A silverware drought ensued at St. James Park thereafter, as the Tyneside team struggled with relegation, saw star players head south and watched cobwebs grow in Club coffers. It took the combined talents of financier Sir John Hall and manager Kevin Keegan, who was brought aboard in 1992, to stop the Magpies spiral toward Third Division.
The turnaround was dramatic. In 1993, a place in the First Division was regained. The addition of striker Alan Shearer in 1996 brought badly needed scoring power to the line-up. United soon challenged for the Premier League title, reaching runner-up position twice and just barely missed grabbing a seventh FA Cup against Arsenal in 1998 and then again in 1999 facing Manchester United.
Since the turn of the new millennium, a parade of different managers have been brought in to pilot the Black’n’Whites back to greatness, but to little avail. Sir Bobby Robson failed to do so in 1999-2004, as did Graeme Souness (2004-06), Glenn Roeder (2006-07) and Sam Allardyce (2007-08).
Kevin Keegan gave it another try in 2008, but soon resigned following conflicts over Club management. Under Joe Kinnear and then Alan Shearer in 2008-09, United were relegated once again and the franchise was put up for sale. Those were dark days at St. James Park, indeed.
But just as they have in the past, the Magpies found a way to reverse their tailspin. New manager Chris Hughton led them to the 2009-10 Football League Championship. That success rescued the Club from the auction block and secured them automatic promotion back to the Premier League after just one season away. Most recently, a twelfth-place finish on the table under new manager Alan Pardew in 2010-11 has ensured survival.
Pardew’s contract through 2016 may have solved the revolving-door managerial situation at Newcastle United. Betting on the Club to again reach the top four remains a long shot, and their success is now being measured game by game. Although backing United may be a rollercoaster ride for fans, what the Magpies still have is the ability to surprise—one may count them down, but never quite out.