ON a day when players of yesteryear gathered beneath the Gallowgate End to pay tribute to the last Newcastle United manager to lead the club to a major trophy, the captain of that Inter-Cities Fairs Cup winning team still struggles understand why it has taken so long to repeat.
It will be 45 years in June that Bob Moncur returned from a Fairs Cup semi-final second leg in Budapest with some prized silverware, having helped the Magpies to a memorable 6-2 aggregate win over the Hungarians, Ujpesti Dozsa.
Joe Harvey was the manager that year and yesterday, after the hard work of the Fairs Club Committee and Newcastle, a memorial plaque in honour of a man who was also the FA Cup winning captain of the Magpies in the 1955 final at Wembley was unveiled.
Twenty former Newcastle players - including Fairs Cup winners Frank Clark and Wyn Davies – were reunited on Tyneside to reminisce along with their families, as Moncur, Vic Keeble and Harvey’s son, Ken, carried out the ceremony.
Despite a few close attempts to end the trophy drought, the success in 1969 still stands out and, at the end of every season, another year is added and the half century is fast approaching.
“Who would have ever thought it would take this long to win another?” said Moncur, chatting inside St James’ Park’s Nine bar. “If somebody had said that back then we’d have laughed at them and said ‘no chance.’”
Yet that was the reality. Since Harvey resigned following pressure from supporters in 1975 there have been a further 19 managers to have failed to secure that trophy. Would he have been the man to end it these days?
“I don’t think Joe would have slotted in to modern day management,” said Moncur. “Modern day players are a different breed and he ruled by fear. He was subtle but crafty. Sir Alex Ferguson ruled in the same way. If you upset him you were out.”
But the respect for what Harvey achieved remains as strong as ever. “It’s not before time either that he has been honoured in this way,” said Moncur. “Joe has been the most successful manager, certainly since my day, and that’s over Kevin Keegan and over Sir Bobby Robson. He coached, he was a player who captained the FA Cup win, and then was the manager who won the Fairs Cup.
“Joe was a real man-manager. Joe might not have been the greatest tactician in the world, but when he spoke we listened. If Newcastle were struggling a bit, he would always go and buy a big name ... Tony Green, Jimmy Smith, Malcolm Macdonald. He liked entertainers and knew what the punters wanted. Joe was good at that.
“I don’t even think Joe could spell tactics. He used to know his team. With me and Frank Clark on the pitch, understanding the game, he used to just tell us to go out and let the opposition worry about us.”
If only things had been that simple this season. Once the former players had lined up in front of the newly positioned plaque, they dispersed and conversations turned towards Alan Pardew and the current crop of players struggling to end the season on a high.
Newcastle have lost their last five matches to drop down the Premier League table and head for Arsenal and face Cardiff City before ending the season at Liverpool on May 11. A failure to win at least one of those, and address a club record slump in the Premier League era, could lead to them falling out of the top half of the table.
Moncur said: “It’s been difficult for all of the supporters, myself included. You do take your foot of the gas a little psychologically if you are in mid-table safe with nothing to win. It’s easy to blame, we could blame loads of people. It’s disappointing times and I can’t wait until next season.”
Do Newcastle have any chance of ending the wait for silverware next season? He said: “It’s fair to say that we have known for some time we will lose players and it will be difficult to get players in. That is not easy.
“The scenario is, you identify a player and you can afford him. Then of course the player you are going for, the word goes around, and the deal collapses. It’s unlike in our day when you shook hands and a deal is done. It’s a mammoth task.
“What is this club’s ambition? I think top four is over optimistic. We have never been consistently in the top four in my time since I was here in 1960. Work that out.”
When Newcastle head for the Emirates Stadium on Saturday, Pardew hopes to have French midfielder Moussa Sissoko available. Sissoko has not played since injuring his hamstring against Southampton last month but returned to training yesterday.