Before Newcastle Uniter met Manchester United in the Carabao Cup Final, images emerged of a message coach Eddie Howe had displayed to his players at the training complex in the early months of the season.
Like a slide from a PowerPoint presentation “we haven’t won a domestic trophy in 67 years” written under the club’s name and crest in bold white font.
The message, which had been on display since November, was equally mocking and derisive.
Howe was only too happy to give a little more detail on what he was trying to convey just how long Magpies fans have not celebrated a home win.
“Definitely in the early rounds we used (the trophy drought as a motivational tool) but as it goes to the other end of the tournament, we tried to take the pressure off rather than put pressure on it,” he told reporters.
“It can be a very delicate balance sometimes on how you prepare psychologically for these games. As I say when you reach this stage I think the players know the responsibilities. The pressures they will face, it’s a case of me taking them. Walk away and focus on the game itself.”
It should be pointed out that it has been 54 years since Newcastle United claimed a trophy of any kind, with the last crown being the European Fair’s Cup in 1969.
Either way, there were at least two generations of supporters in the North East who never saw or remembered silverware won by their club.
Regardless of whether Newcastle United manage to overcome Manchester United to claim their first title in over half a century, given the team’s current fortunes the drought is unlikely to last more than a few years.
Unlimited, at least in soccer terms, funds are behind the club and success is inevitable.
As Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp said after the takeover by the Saudi Public Investment Fund was completed: “Newcastle are certain to play a dominant role in world football for the next 20 or 30 years.”
However, Howe’s message to the players shows just how well the hungry fans in the North East have gone down.
Not that the club’s reputation has faded because of that, the sense of Newcastle United’s potential has always been universal.
In a nation full of teams known as ‘sleeping giants’ – clubs with great but unrealized potential – he is the ultimate example.
The likes of Nottingham Forest, Leeds United, Everton and Aston Villa have fared much more recently than Newcastle, but the perception that the cavernous St James’s is perfectly set up to host a soccer powerhouse is growing stronger. .
Everything has to do with the 1990s, the last time Newcastle United came closest to a boy.
England Soccer Memory Trend
For those who remember soccer in England before the creation of the Premier League in 1992, it is a constant source of frustration that often seems to start the collective memory with the breakaway competition.
But, before it was established, the number of TV cameras at English top-flight games was limited and it changed things.
Memories of the glory days for fans of any of the teams that dominated the sport in the pre-television era will be etched in the supporters’ memories, but for the general public, they are much harder to grasp.
Generations brought up on HD TV find it harder to appreciate the brilliance of Stanley Matthews in the 1950s or Nottingham Forest’s back-to-back European Cup wins in the 1970s when only the images are in flashy black and white film.
The 24-hour sports coverage culture that rapidly developed in the 1990s not only changed the game at the time it changed our view of the past.
Part of the reason why rival fans always accuse Manchester City of being ‘no history’ is probably because there is no footage of their 1969 league title win and the black and white stripped backs don’t get much airtime. success in the European Cup Winners’ Cup.
Manchester United, on the other hand, have gone a decade without a league title, but their glory days in the 1990s are as fresh as ever. Ole Gunnar Solkesjaer’s Champions League winning goal is being replayed endlessly from as many angles as it feels yesterday.
And, during this period, Newcastle United re-emerged as a powerhouse in English soccer.
A beautiful failure: Newcastle United 1995-96
Under the charismatic leadership of soccer icon Kevin Keegan, in the 1990s the Magpies were transformed from a decent second division outfit to contenders for the Premier League crown.
Teams have captured the imagination of the English public in the past, Manchester United’s Busby Babes and Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest are just two of many whose magic extended beyond the fans of those clubs, but this was different.
When Newcastle United stormed to a 12-point lead in the 1995-96 season, earning the nickname ‘the entertainers’ for their expansive style, it was featured on the nation’s television screens every week.
As the title bid began to dwindle, Newcastle’s storyline for the English public grew even stronger.
In the final months of the season when the Magpies got the better of Manchester United but lost 0-1 cruelly, thanks to some incredible goalkeeping by Peter Schmeichel and terrible refereeing decisions, the injustice was visible to the nation.
Even more impressive was Keegan falling into an advert as he watched Stan Collymore’s wheel celebrate after scoring and extra time winner. The defining image was what became the legendary 4-3 game, Newcastle only managed to lose despite twice leading.
But those two memories are topped by a statement Keegan made in a live TV interview that prompted comments from rival coach Alex Ferguson.
Keegan’s voice was fading as he said “I’d love it if we beat them, I’d love it,” which has become so clichéd that it overshadows any statement made by Ferguson, a much more successful career.
Newcastle United’s collapse that season and failure to win the league is etched in soccer history more vividly than anything that came before.
The glorious failure gave the club a much stronger story than the success of teams like Arsenal and Chelsea, although they did win trophies.
And that sense of ‘what if?’ Has hung in the air in St James’s Park ever since.
The modern Newcastle United is understood through the prism of the unfulfilled potential from that season.
When Newcastle United’s new ownership delivers what Kevin Keegan’s team of the 1990s could not, we should remember that it is unlikely to happen if they had not come so close.