A wee journey ….

For one reason or another, it has been a bit difficult to get to Ciudad matches recently. However, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been to a couple of games over the last few months.

I was lucky enough to be invited to the World Cup qualifier game, between Northern Ireland and Norway. I’ve written a full and very comprehensive article about the whole trip which will be appearing in Issue 131 of True Faith, the Newcastle United Alternative Fanzine. I’m told there is going to be a very Northern Irish feel to that upcoming issue.
Anyway, before I went over to Belfast, I wrote an article for the Northern Ireland fanzine, everywhere we go (Issue3). The article is about footballers who have played for both Newcastle United and Northern Ireland over the years. The fanzine was on sale before the Norway game and will be on sale before the Norn Iron game versus New Zealand, in June. You can also buy the fanzine online here.


My article appears below, I hope you like it …


Ulster’s Geordie Connection

Whilst the Irish communities of Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester and London are well renowned there is not so much known about the Irish that moved in great numbers to Newcastle upon Tyne and its environs. Whilst the afore mentioned cities had many people emigrate from the south of Ireland, usually via Dublin, Tyneside’s Irish generally came across the Straits of Moyle via Belfast or Larne. Their journey to the north east of England was usually via Glasgow and most of those folk came to work in the one of the many shipyards, along the banks of the once thriving River Tyne. Both Glasgow and Belfast are well famed for their shipyards too so there was always a natural link there.

There also seems to be a natural football link between the province of Ulster and Tyneside. Many Northern Ireland internationals have donned the famous black and white shirt and many are still thought of with respect and affection amongst the fanatical Geordie fans.

billmccrackenLet’s go back to the start of twentieth century when international Irish football was governed by one body, The Irish Football Association, based in Belfast. From that same city hailed Bill McCracken who made over 400 appearances for United, in a Magpie career spanning an amazing 19 years. McCracken was capped 16 times for Ireland scoring once and captained both his country and club. He arrived on Tyneside from Belfast side Distillery in 1904 and was well loved by the United faithful who saw him as the original loveable rogue. McCracken is famous for perfecting the off-side game so well that the football powers-that-be were compelled to change the rules in 1925. It’s said that McCracken was a bubbly character who had a mischievous sense of humour which often led to him being in dispute with the authorities on and off the field.

Alf McMichael was a Left-back who won the FA Cup with United in 1952 and is another member of the 400 plus appearances club at Newcastle. He played on Tyneside from 1949 to 1963 after starting his professional career at Linfield in 1945. McMichael made 40 appearances for Northern Ireland and was a member of the 1958 World Cup squad, along with two other United players, Tommy Casey and Dick Keith. In fact, with three players each Newcastle and Portsmouth were the most represented club sides in the squad. McMichael, with 29 caps, was the second highest capped player to represent Northern Ireland in Sweden, with only the great Danny Blanchflower having been capped (30) more times. McMichael went onto win another eleven caps for his country ending up with a total of 40.


In the same 58 squad was Tommy Casey. Belfast born Casey started his playing career at Bangor and played for Leeds and Bournemouth before making his move to Newcastle in 1952. He was part of the 1955 FA Cup winning team and played as a left-half. He made 116 appearances for the Magpies, scoring 8 goals and won 12 caps for his country scoring twice. After managing Northern Ireland in the 1975 UEFA European Youth Championship, in Switzerland, he was considered for the position of senior national team manager, unfortunately for him he was overlooked for Dave Clements.

The third member of the 58 squad was Dick Keith, another former Linfield man who won 23 caps for Northern Ireland. He made 223 appearances for the Geordies and was said to be very popular amongst the fans on Tyneside. Tragically he died in an accident at a builder’s yard in 1967, aged only 33, in times when footballers had to work when their playing careers were over.

david-craig.jpgNext in line is David Craig who was magnificent right-back and fine United servant for 18 years. Craig is yet another Ulsterman who is a member of the 400 plus appearances club. He joined Newcastle in 1960 and finished his playing career there in 1978. I actually remember the tail end of his career and can visualise him playing for Newcastle reserves, when I was about nine years old and standing in the old Leezers End. He was also a member of the famous 1969 Fairs Cup winning team, the last major trophy the Magpies won. He was capped 25 times and often played alongside George Best and Pat Jennings. I have seen Craig a few times drinking in Newcastle and fans still recognise him and pose for photos with him.

SPT_20131118_FOO_062_29644201_I1Another member of the 1969 Fairs Cup winning team was goalkeeper Willie McFaul.
McFaul is a true honorary Geordie who has actually played for, coached and managed the club. He joined Newcastle from Linfield in 1966 and went on to make 290 appearances. The Coleraine man was a fine goalkeeper but only won 6 caps for his country. Of course this was in the times of the legendary Pat Jennings, who if he hadn’t had been around then McFaul would have surely won more caps.

s-l300Tommy Cassidy represented Newcastle 180 times, from 1970 to 1980. He picked up a losers’ medal in the 1974 FA Cup Final alongside Willie McFaul. Again, in the 1976 League Cup Final, he was on the losing side at Wembley. Known for his rocket like shot, he scored 22 times for the club, once memorably in a 3-1 defeat of local rivals Sunderland on New Year’s Day in 1980. He represented Northern Ireland 24 times and was a member of the 1982 World Cup squad, although he had left Newcastle by then, for Burnley in 1980.

Another Toon favourite was David McCreery, who was capped for Northern Ireland 67 times. The midfield terrier was a member of the 82 and 86 World Cup squads and is often first thought of as a Manchester United player. However, he only amassed 97 appearances for the Red Devils whilst playing for the black and white United 272 times, between 1982 and 1989. McCreery claims that he was the first professional player to wear Nike footwear in an international tournament, playing for Northern Ireland in the 1982 World Cup.


Belfast born Ian Stewart joined Newcastle, from QPR, in 1985 but never really hit it off at Gallowgate. He played 43 times for the club but was eventually transferred to Portsmouth in 1987, where he only made one appearance. Capped 31 times for Northern Ireland he scored twice and was a member of the 1986 World Cup squad, along with his Newcastle team mate David McCreery.

DSC_2185In 1987 as an exciting 18-year-old prospect signed for the Magpies from Coleraine. That young lad was the current Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill. In his first season Michael made 22 appearances and notched 13 goals. In that season he played alongside fellow Ulstermen Tommy Wright and David McCreery. Unfortunately, O’Neill’s second season was dogged by injury and although he still made 21 appearances he scored only 5 goals. To make matters worse Newcastle were relegated that season also and the man from Portadown was sold to Dundee United. The greens current boss also made 31 appearances for his country and scored 4 goals.

Highly popular goalkeeper Tommy Wright played for Newcastle for two spells during his career. Firstly, he came from Linfield to St. James Park in 1988 and made 73 appearances for the club up until 1993. He lost his place to the iconic Pavel Srníček and was eventually sold to Nottingham Forest. However, Wright was to stand between the sticks again for Newcastle when he came back to the club in 1999. This time he was only to make 3 appearances on loan to the Mags from Man. City but the fans favourite received a hugely warm welcome back. Wright played 31 times for Northern Ireland over a ten-year period between 1989 and 1999.

imagesKeith Gillespie will always be remembered on Tyneside for two things. Firstly, as the player who was part of the deal that took Andy Cole to Manchester United. That deal had Kevin Keegan on the steps of St. James Park, explaining to the fans why he was selling one of their heroes. Nevertheless, Gillespie soon became a regular in the team dubbed “The Entertainers” and went on to enjoy 3 relatively successful seasons in the North East. The second thing he will always be remembered for, in his final full season at Newcastle, is arguably his best performance for the club when assisting 2 of Faustino Asprilla’s 3 goals in a 3-2 Champions League victory over F.C Barcelona. A night no Geordie of a certain age will ever forget. Gillespie played 113 times for Newcastle and was capped 86 times over a 14-year period.

I was there, the night in 1997, when Aaron Hughes made his debut for Newcastle United in the Camp Nou, Barcelona. Little did I know then what a popular figure he would become amongst my fellow Mags. The versatile player was (and still is) loved on Tyneside and many of my compatriots were gutted when Graeme Sourness sold him to Aston Villa in 2005, especially for a ridiculous price of £1 million. Hughes was always highly dependable, wherever he was asked to play and it is great to see him still enjoying his football, especially for Northern Ireland. A product of the United’s youth development, Hughes represented Newcastle on 205 occasions, the most appearances for any of the clubs that he subsequently played for. Capped 104 times, he is second only to Pat Jennings in the most capped Northern Ireland players.


I interviewed Shane Ferguson once for the Newcastle fanzine the True Faith. He came over as a shy but likable young lad and big things were expected of him. Newcastle signed him from Derry City, in 2001, at the age of 16 but he never nailed down a first team place and was loaned out to Birmingham, after making only 23 first team appearances. He stayed on Newcastle’s books but was furthered loaned out to Rangers and MIllwall, eventually signing full time for the South London club in 2016. He has won 22 caps to date for his country.

There were other bit part players too, like John Cowen and Eric Ross who between them both played only10 times for United in total and received 1 cap each. Also a player called Jimmy Hill, not the Match of the Day one, but a lad from Carrickfergus who joined Newcastle from Linfield and played 11 times for the black & whites. Hill won 7 caps for Northern Ireland.

So there you have it the Geordie Ulster Connection, I think you will agree it’s quite impressive.

Tony Higgins (January 2017)

If you enjoyed that you are sure to enjoy the book Homage to Murcia – A Season of Football Anarchy, to buy click here

BOOK: Homage to Murcia – A Season of Football Anarchy

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