There was a time when Newcastle United were regularly involved in football competitions on a European level. Tonight Juventus and Barcelona face off at the very pinnacle of club football competitions, so lets take the opportunity to reminisce over the times our club faced off against these Giants on the Continent.
We have faced off against Barcelona 4 times in the group stages of the Champion’s League – twice in the 1997/1998 season and a further two times in the 2002/2003 season. So, how did we fare? That year, we were drawn in Group C of the Champion’s League alongside Barcelona, Dinamo Kiev and PSV Eindhoven. We had featured in the UEFA Cup previously, but this was our first time mixing it with the cream of European football in modern times. Our first game was at home to Barcelona on 17th September 1997. It was a magical night of football, made unforgettable by Tino Asprilla’s 49 minute hat-trick putting us 3-0 up to the excitement of the home crowd and manager Kenny Dalglish. Kevin Keegan had resigned in January of the same year. Barcelona launched fight back with Luis Enrique and future Ballon d’Or winner Luis Figo scoring in the last 10 minutes. Despite this, we hung on to win 3-2 for what was one of the most famous victories in the club’s history. Keith Gillespie was also exceptional that night.
Newcastle United: Shay Given, Warren Barton, John Beresford, Steve Watson, Phillipe Albert, John Barnes, David Batty, Rob Lee, Tino Asprilla, Jon Dahl Tomasson, Keith Gillespie.
Barcelona: Ruud Hesp, Sergei Barjuan, Nadal, Michael Riziger, Luis Figo, Luis Enrique, De La Pena, Celades, Anderson, RivaldoEmmanuel Amunike.
Unfortunately Newcastle Nearly Man King Kenny could not sustain us for the rest of the campaign and we would go on to lose the reverse fixture 1-0 thanks to a Giovanni strike and ultimately crash out of the competition in 3rd place with 7 points. It should be noted though that Barcelona did not top the group – they finished 4th behind us! Our other 4 points came against Kiev – who topped the group. Figure that one out..
The next time we would face Barcelona was in the second Group stage of the 2002/2003. But to get there, we had to qualify from the first group stage – where we would face the Old Lady of Italian football – Juventus. By now the late great (and personally my favourite ever manager) Sir Bobby Robson was at the helm of the Toon, having taken over in 1999.We were drawn in Group E alongside Dinamo Kiev (again), Feyenoord and Juve. I remember this group vividly because we started off badly, losing our first 3 games and looking certain to go crashing out as a laughing stock. Then the turning point came just 3 weeks after going down 2-0 to Juve in Turin thanks to strikes by now other than Alesandro Del Piero. We were back at St. James’ Park again on the 23rd October and the unlikeliest of hero’s secured a vital 3 points for us. His name was Andy Griffin. Watch the goal here and note John Carver amongst the staff. He has played a part in some great nights down the years. I always did like Andy Griffin, particularly for marshaling a certain David Ginola so well in an FA Cup game versus Tottenham.
Newcastle United: Steve Harper, Andy O’Brien, Andy Griffin, Titus Bramble, Aaron Hughes, Nolberto Solano, Jermaine Jenus, Gary Speed, Laurent Robert, Alan Shearer, Lomana Lua Lua.
Juventus: Gianluca Buffon, Ciro Ferrara, Mark Iuliano, Alesandro Birindelli, Lilian Thuram, Alessio Tacchinardi, Pavel Nedved, Mauro Camoranesi, Edgar Davids, Alesndro Del Piero, Marco Di Viao.
We would go on to beat Kiev 2-1 thanks to strikes by the greats Gary Speed and Alan Shearer before completing an astonishing turnaround by defeating Feyenoord 3-2 away from home. Craig Bellamy scored in injury time to take us through…Talk about drama!
We would move into phase two in Group A alongside Inter Milan, Barcelona and Bayer Leverkusen. We kicked off the group getting battered by Inter 4-1. 3 down by half time, Nobby Solano puled one back only for Alvaro Recoba to complete the route. We then visited the Nou Camp and went down by 3 goals to 1, with none other than certified Mackem Slayer Shola Ameobi getting on the score sheet. We were being schooled at this level, but blimey was it an experience! Next up we travelled to Germany and beat Leverkusen 3-1. Our Shola scoring twice to show his Barca exploits were no fluke. On the return leg Big Al would score a hat-trick to secure a vital Group A lifeline. We had to beat Inter in Italy to have any chance of progressing and despite a Big Al brace, Christian Vieri and Ivan Cordoba would respond to secure the draw INter needed to knock us out of the Competition. We had one game left – a home tie with Barcelona and an opportunity to replicte the glorious 1997 victory, but ultimately typical comedy Titus Bramble defending was always just a moment away and Kluivert took advantage to set Barcelona on their way to a 2-0 victory.
I’d give Mike Ashley’s right arm and Lee Charnley’s spectacles for nights like that again…