Where We Come From: The Beginning of League Football

Stanley Chou - Getty Images

When last we left our protagonists, Newcastle East End and Newcastle West End had just merged to create the club we all now love as Newcastle United. The club had established residency at St. James' Park (West End's lasting legacy through the merger) and had just joined the Football League in the Second Division. In this second edition of A User's Guide to Newcastle United, another decision is made that has stayed with the club even through today and the club meets with success early on.

Election to the Football League and an historic decision

Newcastle began competing in the Second Division of the Football League in 1893, although the club was not officially recognized as Newcastle United until 1895. The first season following the merger, the team played in a red strip that had been held over from Newcastle East End's final independent season. At the time, however, many teams in the Northeast were playing in red, and in effort to alleviate potential confusions, the decision was taken to completely depart from any ties to either Newcastle West or East End. In 1894, Newcastle United's trademark black-and-white stripes made their first appearance and have been held as the Home kit ever since.

The First "Foreign Legion"

The first season in the Football League went well enough for Newcastle United; the finished a respectable 4th place having lost only 7 times in their 28 league matches. The follow-up season would prove to be less successful, the Toon taking only 27 points from 30 matches (at this time, victories were only awarded 2 points) which was good for a 10th place finish out of 16 teams. 1895 would see the appointment of Frank Watt as club secretary, and he would end up establishing the first "Foreign Legion" at Newcastle, drafting in from Scotland the likes of Andy Aitken (who still ranks 15th in all-time appearances for Newcastle United with 349 appearances) and Willy Wardrope for the 1895 season. In fact, 9 of the starting 11 for Newcastle that year were Scottish. Consecutive 5th place finishes in the 95-96 and 96-97 seasons would lead up to Newcastle's first promotion season in 1897-98. This season would also be significant for another reason. Jock Peddie was drafted into the side in this year. I'll revisit Jock a little more thoroughly in a history of the #9 shirt at Newcastle, but suffice it to say that Jock was the first of the truly great strikers in the storied history of Newcastle United. Jock would score the first two First Division goals for Newcastle (in a 4-2 reverse to Wolverhampton Wanderers) and would go on to total 78 goals in 135 appearances, weighing in as the club's leading scorer for 4 consecutive seasons including the promotion campaign of 1897-98. Jock would eventually move on to Manchester United, where he would also lead them to promotion. No fewer than 13 players on the promotion team were from Scotland.

The First "Golden Age" of Newcastle United

Heading into the 20th century, Newcastle's fortunes were definitely on the uptick, closing out the 19th century with a 6th place finish in the 1900-01 season followed up with a third place finish in the 1901-02 season. The 02-03 season would prove to be a slight hiccup (finishing 13th in the table, but safely above the drop) in what was going to be a decade of superior achievement for the Magpies.

The squad was still heavily Scottish [slight aside-- it should be remembered that this time period was a bit of a Golden Age for the Scottish as well. . . Even up into the 1930s, Scotland and Scottish players were prominent in world football. The 1930 United States World Cup squad that made the semifinals in Uruguay was primarily consisted of Scottish immigrants.], but there were a growing number of international footballers coming on the books. Long-time servants of the club such as Andy Aitken were being capped (Scotland, who also counted Newcastle's number 1 Jimmy Lawrence, Jimmie Howie and Pete MicWilliam amongst their numbers), Bill McCracken was a full Ireland international, Colin Veitch, Jackie Rutherford (The Newcastle Flyer) was an England International, just to name a few. This talent was to be the core of the team that has been widely regarded as the team of the decade for 1901-1910.

Newcastle would begin the 1904-05 season with a statement of intent, defeating Arsenal 3-0 in their first match. The positive results would continue to outnumber the negative with Notts County and Middlesborough also suffering 3-0 defeats to the Toon. Approaching the New Year, Newcastle were in very good form, defeating Sheffield Wednesday by a heavy 6-2 score line. Somewhat disappointingly during this magical season, out of 9 losses, both fixtures against the scum were lost by 3-1 score lines. Regardless, the Toon would march all the way to their first First Division championship. Enshrined for all to admire, the 1904-05 roster (via www.11v11.com):

Sqd no Player From Position Apps Gls Pns Y R
Andy Aitken (SCO) Centre half 36 2
Bill Appleyard (ENG) Centre forward 33 15
Jack Carr (ENG) Left back 35
Bob Crumley (SCO) Goalkeeper 1 - -
Alex Gardner (SCO) Right half 40 1
Albert Gosnell (ENG) Outside left 33 6
Sam Graham (SCO) Outside right 4
Jimmy Howie (SCO) Inside right 39 17
Wilf Innerd (ENG) Half back 1
Jimmy Lawrence (SCO) Goalkeeper 37 - -
Joe McClarence (ENG) Inside forward 8 4
Andy McCombie (SCO) Full back 39
Bill McCracken (IRL) Full back 13
Teddy McIntyre (ENG) Forward 2
Peter McWilliam (SCO) Left half 34 4
Ronald Orr (SCO) Inside left 26 14 2
Jackie Rutherford (ENG) Outside right 36 10
Bobby Templeton (SCO) Outside left 10
George Thompson Outside left 1
Colin Veitch (ENG) Half back 28 10
Charlie Watts (ENG) Goalkeeper 4 - -
Thomas Wills Left back 2
Jimmy Tildesley (ENG) Full back

This squad nearly pulled the double, winning all the way to the FA Cup final, only to lose out 2-0 to Aston Villa. The crowd of 101,117 is still the largest attendance at a Newcastle United match.

Newcastle would also be runners-up to the FA Cup the following season (05-06), and again in 07-08 on top of 2 more League Championships in 06-07 and 08-09 and the Charity Shield in 1909. As of 1909, the haul for this great generation of Magpies was 3 League Championships, 3 FA Cup runners-up and 1 Charity Shield. The coups de gras of the decade would come in 2010 when Newcastle United would win their first FA Cup, defeating Barnsley by a score of 2-0. JournalLive.co.uk did a great feature on the 100th anniversary of the victory here-- check it out.

The opening decade of the 20th century brought International level talent to Newcastle and a period of unparalleled success that placed the Toon as the Team of the Decade. Silverware and style became early signatures of Newcastle United, and deep roots were developed for the future of a great Football Club.

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