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Where WE Come From: A User's Guide to Newcastle United FC

Stu Forster - Getty Images

A User's Guide to Newcastle United FC is a brainchild born of my own personal lack of knowledge (primarily) and the idea that an introduction to 109 years of NUFC would be a nice thing to have available to visitors at Coming Home Newcastle. Also, it is a gargantuan enough topic that it should keep me busy (and hopefully you entertained) for some time. Today, we'll start at the very beginning. With few notable exceptions (I'm looking at you, DC), United football clubs were in fact at one time in their history united from multiple existing clubs. Newcastle United is one of those.

There was a time in which the primary football rival of the club in Newcastle wasn't Sunderland. It lived just on the other side of town. From 1882-1892, football support was split between Newcastle West End and Newcastle East End.

Newcastle West End Football Club

Newcastle West End was established in 1882 when West End Cricket Club decided to expand its presence into the footballing realm. In 1890, Newcastle West End became one of the founding members of the Northern League (having eschewed The Football League, which was founded in 1888) and found immediate success, finishing runner up in the inaugural season, losing out only on goal differential. Among early influential performers for West End were players such as Scotland international Bob Kelso and Tom Watson who was ultimately sold off to cross-town rivals East End. It doesn't seem that West End was ever on tremendous financial footing, but the dip of form following the initial season in the Northern League (and subsequent sale of Watson) certainly didn't help. I'll touch on Watson again in a minute.

Newcastle East End Football Club

Newcastle East End was founded in November of 1881 and also had its roots in a Cricket Club. Stanley Cricket Club was the concerned party this time. The club existed as Stanley Football Club for 11 months, when in October of 1882 they changed their name so as to not get confused with any of the other Stanley Football Clubs that were in existence at the time. East End Football Club also went on to become one of the founding members of the Northern League, actually becoming the first of Newcastle's clubs to attain professional status. Along with professional status, East End managed to accumulate a base of capital that would prove to have a tremendous influence on the future of both East and West End Football Clubs. By all accounts, East End was the club that ended up playing the better football, had the better management and grabbed the largest part of the support in Newcastle.

Uniting Newcastle

As West End's fortunes plummeted both on the pitch and off, it became clear that not only could Newcastle only support one club with money and butts in seats, it was clearly going to be East End that was going to be the survivor. A number of the players and backroom staff went from West End to East End in the merger, but West End brought something else to the table that would shape the future of the club: St. James' Park. The ground at St. James' was far superior to East End's ground, and the club have played their home games at St. James' ever since. The club would play the first season after the merger as Newcastle East End, and the first game for the united club was a 1-0 victory over Glasgow Celtic, a prestigious victory for a club not yet accepted into The Football League. Following the merger, Newcastle East End applied for membership into The Football League, but was not accepted into the First Division. They were offered membership into the newly created Second Division which they refused as it was mostly comprised of relatively unknown sides (Crewe or Bootle, for instance) and they were desirous of the likes of Everton, the Mackems and Aston Villa as opponents. They played one more year of non-league football with attendance slipping, which caused a reaction towards large-scale change. On December 9, 1892 following meetings with a large group of supporters, the club voted and accepted the name Newcastle United. Although popularly the club were known as Newcastle United from that point forward, the name was not legally changed until a number of years later.

One year following the refusal of membership into the Second Division of The Football League, Newcastle United tried again for membership into the First Division and were rebuffed again. This time, however, in the face of declining attendance the club accepted the invitation into the Second Division, entering the division on the same day as Liverpool and Arsenal.

Tom Watson, and setting the pattern for the future

I mentioned that I would return to Tom Watson later, and here it is. Born in Newcastle upon Tyne, Tom would become a key player for Newcastle West End before he was sold to East End. He played in East End for 1 year before moving on to Sunderland. He coached at Sunderland for 7 years, leading them to First Division titles in 1891-92, 1892-3 and 1894-5 before being lured away to Liverpool. Some 113 years prior to another favorite Geordie son made the same move, Tom Watson opened the road that many favorite Newcastle players would later take, out of the Northwest and onto the Mersey. He would go on to become one of the earliest Liverpool legends, leading the club to their first League Title in 1901, ultimately coaching them for 19 years and another First Division Title in 1905-06.

I had contemplated going all George Lucas and working from Newcastle United on, then coming back to this as a prequel, but hey-- it didn't work out so well for George, so who am I to think I can make it work. Part one down, lots of parts to go. Happy International Break Week!