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When Newcastle was born

The centuries-long story of the Magpies origin

1911 FA Cup Final Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Newcastle has a great history; the town, and the club. But what happened at the beginning? Why is Newcastle the way it is? What is in the name, and how did the land get the way it is?

Under Norman rule in 1080, the city gained its name. Difficulties between William the Conqueror and his oldest son Robert Curthose in Northern France between 1078 and 1080 incited unrest in the North of England. In William’s absence, Scottish King Malcolm III plundered the lands between the River Tweed and the River Tees. The Northumbrians were unhappy with William’s failure to stop this from happening.

This forced the rebellion and murder of Earl of Northumbria in May 1080. William sprang into action and his half-brother Odo of Bayeux was sent to disperse the rebels, with William’s son Robert to deal with the Scots. Having dealt with Malcolm in Lothian, Robert returned home via Monkchester where a wood castle was built to secure the area, and maintain the crossing point of the River Tyne. The area was then called Novum Castellum meaning New Castle.

I tell that story to tell this one. The North East is now synonymous with football, but it was a late embracer of the game. It did not take off until 1890 several years after the sport started spreading in other parts of the UK.

The first match on Tyneside took place on 3 March 1877 at the Elswick Rugby Club between two teams: one of eight, and one of nine men. The nine-man squad ran out to a 2-0 win, and soon Newcastle’s first club Tyne Association was born. Newcastle Rangers started life in 1878 and first played on the Drill Field in Gateshead because they couldn’t find a field north of the river. They moved across the Tyne taking over an enclosed ground close to Leazes Terrace in September of 1880, the field was referred to as St James’ Park.

Newcastle United—like so many clubs worldwide—origins come with the combinations of two minor football clubs. Hence the name United. On the east of the city across the Byker, Heaton had Stanley and Rosewood. Stanley originated from a cricket side in November 1881, the early start of Newcastle United. They were often confused with other clubs of the same name from County Durham, so in October 1882 changed their name to Newcastle East End.

Rosewood had been formed a couple of months before, and soon joined East End as their reserve side. Another club in the area was taking shape as well, West End Football Club, which played on the cricket field at Town Moor. In 1886 they moved again, taking over the lease at St James’ Park.

Newcastle West End’s first match was a 2-0 defeat to Rosewood on 7 October 1882. A mile across the city East End kicked off the same day winning at Byker against Hamsterley 1-0. By 1884 East and West End had emerged as Tyneside’s strongest sides. In April 1888 the Football League was set up in Manchester, but the Tyneside clubs were just as happy in the Northern League.

East End was based at Chillingham Road in Heaton, and decided to get a competitive edge on their rivals West End, by becoming a Limited Company in 1890 with an issue of 2,000 shares at 10 shillings each. West End followed suit quickly after, but East End was able to attract better players and get larger gates. By 1891-92 it was apparent the city was not big enough for two clubs, and West End was struggling to the point of collapse. They were offered their lease to St James’ Park to East End as well as whatever remained of West End’s assets, and some of their players. Tyneside now had one senior club.

On Friday 9 December 1892 East End officially became Newcastle United, while still playing in the East End colors of Red. Two years later in 1894, the black and white stripes that we’re used to these days came in. Classy look for a classy club, indeed.