August 10th and 11th 1990
from day trips to exotic destinations such as Dundee and the club's
inexplicable participation in the Isle of Man tournament, for the Newcastle
fan with itchy feet, only the occasional friendly against previously-unheard
of Scandinavian sides provided the opportunity to visit the Bureau De Change
and travel agent for anything but a fortnight on the Costa Brava.
three seasons of Fairs Cup adventures ended with a penalty shootout loss on a
bumpy pitch somewhere in Hungary, we had a seven-year wait punctuated only by
the Anglo-Italian Cup, until a brief foray into the competition now renamed
the UEFA Cup took us to the back streets of Dublin and then to the island of
the Irish side Bohemians provided stiff opposition in Dublin, with a first leg
tie that ended goalless but featured a pitch invasion, a 2-1 defeat away to
Bastia saw us dumped out of the competition after the lethal shooting boots of
Dutchman Johnny Rep secured a 3-1 away success on Tyneside.
sad season we slipped into the abyss that at that was called Division Two, a
setback that put thoughts of foreign conquests well and truly on the back
burner (although we were to voyage to Asia in 1983 and return with a big ugly
blue vase called the Japan Cup.)
forward on through the rest of the 1980's when off-field misadventures
elsewhere saw English clubs banished from European competition - a situation
that was hardly likely to affect a club that had returned to Division Two and
whose only destination looked to be the doldrums.
in the curious world of Newcastle United, nothing is ever straightforward and
courtesy of a stray message on the Club's premium rate telephone information
service in July 1990, it was learned that a ban-busting secret European trip
was being planned, to of all places, Budapest.
Hungarian capital was of course the scene of our Fairs Cup triumph, when the
crack side Ujpest Dozsa were beaten by the magic of Moncur et al. Our return
to the banks of the Danube was to be as part of a four team pre-season
tournament featuring two local sides (alas not Ujpest) plus the Belgians of
Cercle Bruges - who were obviously easily pleased.
rapid decision was made by a select number of fans (five to be exact) from the
London supporters club that this was too bizarre an opportunity to be
overlooked. Right from the off though, we were beset by problems, not least of
which was actually confirming that any of this was really taking place.
to the club encountered only stony-faced denials and confirmation was only
gained after confronting Jim Smith on the pitch after a friendly at Gloucester
City. Well, we were bigger than him...
Newcastle manager was happy to divulge where his team were staying, apparently
safe in the knowledge that our promise to meet up in Budapest was no more than
next hurdles to be overcome were the visa requirement, solved by an afternoon
queuing outside an embassy somewhere in South West London, and then attempting
to find a flight to the Hungarian capital at an affordable cost – this was
before the days of the internet of course.
the event, no flights could be found due to the large number of motor racing
fans going to Hungary, meaning we faced a trip to Vienna from Gatwick before
switching to the Orient Express to conclude our journey.
following day saw an early departure and late morning arrival into Budapest,
to be greeted by a crowd of locals offering accommodations and the familiar
cry of "shansh marny" from unofficial money-changers.
one misadventure at a suburban house when the owner suddenly decided that a
fistful of dollars wasn't worth the apparent risk of opening her door to five
Geordies, we ultimately found digs with an old lady, in a flat near the
in the seemingly ubiquitous Trabant taxis, which ran on some sort of
foul-smelling fuel, an interesting few hours were spent in exploring the city,
at the end of which we had learned that:
If Albania was in thrall to the comic Genius of Norman Wisdom, then Benny Hill
was the uncrowned Hungarian King of Mirth.
There's nowt worth buying in the state-run department stores and the latest
spectator sport in Budapest is peering through the windows of the newly-opened
Mcdonalds and Adidas sports shop.
Hungarian women are beautiful, in fact staggeringly lovely would be a better
this wasn't a holiday, there was work to be done. Passing yet more statues of
former communist icons now being demolished as a symbol of the dawning of a
new era in Hungarian history, another taxi ride took us to the Ramada Hotel on
an island in middle of the Danube, base for the Toon boys of '69 and the
current side for the duration of their stay.
a quick chat with John Anderson, in dispute with the club but still included
in the travelling party and reduced to mooching around the hotel gardens, a
surreal few moments were spent in the company of Newcastle assistant manager
Bobby Saxton. The years may have dimmed our recollection of his profound (and
profane) opinions of the players, but his appalling combination of club
tracksuit, socks and sandals remains burnt indelibly on the memory.
adjournment to the Hotel bar was made, via a phone call from reception to the
room of a Mr. Smith from England - just to tell him we were here, before
assembling to cheer the team on to the coach. He duly appeared and had a few
words with us before retreating back to his room, promising complimentary
tickets for our endeavours.
done, it was back to the cabs and a journey to the Ulloi Ut Stadium that while
not rapid, was at least quicker than the slightly antiquated bus that the
players were being conveyed in.
time out only to applaud the players again, with one or two flashing looks of
recognition without quite placing where they knew us from, we then headed
towards what appeared to be a bar in the bowels of the stadium.
The view from the away end
actually took us a fair while to get there, after stopping to pose for photos
with various police and army units and trying in vain to make ourselves
understood to a crowd of local fans that we weren't actually the toon team,
despite wearing replica shirts.
failure to do so resulted in many requests for autographs, but also provided a
handy excuse for not giving said strips. Thankfully help was at hand in the
form of then-Newcastle chairman Gordon McKeag, who produced a pocketful of
badges that were handed out to delighted Hungarians.
return came more badges, pennants and scarves, plus some rather potent glasses
of wine. Note the use the word “wine” here in it’s general sense, as
opposed to the phrase “rocket fuel”, perhaps more accurate.
led towards an open door in the rear of the stand that promised some thirst
-quenching beer, we were instead confronted with a stern-faced old woman who
was ladling out cups of wine from a seemingly bottomless vat.
some stage the arduous thirty-yard journey to our turnstile was made and we
arrived in our allotted places. Despite there being a UEFA ban on English
clubs, the Hungarians had seen fit to allocate the five of us our own section
of the Stadium, which was about 4,995 under capacity.
with few local fans bothering to attend (and the Belgians apparently totally
devoid of support) things were relaxed in the ground, with no great police
On to the game
itself, with Newcastle pitted against local side Videoton, as a warm-up to the
home side Ferencvaros taking on Bruges. United lined up as follows:
An impromptu photo
shoot on the parapet of a bridge almost resulted in having a spare seat on the
return journey, while somewhere in Sweden a home movie collection now includes
footage of five rather well-oiled gentlemen regaling passers-by with a
spirited rendition of “The Blaydon Races.”
And the irony
of subsequently reading about our trip and seeing our photograph in the
official club newspaper (courtesy of a local ex-pat freelancer) wasn't lost on
us, given that the club had refused to even confirm the fact that the games
were taking place. But before we basked in our 15 minutes of fame, reality
quickly intervened as our next pre-season game took us to the exotic location
of Dunfermline, where we were to endure a staggeringly tedious 0-0 draw.
Perhaps our players were jet-lagged, or more likely had sampled some of that
local vino on their return flight….
season 1996/97 Newcastle were back in the Ulloi Ut to face Ferencvaros in the
UEFA Cup and rather more toon fans were on hand to receive a slightly frostier
reception than their 1990 counterparts. It was enjoyable, but it just wasn’t
the same as Budapest had lost some of its mystique and the onward march of
commercialism had turned it into an ersatz reproduction of many Western
subsequent European perambulations we may have amassed a truckload of
memories, from Lee's headed hat trick in Antwerp or the Bilbao experience, to
the 12,000 fans that filled the San Siro with Geordie songs.