Football: Cup Final: Magpies go flat to the hordes

Simon Turnbull reflects on another barren season for the Newcastle faithful
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AND so the wait goes on. The Fairs' Cup win of 1969, the year man was not so much over the moon as upon it for the first time, remains Newcastle's most recent major trophy success. Even with Overmars, Arsenal did not need to play out of this world to leave the Magpies acutely parrot- sick at Wembley yesterday. Newcastle were as flat as the battery which failed on their coach at lunchtime. The bus assigned to the players' wives had to be hastily requisitioned. Kenny Dalglish and his team thus made it to the twin towers but only fleetingly did they make a game of the FA Cup final.

From the fifth second, the time it took to work the ball back to Shay Given, they were stuck in reverse. Static in midfield, plodding at the back and with Alan Shearer in not-so-splendid isolation up front, they never looked likely to fulfil the eve-of-season prophecy made by Uri Geller. The great spoon-bender forecast Cup final joy for the Toon Army. The final irony on final day was that Newcastle had their victorious opponents to thank for salvaging their season from absolute failure.

Arsenal's Premiership success means the club that has not won the cup for 43 years will be playing in the Cup Winners' Cup next season. The St James' Park trophy cabinet may still be cobwebbed but Newcastle are pioneering a new art of tautological football advancement. The club that last won the championship in 1927 played in the Champions' League this season. If you hear a rattling at your back door tonight it will probably be a lock-picking Magpie.

It has been a season of bafflement for the frustrated Toon Army. They have watched the beloved cavaliers of Kevin become the unloved but loyally supported roundheads of Kenny. The great entertainers, once the darlings of the nation, have become the not-so-great containers, notorious for scoring own goals, albeit of the metaphorical variety. Freddie Shepherd and Douglas Hall were presumed to be somewhere among the 27,000 Geordie throng yesterday, most likely watching through dark glasses. The skeleton of Newcastle's Stevenage fiasco - which gave rise to the quote of the season (Jeremy Paxman asking his Newsnight audience and the man himself, "Is Kenny Dalglish a big girl's blouse ?") - was more conspicuous.

Dalglish must have thought he had seen the last of them, but Victor Green and Paul Fairclough returned to haunt his team's big day. The chairman and manager of Hertfordshire's Boro boys, were invited on to the hallowed turf before kick-off to collect the Littlewoods award as giant-killers of the season. The judging panel might have waited 90 minutes before making their decision. Newcastle, conquerors of Barcelona in the Champions' League eight long months ago, lined up yesterday as just about the most unfancied finalists since Bob Stokoe's Sunderdogs famously sank their teeth into Leeds a quarter of a century ago.

There was to be no fairytale for the North-east this time. Grim was the countenance of Dalglish, dressed for the occasion in black suit and tie, as he stood - a motionless mirror image of his team - at pitch-side. Grim too were faces of the Geordie fans as Newcastle, possessing a Speed in midfield but bereft of speed in every department, set about their restricting task. "Attack ! Attack !" the Toon Army implored. But it took an hour for the message to get through.

It might have been different had Newcastle's luck been in but after knocking on wood twice in quick succession their fate was sealed by the pace of Nicolas Anelka and the linesman's flag that stayed down. In truth, Newcastle were flagging from the start. Dalglish pinned his hopes on pinning down Overmars. But neither Alessandro Pistone nor Warren Barton could stop the flying Dutchman in the 22nd minute.

It thus became an afternoon of mixed emotions for Barton. The lifelong Gooner left Wembley with a loser's medal. And Robert Lee departed without a tin pot to parade at Newcastle's homecoming procession tonight. It was the same in 1974, when Bob Moncur hoisted an imitation cardboard trophy wrapped in tin foil at St James' the day after the Magpies were shot down at Wembley by a young gun called Kevin Keegan.

On that occasion Joe Harvey had the honesty to admit his team had been "an embarrassment". Yesterday, as the Toon Army retreated with mutinous mutterings in the air, Dalglish was manning the barricades. "We were negative?" he responded to one inquisitor. "You'll need to justify your question." The evidence could be seen again on Mis-Match of the Day last night.

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