At 3pm Ruud Gullit stood on the threshold of a place in English football history. By 4.50pm his hopes of becoming the third manager to preside over FA Cup successes with different clubs were history. Herbert Chapman, who masterminded Huddersfield's win in 1922 and Arsenal's in 1930, and Billy Walker, who guided Sheffield Wednesday to victory in 1935 and Nottingham Forest in 1959, remain the only distinguished holders of that particular double.
Gullit may have had St James' Park blessed, and had his players wearing white socks for further luck yesterday. But he could only fiddle with his crucifix by the side of the hallowed Wembley turf as his side were burned by the Red Devils. When he ascended the 39 steps to the Royal Box, it was to collect a losers' medal and sympathy from, among others, Ken Bates.
Two years ago, Gullit leaned across to hand the trophy to his former boss. On that occasion, though, he was hastened to his first managerial prize by a bolt from his Blues. Unfortunately for him yesterday, there was no repeat of Roberto Di Matteo's 42-second goal. His team did, however, make a speedy impression of sorts.
The impact Gary Speed made on Roy Keane's left foot with a crunching second-minute challenge removed the Manchester United captain from the equation and, together with the assertive start made by the boys in black and white, had the 25,000 foot-soldiers of the Toon Army calculating the possibility of an upset. With the appearance of the first chink in the Newcastle defence, though, they were obliged to hastily revise the odds.
Teddy Sheringham's 11th-minute goal drew Gullit from the bench to the apron of the pitch. He cut a forlorn if elegant figure, standing, hands in pocket, looking askance at his players - a lost soul watching his team lose their grip. After five minutes, he was asked to return to his seat by the fourth official, Mike Riley, but he was back on the fringe of the action thrice more before the break, helpless but visibly relieved when Nikos Dabizas cleared off the line and Sheringham flashed a header fractionally off target.
When Newcastle last won a trophy of import, ignoring the tin-pot Texaco and Anglo Italian cups, their manager made a half-time contribution that has become part of Toon lore. Having cruised through the first leg of the 1969 Fairs Cup final, beating Ujpesti Dozsa 3-0 at St James' Park, the prize was slipping from their grasp after conceding two first-half goals in the return in Budapest. "Listen, you lot," Joe Harvey said, slamming shut the dressing-room door. "You're 3-2 up in a cup final with 45 minutes to go. What's up with you? Hit 'em once early and they'll collapse."
One minute into the second half Harvey's men duly hit 'em. And, after Bob Moncur's volley, Ujpesti duly collapsed. Newcastle won 3-2 on the night, 6-2 on aggregate, and St James' Park's trophy cabinet had its last exhibit of note. Whether Gullit's half-time speech was as pragmatically blunt as Harvey's has to be doubtful, though he hit Manchester United with the immediate introduction of Duncan Ferguson.
Wembley's third tower did not take long to make his presence felt, winning three headed duels in the opening seven minutes of the second half. By the 12th minute, though, Newcastle were hit - and hit hard - by a second goal. Beware of Greeks bearing gifts, someone once said. They may have had the hapless Dabizas in mind. It was his wayward pass that prompted Paul Scholes' decisive goal. With it, the old tin pot was gift-wrapped with red-and-white ribbons.
There was to be no repeat of 1977, when Liverpool were denied on the second leg of their treble mission by the width of Jimmy Greenhoff's chest. Gullit could do nothing but bite the bullet and wish the Wembley winners well for Barcelona on Wednesday. Unlike Alex Ferguson, for the time being at least, he knows what it feels like to lift the European Cup in the Nou Camp. The last final staged there was Milan's 4-0 win against Steaua Bucharest 10 years ago, featuring two goals by the latest Newcastle manager to fall short on the trophy trail.Reuse content