Perhaps it is an omen. The last time Newcastle United beat Manchester United at Old Trafford, their chairman was not a happy man. "What the fans should realise is that the directors are irate as well," Lord Bill Westwood said. They had good reason to be as furious as Freddy Shepherd was last week, too. Considerably greater reason, in fact.
The previous Saturday, Newcastle had gone to Hereford for that now-historic FA Cup third-round replay. Malcolm Macdonald had told the world he would hit double figures and break Ted McDougall's nine-goal record in an FA Cup tie. He scored just the once, putting Newcastle into the lead with eight minutes remaining. But then came Ronnie Radford's wonder goal and, in extra time, Ricky George's winner for the Southern Leaguers.
"The answer is not to sack the manager," Lord Westwood added, backing the beleaguered Joe Harvey as the humiliation hit hard on Tyneside. "We just have to accept that crazy results happen sometimes in football." Quite.
Having been sunk in the Hereford mud by a collection of butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers on the afternoon of 5 February 1972, Newcastle went to Old Trafford seven days later and beat a Manchester United team featuring George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton. It was their first win against Manchester United away from St James' Park since 1950. Thirty-one years and 11 months later, it remains their last.
"I really can't believe it's that long," Stewart Barrowclough said. "There was a similar thing with Newcastle at Southampton too, though, wasn't there?"
There was indeed. Newcastle's 3-0 win at St Mary's eight days ago was their first success at Southampton since that very same month, February 1972. Joe Harvey's men won 2-1 at The Dell a fortnight after their 2-0 victory at Old Trafford. Barrowclough, a will-o'-the-wisp right- winger, hit the 72nd-minute winner against the Saints. "He beat Jimmy Gabriel with a superb rising cross-shot," the Newcastle Journal reported.
"I can remember it, yeah," Barrowclough said. "I didn't score many. I can remember 'em all. I can picture the one at Old Trafford too - Tony Green crossed it and I stuck it in."
That was the second of Newcastle's two goals in that 2-0 win at Old Trafford. "I crossed the first for John Tudor to head in at the Stretford End," Barrowclough reflected, again with perfect recall. Tudor's header silenced the Stretford End after 35 minutes of the taunting dirge, "Hereford, Hereford".
Barrowclough chuckled at the memory. "The chanting spurred us on," he said. Barrowclough was 20 back in 1972. He is 52 now, living in his native Barnsley and happily working as a technician for Rexam Glass. Having sat down the Saturday evening before last to watch Newcastle win at Southampton for the first time since his 1972 winner, he will be in front of his television set again this afternoon, in hope rather than expectation that Shearer, Dyer, Robert and company can beat Manchester United at Old Trafford for the first time since his assist and clincher of 1972.
"It's going to be hard," he said, with an intake of breath. "It'd be nice to see 'em do it, but when you've got players like Van Nistelrooy, Giggs and Scholes playing as they are at the moment, they can cut you to pieces. I watched Manchester United on the telly last weekend too. They were one down and then all of a sudden - bump, bump - it's 2-1 and game over. They're such a fantastic side.
"But Newcastle played very well at Southampton. They were brilliant. If they work like that and play like that again, they've got a chance. You never know... especially with Kieron Dyer's pace. It's possible."
Newcastle have won at Old Trafford since 12 February 1972. They beat Sheffield United 1-0 there in an FA Cup semi-final in 1998. Alan Shearer got the goal. At the Theatre of Dreams in 1972 they were not quite the same team they had been at the crucible of their FA Cup nightmare seven days previously. Barrowclough was missing from right-wing duty in the Edgar Street mud.
"I played in the original tie at St James' [a 2-2 draw], but I didn't play down there," he recalled. "I was down there with the rest of the squad but I'd broken a bone in my finger.
"I had to have a plastic cast made to protect it, and they couldn't get it done in time for the replay. Viv Busby was on loan from Luton. He played instead."
Not that Barrowclough made the sole difference at Old Trafford. Tony Green was outstanding in midfield. "He cost Newcastle £150,000 but on Saturday he looked a million dollars," Ken Gorman gushed in his Monday-morning appraisal in the Journal. "He ripped the guts out of Manchester United."
"Tony Green: what a player he was!" Barrowclough exclaimed. "It was terrible that he finished so soon." Green had just turned 27 when his career was curtailed by a knee injury in 1973. The Scot became a maths teacher and a member of the Pools Panel - as though someone who lost 2-1 at Hereford one week and won 2-0 at Man U the next could predict the outcome of football matches.
Barrowclough's own career with Newcastle lasted eight years. He was signed from Barnsley as a 19-year-old in 1970 and in his time on Tyneside he won five England Under-23 caps. He also played in two Wembley finals: defeats against Liverpool in the FA Cup in 1974 and against Manchester City in the League Cup in 1976. As a manager, he led Grimethorpe Miners' Welfare to the final of the FA Carlsberg Pub Cup at Wembley in 1996. They lost too, on penalties. These days, he can be found shouting encouragement from the touchline at Leigh RMI games. His son, Carl, plays on the right wing for the Conference side.
"Losing at Hereford and winning at Old Trafford was typical Newcastle: black and white," Barrowclough Snr said, pondering on February 1972. "We had some terrible results and some terrific ones. That Hereford defeat was the lowest of the low, and the win at Old Trafford was one of the highest of the high. Going to play against Best, Law and Charlton was probably the best thing that could have happened to us at the time. It meant we were definitely up for the game. If we hadn't been, we'd have maybe been beaten by five or six."
It will be the same this afternoon, when the current black and whites aim to show their true colours against Manchester United at Old Trafford - for the first time in 31 years and 11 months.