Wed Sep 28, 1977 – Newcastle Utd 4 Bohs 0
Thirty years ago today, I was glued to the radio listening to commentary on the second-leg European action. The omens for the Irish clubs were not great. Sligo Rovers, already three goals behind against Red Star Belgrade in the European Cup, had erected a six-foot fence around their pitch to deter hooligans in their 6,000-strong crowd, far less than the expected full house. Dundalk took a one nil lead to Yugoslavia to face Hajduk Split in the Cup-Winners Cup, but they had left two key players behind at Dublin Airport after the club had refused to reimburse Tommy McConville and Tony Cavanagh their dole money while away. Dundalk did, however, still have the pair’s gear available as it had already been checked onto the flight. And Bohs had arrived absolutely jaded in Newcastle, thirteen hours after checking in at Dublin Airport, after a flight delayed for six hours by fog was followed by a three-hour coach trip from Manchester.
Before kick-off in Saint James Park, the Bohs players threw red and black carnations to the 20,000 Newcastle fans. It sounded like we had a full-strength team. Tommy Kelly and, at last, Joe Burke were both back after injuries. Burke took his place as centre-half alongside John McCormack, with Padraig O’Connor moving up into midfield alongside Kelly. The line-up was Mick Smyth in goal; Eamon Gregg, Joe Burke, John McCormack and Fran O’Brien in defence; Pat Byrne, Tommy Kelly, Padraig O’Connor and Gerry Ryan in midfield; Turly O’Connor and Eddie Byrne up front.
We started well, but soon our passes started going astray and we were losing fifty-fifty balls. Our centre halves Joe Burke and John McCormack were playing together for the first time this season, and faced the classy striker Alan Gowling, who had missed the first leg through injury. We did have a few half-chances. The ref ignored pleas for a handball by Eddie Byrne in the Newcastle box, but goalkeeper Mike Mahony dived to rescue the situation in what sounded like a repeat of Turly O’Connor’s one-on-one in the first leg. But Newcastle were by far the stronger side, and they went ahead when winger Stewart Barrowclough pulled the ball back from the by-line for Alan Gowling to strike it low into our net.
And so we went into the dressing room losing, but a breakaway goal could still have rescued us. Tragically, all hope was lost in a disastrous four minutes midway through the second half. First the Newcastle skipper Tommy Craig blasted home a shot after a corner by Barrowclough, then Gowling made it three after intercepting a Newcastle shot and scoring himself. Billy Young then brought on Tony Dixon to replace Eddie Byrne up front, presumably to give Dixon a taste of European football rather than in the hope that the youngster would score four goals in the last twenty minutes. Almost immediately, Newcastle scored a fourth, with Craig again shooting past Mick Smyth, and super-sub Dixon suddenly had to score five.
Back home, Sligo Rovers were in trouble from the kick-off. Just five minutes into their game at the Showgrounds, Red Star Belgrade had scored. They added a second just before the interval, and a late third that put them six ahead on aggregate, before Paul McGee missed a penalty – twice! – for Sligo. And in Yugoslavia, Hajduk Split outclassed Dundalk, who had replaced their Airport rebels with two teenagers, defender Derek O’Brien (brother of our Fran) and midfielder Noel King. Split scored after half an hour, cancelling out Dundalk’s first-leg lead. Then, early in the second half, Dundalk skipper Jackie McManus, while under no pressure, inexplicably put the ball in his own net with a clumsy back-pass. Split killed the tie with two late goals, including a sensational diving header by Brian McConville into his own net. And so, a night of utter misery was complete.
The Newcastle fans had applauded Bohs off the pitch and, in an unprecedented gesture, they even chanted Bohemians name. But, to put it extremely mildly, I was not in a very good mood as I switched off the radio that night. To make things worse, scouts from Manchester United, Aston Villa and QPR had been at Newcastle watching Gerry Ryan and Fran O’Brien, and both had played reasonably well. But could they make the move from being a corporation clerk and a plasterer to being full-time professional footballers? Anyway, all three Irish clubs were now out of Europe, Bohs had failed to score in four games, including against Thurles and Galway, and we were on the verge of losing two of our most influential players to English football.
Remind me again, why do I follow this game?