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Do you remember the first time?

Stevenage supporters t-shirts ahaed of the FA Cup replay of 1998
Stevenage's fans revelled in riling their celebrated opponents

By Mike Henson

It had all the ingredients of an English football fairytale, but the last FA Cup meeting between Stevenage and Newcastle was a stranger and more bitter encounter than cup romantics could have foreseen.

In the fourth round of the 1998 competition, the two sides transformed the stock winter storyline of grateful part-timers taking on Premier League aristocracy into a mix of insults, publicity stunts and mutual indifference set across two nip-and-tuck matches.

Newcastle, with the likes of Alan Shearer, Faustino Asprilla and David Ginola on the payroll, had finished second in the Premier League in the previous season.

By contrast Stevenage had finished third in the Conference with a side assembled at a cost of about £16,000.

Current Barnet boss Paul Fairclough was Stevenage manager at the time while two of defender Steve Howey's 191 Newcastle appearances came in the tie.

Ahead of the teams' third-round meeting on Saturday, they spoke to BBC Sport about their recollections of their encounter 13 years ago.


Within a couple of days of being drawn together, the two clubs were entangled in a dispute over the match venue.

Stevenage had been forced to move their previous season's third-round tie against Birmingham away from their 6,700-capacity Broadhall Way stadium.

Newcastle sent safety officials to Hertfordshire and they recommended a similar switch to St James' Park. The Football Association sided with the underdogs, but not before the issue had been discussed on BBC's Newsnight programme. Host Jeremy Paxman asked Newcastle boss Kenny Dalglish if his reluctance to head south made him "a big girl's blouse".

Fairclough: "Once the draw had been made I had a phone call from Kenny Dalglish, but I thought that it was one of the lads taking the mickey.

They were in the papers all the time, from the time of the draw until we played, giving it 'the biggun'

Steve Howey

"This Scottish person on the other end was going on about how he was worried about different things, but I didn't take too much notice.

"Shortly after their safety guys turned up at our ground.

"But the then-chairman Victor Green, who never missed an opportunity, seized on the chance to escalate the publicity.

"By the time they got down there the television cameras were there waiting for them.

"For the match we did a few what-if scenarios and I got some of our players to take on roles of Newcastle players.

"We had a local kit company knock up 11 black-and-white shirts so that every time we trained we were playing against Newcastle United.

"We got a recording of crowd noise and trained on our pitch with it on really loud because we had never played a big game before.

"I went from a position of feeling I was going to get publicly humiliated to, in the week leading up to the game, really believing we could beat Newcastle."

Howey: "It was their five minutes of fame and they were in the papers all the time, from the time of the draw until we played, giving it 'the biggun'.

"Their manager was loving it, which he has every right to do really. We didn't really say anything, we kept ourselves to ourselves."

Whether or not Stevenage chairman Victor Green had vowed to "milk this for all it is worth", as claimed by Newcastle counterpart Freddie Shepherd, the encounter had the public's attention.


Before kick-off the Stevenage stadium announcer joked that he did not recognise the name of the Newcastle number nine. Alan Shearer, making his return from injury, duly responded with a headed opener inside three minutes. But the drubbing some expected never arrived. Stevenage scored an equaliser through striker Giuliano Grazioli to take the tie to a replay.

Giuliano Grazioli of Stevenage celebrates a 1-1 draw with Newcastle in 1998
Giuliano Grazioli missed the replay after scoring in the first match

Howey: "What had been said before the match wasn't brought up in the team talk but it was mentioned amongst ourselves when we were training or with a cup of tea before or after.

"I can't repeat the very words but you can imagine what was said. We were thinking 'We'll go down there and show these' and basically really go to town on them.

"Within two or three minutes the ball went down the line to Keith Gillespie who crossed, Alan scored a great header and we're thinking, 'these could crumble here'.

"But they stuck at it, got a goal, put us under pressure and we had one or two players, without naming names, that really didn't fancy it."

Fairclough had the day's last laugh, claiming he was pleased Shearer had played as his appearance had deprived Newcastle of a possible excuse.


Stevenage's players celebrated a hard-fought draw with a night on the town and an appearance on Channel 4's Big Breakfast programme the following morning. But relations with Newcastle were not improved by the result.

Fairclough: "I don't think Kenny rebuffed me after the match but, put it this way, he went inside very quickly and I never saw him again until the replay.

"He also mentioned the balls were not quite right, when in fact his autograph was on all the balls because he was endorsing that particular brand.

"I don't know how it leaked out, it certainly wasn't from our camp, but the media guys jumped on that straight away."

Green added that his team's centre-back Mark Smith, had the £15m Shearer "in his back pocket" - a piece of post-match analysis that went down particularly badly on Tyneside.

Fairclough: "I know we sold quite a lot of Stevenage shirts to Middlesbrough fans who were walking around Newcastle taunting the Newcastle fans."


After Newcastle's culture shock at Broadhall Way, Stevenage arrived at St James' Park to find a copy of fax sent by Graham Roberts, manager of fellow Conference side Yeovil, to the Magpies. The message wished Newcastle luck for the match and criticised Stevenage's attitude throughout the tie.

Fairclough: "It was just a bit surprising to find that. I was disappointed particularly as Graham Roberts had played for me in the past.

"I'll never know if it was left deliberately, but we weren't particularly interested in that, we were just so pleased we were there."

On the pitch Newcastle prevailed 2-1 with a Shearer brace outweighing Gary Crawshaw's 75th-minute consolation.

Steve Howey playing for Newcastle
Howey played for Newcastle for 11 years between 1989 and 2000

Fairclough: "The lads were very disappointed. Mark Smith had a sensational scissor-kick clearance off the line for Shearer's first and that was proven that it wasn't in.

"Our local university ran a virtual replay on it and it showed that it didn't go over the line.

"When we scored with about 10 minutes to go, I looked across at Kenny Dalglish and he had turned white.

"In the end anyone who attended those two games would have thought they were two Premiership sides."

Howey: "I think that we, in a quiet way, wanted to teach them a lesson.

"But again you have to take your hat off to them. The manager got them well-organised and in the end we won after Alan had scored a goal which I personally don't think was a goal."


Fairclough: "We got a fair bit of booing when we came out for the actual game because people had misread our lads and believed the Stevenage boys were cocky and arrogant.

"But at the end of the the game a lot of the Newcastle supporters stayed behind to applaud us off the pitch."

Dalglish was not one of those won over by the efforts of Fairclough's side however.

The Scot said that, had they been a Premier League side, Stevenage's behaviour during the tie would probably have earned a disrepute charge.

And if Smith had had Shearer in his pocket as Green claimed after the first match, Dalglish asserted that he "must have been talking of snooker pockets because Shearer kept putting the ball in".


Fairclough: "I had a premonition it was going to happen. I said to my wife even before Stevenage beat AFC Wimbledon that they would draw Newcastle in the next round.

"I would love to go to the game. I haven't been invited but I know some of the players from the past have."

Howey: "Can I see Newcastle losing this one? No, definitely not, but as the cliche goes, you can never say never in football.

"If you don't perform on the day and you are playing a team that are prepared to run their backsides off and ride their luck a little bit, any team can beat any team.

"I'll be watching it. With the history it has, it will definitely be getting my attention."

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see also
Westley out to right Toon wrongs
05 Jan 11 |  Stevenage
AFC Wimbledon 0-2 Stevenage
27 Nov 10 |  FA Cup
Stevenage keep Cup dream alive
26 Jan 98 |  Sport

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