Newcastle's Champions League: From Beating Barca To Blowing It Against Belgrade

The Magpies return to the UCL next season for the first time in 20 years
12:01, 12 Jul 2023

Newcastle United will make their grand return to the Champions League next season. The Magpies will line up in Europe’s elite competition for the first time in 20 years. A generation of Newcastle fans will never have experienced their team competing on such a stage. Meanwhile, more seasoned supporters probably never imagined they would be back here again. The Mike Ashley years saw the club drop into the Championship twice. Now Newcastle will be rubbing shoulders with European royalty.

It is rarefied air they have breathed on three occasions during the Champions League era. The first such dalliance came in the 1997-98 season, after the North East club finished second to Manchester United for the second season in a row. It would be a fairly brief but exhilarating ride.


After qualifying for the group stage with a 4-3 aggregate win over Croatia Zagreb, Newcastle were handed a doozy of a group. Manager Kenny Dalglish would be welcoming Barcelona to St James’ Park in their group opener. Against all the odds, the mercurial Faustino Asprilla bagged a hat-trick that has since ascended into Geordie folklore. Goals from the legendary likes of Luis Enrique and Luis Figo were not enough to turn the black and white tide. Newcastle won 3-2 to give their European campaign a dream start.

A 2-2 draw away to a Dynamo Kyiv side featuring Andriy Shevchenko wasn’t a bad follow-up. But from here the wheels fell off for Dalglish’s men. PSV Eindhoven’s talented ranks boasted Jaap Stam and Wim Jonk. They took all six points off the Magpies across consecutive fixtures. Meanwhile, Barcelona secured their revenge with a Giovanni goal the difference in a 1-0 defeat at Camp Nou. John Barnes and Stuart Pearce netted in a 2-0 win at home to Dynamo Kyiv in their final game but it wasn’t enough. Newcastle were out at the first hurdle.

They wouldn’t be back for a while. While they did play European football in the form of a Cup Winners' Cup campaign and a third-round elimination in the UEFA Cup, Newcastle would not be back at the top table until the 2002-03 campaign.

After seeing off Zeljeznicar from Sarajevo in qualifying, Newcastle had a nightmare start to the group stage. Old enemies Dynamo Kyiv got their revenge for five years earlier with a 2-0 win while Feyenoord and Juventus also handed out troubling defeats. Newcastle failed to score across their first three games of the campaign proper.


But Sir Bobby Robson’s men, galvanised by the likes of Alan Shearer, Gary Speed and Craig Bellamy, battled back. Right-back Andy Griffin was the unlikely hero in a 1-0 win over Juve. Shearer scored the winner from the penalty spot in a 2-1 victory at home to Dynamo, then Newcastle sealed qualification for the next stage with a dramatic last-minute Bellamy winner in Rotterdam to see off Feyenoord 3-2. 

It is perhaps an example of the misfortune Newcastle fans are well used to that this success came during the Champions League’s experiment with having two group stages. Instead of getting put into a straight, two-legged shootout with another club Newcastle had to go again with another six matches. To make matters worse, they drew a double-tough group featuring Inter Milan, previous rivals Barcelona and the previous season’s runners-up, Bayer Leverkusen.

Starting almost as poorly as they did in the first group stage, Robson’s men lost 4-1 at home to Inter and 3-1 at Barcelona. A 3-1 away win over Bayer, featuring a Shola Ameobi brace, offered hope. When a Shearer hat-trick saw the scoreline repeated at St James’, the mood lifted. But a 2-2 draw at San Siro and a Barcelona win on Tyneside in the final game dashed such optimism. Newcastle were out at the group stage again, albeit this time having qualified from one already. 

A third-placed Premier League finish would bring them back the following year. Nolberto Solano’s winner in a 1-0 win over Partizan Belgrade in the first leg of their qualifier set pulses racing. But when Partizan visited St James’ Park they too notched a 1-0 win before emerging the victors on penalties. Inconceivably, Shearer, Kieron Dyer, Jonathan Woodgate and Aaron Hughes all missed from the spot as they were beaten 4-3. Out with a whimper and out of the Champions League. Newcastle did reach the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup that year, losing to Marseille, but it was the end of their UCL era… until now.

Newcastle’s Champions League history is a mixed one. Wonderful moments like beating Barcelona and Juventus are tempered by qualifying exits and group stage disappointment. But this is a new era and a new club. One that can pursue world class talent like Sandro Tonali and has the deep pockets to duke it out at the very top. Eddie Howe will have reminded Newcastle’s players of their history in this competition. But he will be far more focused on what could be an incredibly bright future.

newcastle to win the 23/24 ucl: 22/1*

*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change

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