Newcastle United are heading to Wembley on Sunday for the biggest occasion in the club’s recent memory, but also in the knowledge they are returning to the scene of some era-defining disappointments. This sleeping giant, with a city-strong army of supporters behind them but no domestic success since 1955, and none at all since 1969, face Manchester United in the Carabao Cup final.
They’ve been here before, hoping and dreaming only to be let down. Since winning the FA Cup 68 years ago, Newcastle have three times finished as runners-up in the competition, lost once in the League Cup final, twice in the Charity/Community Shield and, for good measure, twice finished second in the Premier League. “I’ve been at Wembley four times with Newcastle and we lost every time,” former Magpies midfielder Rob Lee tells BBC Sport. Lee was part of the last Newcastle side to play in a major final, in the 1999 FA Cup against the Red Devils.
The game ended in a 2-0 defeat, a year after the same result against Arsenal. That day 24 years ago the Magpies were a club divided and the final proved a real nadir in Lee’s career – he found himself, and senior players including Alan Shearer, locked in a bitter civil war with manager Ruud Gullit. “It wasn’t a great time for me,” he said. “We played Arsenal in ’98 under Kenny [Dalglish] and I was captain, but I wasn’t on speaking terms with Ruud. “I’m not sure he even wanted to play me but had nobody else to play on the right of midfield. I only played in cup games.”
Victory was everything for Newcastle because it felt like such a rare chance, but for Lee, it would have meant the end of his time at St James’ Park.