Newcastle United and manager Joe Harvey were prepared for changes and a new challenge in the 1970s, ready to build upon the positivity of their triumph in the 1969 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup final. A new character would soon lead the front-line and don the legendary number nine shirt for the Toon, but few would have expected Malcolm Macdonald to make such an impact so soon.
As flamboyant and charismatic as he was talented in those days, Macdonald’s home debut at St. James’ Park was a truly stunning display that endeared him immediately to his new Geordie fans. Several important moments led to that special day in August 1971, for both the Magpies and their superb striker.
With the likes of captain Bobby Moncur and David Craig leading the way, the 1960s ended in spectacular fashion for Newcastle. Progressing through the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (the predecessor to the UEFA Cup) during the 1968/69 campaign, United defeated Portuguese side Vitória de Setúbal in the quarter-finals before dispatching Rangers in the final four.
A 6-2 aggregate victory against Újpesti Dózsa of Hungary produced their first European trophy, and offered a massive event for the club to gain momentum from in the near future. But by the start of the 1971/72 season, the Newcastle attack was being altered in a significant manner.
Wyn Davies and Pop Robson had provided the firepower in previous years, though both players had now left Tyneside. Robson signed with West Ham, with Davies moving on to Manchester City. A dilemma was created for Harvey, and the former Toon midfielder knew his squad required a spark. Attention was turned to a brash young man from London, and Macdonald’s arrival would bring a new hero to the Gallowgate End for a number of years.
Originally beginning as a defender before moving into a forward role, Macdonald’s career started at Tonbridge Angels. He caught the eye of Sir Bobby Robson in 1968, joining Fulham for a brief period. The potential was evident, and the production would truly be noticed after signing with Luton Town in 1969. In 101 matches with the Hatters, Macdonald netted 58 goals.
Possessing exceptional pace and the power to handle even the toughest of defenders, the sky seemed to be the limit for the young striker. Harvey recognised the promise in Macdonald, breaking the club’s transfer record (£180,000) to add him to the squad in the summer of 1971. Newcastle’s new forward made quite the impression before even playing a match, pulling up to the grounds in a Rolls Royce and brashly stating that his expectation for the new campaign was 30 goals.
In an interview with The Telegraph earlier this year, Macdonald spoke about the impact from that day. “They called me Super Mouth when I signed for Newcastle because I said my target was to score 30 goals in my first season. I turned up in a Rolls Royce, it wasn’t mine, I’d been driven up by one of the directors from Luton, but it made an impression, that’s for sure.”
Despite never playing in the top flight before, Macdonald had his sights set very high. Fans and pundits were skeptical, and in some ways rightfully so. In their eyes, this seemingly arrogant and unproven player was out of his depth. The Toon Army had celebrated a European title only two years earlier, and there was concern about the state of United’s attack without Davies and Robson.
All that would change on a Saturday afternoon at St. James’ Park against Liverpool. Harvey and his squad had a massive challenge in front of them, facing a talented side with quality throughout the line-up. The dynamic duo of Kevin Keegan and John Toshack were bound to cause problems for the defence, and Newcastle needed to be at their best to earn a result. Adding to those tricky obstacles, the match did not begin in the best of ways for the Magpies.
Emlyn Hughes’ superb shot from outside the penalty area was unable to be stopped by United goalkeeper Willie McFaul, and the Reds had a 1-0 advantage within the first 15 minutes of the fixture. Liverpool manager Bill Shankly kept his team organised and focused, but that would soon change. David Young won a penalty for Newcastle, and Macdonald scored the club’s first goal of the new season from the spot in the 26th minute. Now level at 1-1, the striker was still set to thrill the home crowd even more as time went on.
A cool and confident run-up to the ball, there never seemed to be a shred of doubt from Macdonald, and he left no chance for Liverpool keeper Ray Clemence. Fans swarmed their new hero to celebrate his first goal for the club, and they would not have to wait very long for the second. The game seemed set to enter half-time with the 1-1 scoreline, except for a few frantic final minutes before the break that completely altered the complexion of the encounter.
A penalty was given to Liverpool just a few minutes before the first half ended, and captain Tommy Smith stepped up to give the Reds a 2-1 lead. Instead, sharp reflexes from McFaul in the Newcastle goal kept the ball out, and the Magpies made the most of the opportunity at the other end. Macdonald gained possession near the box, turned his defender and rifled a scorching effort into the back of the net to put Newcastle ahead. Not bad for a cocky kid who hadn’t played in the first division.
Macdonald would provide a boost beyond just scoring as well, with accurate passing and strong defensive work also a part of his repertoire. One sequence saw Liverpool devastatingly close to finding an equaliser, only for Newcastle’s number nine to be the critical last defender with a heart-pounding goalline clearance.
The match carried quite a bit of pace, with both sides using long passes to open up space. Possession was hard to come by, and required tough movements from those who wanted the ball. Liverpool were pressing for a second goal, but Macdonald would complete his stunning hat-trick before that took place.
A sensational passing combination with his new team-mates created an opportunity in front of goal, and Macdonald’s finish was absolutely exquisite. Three goals, and Tyneside certainly had a new king. A chant would break out from the St. James’ Park crowd, and it would come to define his time in the North East. “Supermac, superstar, how many goals have you scored so far” to the tune of Jesus Christ Superstar would ring from the terraces, and even Macdonald was amazed at how quickly the song came to be. “I’ve never quite understood how everyone knew the lyrics so quickly, it was as if they had handed out the lyrics.”
Keegan would score a second goal for Liverpool, but United would see out the 3-2 result for a victory. Only adding to the legendary performance, Macdonald was subbed off with a concussion after a brutal collision with Clemence, as both players were charging down a loose ball in the Liverpool half. But a star was born, and “Supermac” would come to be the face of the 1970s for Newcastle.
Remarkably, he would achieve the lofty aspirations he set for himself before the campaign began, scoring 30 goals across all competitions for the Toon during the 1971/72 term. Macdonald played five seasons for Newcastle, and was the team’s top scorer in each one of them. His 138 goals rank fifth in the club’s all-time list, behind only Hughie Gallacher, Len White, Jackie Milburn and Alan Shearer.
His unstoppable pace frustrated the opposition during this period, and Macdonald always seemed to find success when his team needed it the most. He captured the top flight’s golden boot in 1975/76, and led the Magpies to the FA Cup final in 1974. On the international stage, a five-goal masterpiece against Cyprus for England only added to the somewhat mythical aura surrounding the forward. Macdonald would have many games that were extraordinary, but few summed up his magic quite like that home debut versus Liverpool.
The summer of 1976 would bring a new setting for Macdonald, and he was sold to Arsenal for an unusual fee of £333,333.33. Ultimately, the catalyst for the decision was Newcastle’s new manager Gordon Lee. Described as a no-nonsense individual, he had signed on the year before, clashing with Macdonald’s bold personality and style. The striker would later claim “I loved Newcastle, until Gordon Lee took over”.
He would enjoy two productive years with the Gunners at Highbury, even capturing another golden boot before retiring from professional football in 1979. Newcastle did not fare much better without him, as the team struggled following his exit. Lee would not last long as manager, and the Magpies suffered relegation to the second tier in 1978. Macdonald and the Toon were special together, and it took some time for Newcastle to find themselves once again – the arrival of Kevin Keegan in 1982 definitely helped.
Footballers today are not shy when it comes to their image and their talents, with many quick to boast anytime someone will listen. It can be viewed as arrogant, but in reality it is often only arrogance if it is not backed up on the pitch. Malcolm Macdonald came to Newcastle United ready to shock the world, and it all started with an unforgettable win over Liverpool in 1971.
By Roy Emanuel