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.
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.
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.
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.
In 2007, Mike Ashley swept in as the club’s new owner, with chairman Freddy Shepherd saying the billionaire businessman and his company would be “excellent custodians of Newcastle United’s heritage”.
But his 14-year tenure was divisive, with Ashley criticised for a lack of investment in the transfer market and some supporters protesting about the way he ran the club.
The Magpies were relegated twice in that time, and it was openly stated cup competitions were not a priority.
“Newcastle United has felt like the butt of all jokes; we’ve been a laughing stock,” says Adam Widdrington of the True Faith fanzine and podcast.
The limited resources we had were bunched into keeping the club in the Premier League.”
Newcastle are more united than they have been in years, challenging for Champions League qualification and with ambitions to make this weekend the first of many historic occasions.
At the time, Newcastle were floundering, winless at the bottom of the table with unpopular manager Steve Bruce in charge.
The fact it has taken less than 18 months for the Magpies to become truly competitive is testament to the work of Bruce’s successor, Eddie Howe.
It is phenomenal; when the takeover first happened, we dreamed of this in five years’ time,” Widdrington adds.
Newcastle are tactically very astute, with an incredibly strong defence that has only conceded 15 league goals this season, an average of 0.7 per game.
Improvements in players he inherited, such as midfielder Joelinton and wide forward Miguel Almiron, are the best way to measure Howe’s impact.
“From the first day with the new manager it was something different,” says Longstaff.
“He is someone I will be forever grateful to and he has saved my Newcastle career in a way.
Blyth-born defender Dan Burn, one of the first signings made under the current regime in January 2022, says the entire club’s mindset has to be right if they are to be successful.
“We are fifth in the league and have made a League Cup final so we are doing something right.
“The new ownership and the way the club is approaching cup competitions is something which has not been done in the past.
“The staff do a lot for the players from outside, making presentations showing them about the area,” Longstaff adds.