#4 Newcastle United
The early history of the North East’s biggest club will be forever linked to the Northern League. Newcastle United were one of the founding members of the League when it was formed in 1889. This was before St James’ Park, before the black and white stripes, and before the club was even called Newcastle United. The side played at Heaton Junction, wore blue shirts and white shorts, and was called East End FC.
The Northern League kicked off on 7 September 1889, and East End hosted Darlington at the Heaton ground, just off Chillingham Road. The visitors were 45 minutes late, and the 1,500-strong crowd, who had paid thruppence each for admission (about 75p in today’s money), were kept entertained by a display of ball skills from the Heatonians. Interestingly, East End lined up with three players called J Miller. James Miller was East End’s captain and centre forward, and there were two John Millers, playing inside left and outside right. Unsurprisingly, there is some confusion over which of the J Millers scored in the 2-1 win.
East End’s next match was a derby against cross-city rivals West End, at a place called St James’ Park. West End won 2-0, and went on to finish above East End in the league, ending up second behind eventual winners Darlington St Augustine’s. But East End improved on and off the field in subsequent seasons. They rose from fifth in 1890/91, to fourth in 1891/92, to second in 1892/93. And 1892/93 was a huge year for the club.
West End had gone out of business in the summer due to financial difficulties, and East End had taken over the lease at St James’ Park. East End had also changed their colours – not yet to black and white, but to red jerseys and white shorts. Due to a spate of clubs folding, there were only six sides in the league during this season. The club played a handful of Northern League games as East End at SJP, but in December, in an effort to placate aggrieved fans of both East End and West End, the club changed its name to Newcastle United.
The 1892/93 season finished with Newcastle in second place in the Northern League, behind the formidable and unbeaten Ironopolis. It was Newcastle’s final season in the Northern League. In the summer they successfully applied for election into the second division of the newly-expanded Football League. Ironopolis and Sheffield United also joined the Football League, and the Northern League reorganised itself and became a purely amateur competition.
It wasn’t the end of Newcastle United’s connection with the Northern League, of course, and various players have graduated from the Northern League talent pool to play for the Toon, including Chris Waddle, Frank Clark and Steve Harper. The histories of NUFC and the Northern League will always be entwined.
Paul Brown is a Toon fan and football writer. You can follow his work on twitter @realpaulbrown or on his excellent blog Stuff by Paul Brown, which recently featured a journey around all the former home grounds of Newcastle East End, one of the precursors of Newcastle United Football Club. Paul is also the author of the highly recommended Unofficial Football World Champions.