Stevenage v Newcastle: Remembering Boro’s big day, 20 years ago

PUBLISHED: 11:55 25 January 2018 | UPDATED: 16:57 25 January 2018

Gary Crawshaw, front, and Stevenage team-mates celebrate after the 1-1 draw with Newcastle United. Picture: The Comet

Gary Crawshaw, front, and Stevenage team-mates celebrate after the 1-1 draw with Newcastle United. Picture: The Comet

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Stevenage haven’t made it through to the fourth round of this year’s FA Cup – but today marks 20 years since a match at that stage provided one of the club’s most memorable days.

The match programme from Stevenage Borough's 1-1 FA Cup draw with Newcastle United on January 25, 1998. The match programme from Stevenage Borough's 1-1 FA Cup draw with Newcastle United on January 25, 1998.

Premier League giants Newcastle United were the visitors to non-League Stevenage Borough’s Broadhall Way ground – and a temporary stand was put up to allow more than 8,000 people to be there for the match.

It was Boro’s reward for shocking second-tier Swindon in the third round. And January 25 was the day the circus came to town, with banners, balloons and shivering page 3 girls as reality and fantasy converged into one.

The match captured the imagination not just of the town but of the nation – with 99 places between the teams in the league ladder, and England captain Alan Shearer set to take on foundry supervisor Mark Smith, delivery van driver Gary Crawshaw and painter-decorator Robin Trott.

The tie was almost not played at Broadhall Way at all, as Toon boss Kenny Dalglish unsuccessfully tried to get the game switched to St James’ Park on safety grounds.

Alan Shearer in action during the game. Picture: The Comet Alan Shearer in action during the game. Picture: The Comet

But Boro ended up playing on Tyneside anyway – in a replay, after loan man Giuliano Grazioli’s header cancelled out Shearer’s opener to earn a 1-1 draw.

Stevenage lined up with veteran stopper Des Gallagher in goal, and a defence made up of Smith, Trott, Mike Love and young James Dillnutt – thrown in at the deep end for one of only three appearances in a Boro shirt.

In midfield, Jason Soloman lined up alongside Steve Perkins, Simon Stapleton and Neil Trebble. Forwards Grazioli and Crawshaw completed the line-up.

Stevenage boss Paul Fairclough had assembled the matchday squad for just £30,000, while Newcastle fielded a team full of international stars, spearheaded by the £15 million talisman Shearer, marking his return after a longstanding injury.

One Geordie hoping for an upset was Boro’s record signing, boyhood Toon fan Paul Thompson – who had cost £15,000 from Gateshead in pre-season, but was out through injury.

The gulf in class appeared to have been exposed within 152 seconds, when Northern Ireland winger Keith Gillespie pounced on an error by left-back Love and crossed for Shearer, who made it 1-0 with a towering header.

But with shades of Hereford in 1972, Boro’s part-timers refused to be cowed, and piled forwards at Shaka Hislop’s net – where a curling free-kick from Trebble almost forced a Rob Lee own goal.

A would-be equaliser from Grazioli was ruled out for offside on 33 minutes, but nine minutes later the Cockney Italian had his moment of glory, squeezing in to nod in Crawshaw’s corner.

Match action during the Stevenage Borough vs Newcastle United FA Cup tie at Broadhall Way in 1998. Picture: The Comet Match action during the Stevenage Borough vs Newcastle United FA Cup tie at Broadhall Way in 1998. Picture: The Comet

The Tynesiders came out with more purpose in the second half, but Boro deservedly held on at 1-1 – and it all ended with the heroes in red and white running a lap of honour as half of Stevenage invaded the pitch.

The replay at St James’ Park was another glorious night for Stevenage, as the men from Broadhall Way pushed Dalglish’s moneybags XI all the way again – roared on by some 2,000 fans who made the long journey up the A1.

Shearer opened the scoring again, with a controversial goal that TV pictures suggested shouldn’t have been allowed, before adding a second.

There was no Grazioli this time due to injury – but the Geordies still got a good fright after Crawshaw pulled one back with 16 minutes left on the clock.

To this day, any Stevenage fan will tell you the Magpies’ first effort – acrobatically cleared by Mark Smith – didn’t cross the line. Indeed, a national newspaper published a digitised snapshot supporting the claim it didn’t.

Stevenage finally avenged the replay defeat in 2011, when Newcastle came to Broadhall Way again in the FA Cup third round – with Michael Bostwick and Peter Winn scoring in a deserved 3-1 win for buoyant Boro.

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