Stevenage v Newcastle: Spirit of ’98 still alive and kicking after 20 years
- Credit: Archant
Stevenage’s FA Cup band of brothers from 1998, when Boro’s part-timers pushed eventual finalists Newcastle United all the way in round four, reunited at the weekend after 20 years.
It was clear on Saturday from the stories shared and the presence of Des Gallagher – who had travelled all the way from Perth, Australia – that this remains a special group with a strong bond. It was also clear that they have been dining out on their fourth-round exploits for all the past 20 years.
And the class of ’98 not only feel they should have beaten the Toon Army at Broadhall Way, rather than drawing 1-1 – they think they could have won the FA Cup itself.
No non-League side has done so since Tottenham Hotspur’s 1901 victory, but the Boro men said the preparations by manager Paul Fairclough and his staff were such that even little Jamie March felt 10ft tall when he pulled on that shirt with the diagonal red stripes.
On-loan hero Giuliano Grazioli, who nodded in Boro’s equaliser in the first match 20 years ago, said: “We believed we could beat anyone in a one-off cup tie.”
It was remarkable that Boro were in the fourth round at all. They almost went out in their first match, away at Carshalton.
“We were very lucky,” said attacker Neil Trebble. “We drew 0-0, and should have lost really. But we won the replay at home easily and the rest is history.”
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After victory at second-tier Swindon in the third round, Fairclough’s ruses to prepare his non-League charges for taking on Kenny Dalglish’s international stars, spearheaded by England captain Alan Shearer, included training with crowd noise over the loudspeakers. And Boro gave Newcastle a real fright, going down 2-1 only after a replay.
Trebble, who organised the reunion, said the scale of Boro’s achievement was huge – and even more so by today’s standards.
The big teams took the FA Cup more seriously 20 years ago, while today’s top non-League clubs are largely full-time. Boro’s players in 1998 were decorators and van men who trained twice a week – a far cry from the proud Stevenage FC we now know in the 21st century.
And Trebble said the spirit of ’98 had done much to pave the way for the club’s transformation.
“We played against major international players – Shearer, Batty, Pearce, Barnes – and held our own,” he said.
“What we did in 1998, and the lads who won the Conference in 1996, put the foundations down for where Stevenage FC are today.”