When Newcastle last played in the Champions League

One of football’s greatest obscurities will forever be that the legendary Diego Maradona made as many appearances in Europe’s premier club competition as the, well, less legendary Titus Bramble.

The unheralded defender may not have twice broken the world transfer record or inspired his own religion – although, Titus does feature in the New Testament – but he was a cog in the last Newcastle team to play in the Champions League during the 2002/03 season.

Eddie Howe – along with the eye-watering millions invested by the club’s controversial owners (and Jason Tindall, of course) – has achieved the “dream” of leading Newcastle back to the continental summit for the first time in two decades.

Here’s how the Magpies fared during their last Champions League run.

Xavi Hernandez didn’t make it back out onto the pitch for the second half of Barcelona‘s trip to St James’ Park in March 2003. 20 years later, Xavi may lead the Blaugrana out in the north eastern cauldron as manager of the La Liga champions.

Barcelona were fortunate to go into the break with the game still goalless as Craig Bellamy squandered Newcastle’s best chances, coming closest with a shot that Victor Valdes tipped onto the post.

Sir Bobby Robson, in charge of his boyhood club and opposite the Catalan side that ruthlessly moved him out of the dugout after just one season, watched on as Patrick Kluivert and Thiago Motta provided Barcelona with the clinical edge which his Newcastle side lacked. Inter’s victory over Bayer Leverkusen rid Newcastle’s game of any consequence but it was a sour end to what had been a thrilling campaign.

After the first three games of the 2002/03 Champions League group stage, Newcastle had zero points and zero goals. No team had ever qualified for the knockout stages of the competition after three opening defeats and only one (Atalanta in 2019/20) has done it since.

Newcastle began their historic turnaround with a narrow 1-0 win at home to Juventus courtesy of the only Champions League goal of Andy Griffin’s career. Second-half strikes from Gary Speed and Alan Shearer completed a comeback win over Dynamo Kyiv, teeing up a grand crescendo to Group E.

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Heading into the final games of the first group stage in November 2002, all four of Feyenoord, Dynamo, Juventus and Newcastle could still qualify – with only the Italian giants guaranteed.

As Newcastle’s match with Feyenoord ticked into the 90th minute, Dynamo were posed to follow the Turin club into the knockout rounds. However, Bellamy was first to the rebound from Kieran Dyer’s shot, firing the ball from a tight angle with so much venom that it squirmed off the midriff of goalkeeper Patrick Lodewijks and over the line.

The 3-2 victory in Rotterdam was widely billed at the time as a ยฃ10m jackpot in reflection of the funds Newcastle would earn by finishing second but Robson summed it up much better. “It was a fluctuating and historical evening.”

Newcastle were drawn against Barcelona, Inter and Bayer Leverkusen in the second round of group-stage matches. The Magpies again began with successive defeats – shipping seven goals across heavy losses to Inter and Barcelona.

Robson’s side did defeat the previous year’s finalists Leverkusen home and away before Alan Shearer twice put Newcastle ahead at San Siro, taking his personal haul to six Champions League goals – the same tally as Real Madrid’s latest Galactico Ronaldo. However, the Nerazzurri equalised each time, taking qualification for the quarter-finals out of Newcastle’s hands.

Bellamy may have been wasteful against Barcelona in Newcastle’s most recent Champions League match but it was his goal that saw the Magpies scrawl their name in the competition’s history with that miraculous group-stage rebirth.

Two decades later, Howe has bought tickets for another ride on the European rollercoaster.





Third qualifying round first leg

Zeljeznicar 0-1 Newcastle


Third qualifying round second leg

Newcastle 4-0 Zeljeznicar


First group stage

Dynamo Kyiv 2-0 Newcastle


First group stage

Newcastle 0-1 Feyenoord


First group stage

Juventus 2-0 Newcastle


First group stage

Newcastle 1-0 Juventus


First group stage

Newcastle 2-1 Dynamo Kyiv


First group stage

Feyenoord 2-3 Newcastle


Second group stage

Newcastle 1-4 Inter


Second group stage

Barcelona 3-1 Newcastle


Second group stage

Bayer Leverkusen 1-3 Newcastle


Second group stage

Newcastle 3-1 Bayer Leverkusen


Second group stage

Inter 2-2 Newcastle


Second group stage

Newcastle 0-2 Barcelona


On this week’s edition ofย Talking Transfers, part of the 90min podcast network,ย Scott Saunders is joined byย Toby Cudworthย andย Graeme Baileyย to discuss all the latest transfer news. On the agenda: Declan Rice, Mason Mount, Granit Xhaka, Martin Odegaard, Ivan Toney, Ruben Loftus-Cheek & more!

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