CONTINENTAL TRAVELS – THE 1997-98 CHAMPIONS LEAGUE A SEASON THAT WILL BE FOREVER REMEMBERED FOR THAT ONE NIGHT AGAINST BARCELONA. A SEASON THAT WILL FOREVER BEG THE QUESTION OF – WHERE WERE YOU THE NIGHT THE MAGPIES, AND WOR TINO, BEAT THE MIGHTY BARCELONA AT ST. JAMES’ PARK? Having finished as Premier League runners-up to Manchester United for the second successive season, the Magpies would be granted their first ever assault on Europe’s top table, the elite, and the crème de la crème. First though they had to overcome a tricky, a very tricky, final qualifying round double header, their opponents were to be an Eastern European outfit in NK Croatia Zagreb. An unlikely hero would see the Magpies through what was to be a testing qualifier, both at home (winning 2-1) and abroad (drew 2-2). Defender John Beresford would finish this season with more goals to his name than in his previous five seasons combined with four coming in Europe, and a brace in this opening group game. A goal in each half from the rampaging full-back would give the Magpies a slender lead to take to Zagreb two weeks later. 30 The second leg was to be even harder though, the Croatians taking the tie into extra-time when, after Asprilla had scored from the penalty spot just before the interval, two second half strikes, including Cvitanovic’s second of the tie in the last minute of normal time, warranted an extra half hour to settle matters. Dalglish had made his final substitution during the extra period of play, bringing on the Georgian International, Temuri Ketsbaia, for the Dane, Jon Dahl Tomasson. It would be the Georgian whom would send the travelling Magpies into raptures, levelling on the night in the last minute and putting the seal on an incredible 4-3 aggregate victory. Newcastle United was through to the Group Stages of the Champions League for the first time in their long and illustrious history. Their reward though could not have been much greater – Dynamo Kiev of the Ukraine, Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven, and continental heavyweights in the form of Spain’s Barcelona, were pitted against Newcastle in Group C. Nobody though could have predicted the outcome of the opening group match on the night of September 17th as the mighty Barcelona swaggered into Toon and were beaten. Not only did wing-master Keith Gillespie play an absolute blinder, but his innovative play created two of hat-trick hero, Faustino Asprilla’s three goals; his first coming from the penalty spot. From back to front United were magnificent, incredible, for the opening seventy minutes, before late strikes from Luis Enrique and Luis Figo saw the game finish 3-2 in United’s favour. The win over Barcelona was followed up with a 2-2 draw in the Ukraine as two of the games goal scoring giants, Sergei Rebrov and Andrei Shevchenko had Kiev two goals up inside half an hour before the Toon’s own goal scoring giant popped up with a late, second half brace. The first would arrive from ten yards and the second, deflected home from a thirty yard pile driver as that man John Beresford struck again and, as the Official Club Magazine stated “a veritable squadron of flying pigs passed overhead.” Then things would get decidedly difficult, losing both home and away to the Dutch side PSV Eindhoven, and in the Camp Nou against Barcelona, all three without scoring. Only 26,000 ‘packed’ the Catalonian Citadel on November 26th as an early Giovanni goal sealed a 1-0 for Barcelona, but for one United player the night will always be remembered. A very raw, 18 year old defender from Cookstown, Northern Ireland, would make his debut, young Aaron Hughes replacing Philippe Albert at the interval. In fact Hughes’ first two appearances for United would be in the Champions League, playing in the second half of the final group game, a 2-0 home win over Dynamo Kiev. This time he replaced Alessandro Pistone; not bad for a teenager, replacing a Belgian and an Italian International in your first two, matches. United’s scorers against Kiev would be two of the British games stalwarts in John Barnes and Stuart Pearce. And that was that, the Champions League dream was over, until 2002 anyway. For more by Peter Mann, visit his website www.pmannsportswriter.wordpress.com !