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NEWCASTLE UNITED: A HISTORY – THE 1903-04 SEASON IMPROVEMENT WAS MUCH NEEDED AS UNITED EMBARKED UPON THEIR 1903-04 FIRST DIVISION CAMPAIGN. Having finished a paltry fourteenth the previous season, and with behind the scenes turmoil still rearing its ugly head, something had to give. There would even be, at one point, some forty-four players on the clubs books as an improvement was being in sought in all quarters. Attendances were on the rise as the local support expected, even the United Reserves were attracting large numbers, some 9,000 plus attending a local affair with neighbouring Sunderland. They would be a side that would feature prominently during the second half of the season, more so off the field. On the field, and having been signed from Aston Villa for a then club record of £400 the previous season, Bobby Templeton would net in the opening fixture against his former employers in a 1-1 draw. Only one defeat though would be witnessed in the opening seven matches, a crushing 4-1 reverse away to Everton on September 19th, Jim Howie netting one of four in his first eight games for the Magpies. Of the victories that were collected through those opening six weeks, Small Heath (at home) and Derby County (away) was beaten 3-1, McColl and Howie netting in both. A seasonal high of second would be reached the week after the Derby game when a solo effort from Bill Appleyard took care of the visiting Manchester City on October 10th. United wouldn’t reach those heights again until the closing weeks of the season as they never dropped lower than seventh, their best return for a couple of seasons. The period between October and December though would ultimately prove costly in the title aspirations of the Magpies, despite a late flourish. Six defeats and two draws from the thirteen matches played before the end of 1903, including a year ending loss to their rivals on Boxing Day, would see a seasonal low of seventh going into 1904. Having defeated City, a 3-0 home win was handed to Wolves with Howie netting his fifth of a productive season. A double from Rutherford would then see United avenge the previous seasons reverses in the Tyne-Tees derby as visiting Middlesbrough were taken care of, 2-1, on November 14th and in front of a 28,000 strong crowd. The club though were now in the middle of a win one – lose one streak as a solitary goal reverse at Anfield was sharp followed by edging a five goal thriller at home to Bury as Howie bagged a brace and Appleyard also netted in a 3-2 win. The final success of the year would be another home win, Nottingham Forest having succumbed to a 3-1 defeat. Consecutive draws, including a 2-2 at Bramall Lane on Christmas Day, would be in vain though as rivals Sunderland inflicts defeat upon the Magpies on the soil of St. James’ soil the following (Boxing) Day. Six days later, on New Year’s Day, the Magpies would travel to Wearside and a goal from Ronald Orr, his second of the season, would see a hard-fought point gained. Those two TyneWear derbies would see more than seventy thousand spectators in attendance and over the festive period as well. During the second half of the season the Magpies would only taste defeat three times as a galvanised side made a late title push. The third of those defeats though, away to Forest, would be the final nail in those title aspirations. The remaining two defeats came at the hands of Small Heath (0-3) and Wolves (2-3), in early January and late February respectively. The defeat to Everton earlier in the season was to be avenged in mid-January before Stoke (3-2) and Notts. County (4-1) were despatched; Appleyard in the former and Orr in the latter, both grabbing doubles. A season double would then be registered over United’s Teesside rivals as that now usual triumvirate of Appleyard and Howie (with their twelfth goals of the season) and Rutherford (with his seventh) , scored in a 3-1 victory at Ayresome Park. A 1-1 draw at home to Liverpool was sharp followed by three straight victories over Bury (3-0), Manchester City (3-1) and Blackburn (2-1) as Orr would net five times during this spell, aiding United in their rise back to second in the table. Defeat away to Forest in the penultimate game though would be the final act for the Magpies in their title chase before the season finale. At home to champions Sheffield Wednesday, who had claimed their second championship in two seasons, the Magpies flew. The Owls, having finished just five points ahead of their hosts on April 16th (Manchester City and Everton were sandwiched between) were subsequently dismantled. Bill Appleyard would take the scoring plaudits with a brace on the final day, taking his tally to sixteen (two more than Howie whom had not scored the City game). Orr would grab a brace as well as he registered his sixth goal in five games to finish the season in double figures with eleven, the Owls getting their wings clipped on the back of a 4-0 defeat. 35 United’s final flourish can, in small part though, be attributed to the mid-seasonal arrival of new record signing, defender Andrew McCombie, from arch-rivals Sunderland. His £700 signing was to be, at the time, a new club and national record fee and his February arrival proved influential. His United debut would come in the 4-1 home win over Notts County, the first of over a century of appearances in a Black and White shirt for the Scotsman. As the season came to a close, head coach James McPherson, in his first season at the helm, and his United squad, would embark upon some thirteen friendlies in thirty-eight days, the Magpies winning ten and losing three. That month long, gruelling friendly schedule, would see a total of sixty-six goals encompassing local affairs as well as tours of Scotland and Denmark, the trip to Scandinavia being United’s first fixtures on foreign soil. Having defeated Hearts (3-2), St. Mirren (2-1) and Aberdeen (7-1) north of the border, the Magpies, quite literally, flew to Denmark, for a four match tour. Early May 1904, and in buoyant mood, a Copenhagen Select XI were destroyed twice in quick succession over two days, 6-1 and 6-2. Southampton was then on the wrong end of a 4-0 defeat before the tour concluded with a 3-1 win over a Danish Representative side. The season itself though would see Appleyard finish as the clubs top scorer with sixteen strikes, as well as being one of seven players to appear more than thirty times, Alec Gardner being the only everpresent though with thirty-five appearances. And then there was the first taste of glory!! Peter Mann