Newcastle United: ‘Cheat, Cheat, Cheat’ - The Time Fergie and The FA Fixed Kevin Keegan’s Premier League Title

The League table doesn’t lie is the sporting maxim - nor did Lance Armstrong, right? Newcastle United were the emerging superpower of The Premier League in the mid-1990s. With Kevin Keegan as Manager and his attacking, swashbuckling football financed by Sir John Hall’s millions, ‘The Entertainers’ as they were known threatened to take over the English game. In just 3 years, Keegan transformed The Magpies from a club on the brink of crashing out of Division Two and obscurity into genuine top flight title contenders. Superstars like David Ginola, Phillippe Albert fresh from The World Cup, England international striker Les Ferdinand and Peter ‘The Great’ Beardsley lined up in the black and white stripes for a club with seemingly unstoppable momentum.

After a 3rd placed finish in their first season back in The Premier League in 1993/4, their return to Europe slowed their progress the following season to 6th yet by 1995, they were ready to take on all comers for the English Championship. Starting the season like a house on fire, their football was breathtaking and results even more impressive. By Xmas 1995, they were 12 pts clear at the top of the League yet a visit to Old Trafford on December 27th and a 2-0 win for The Red Devils reduced the gap to 7 pts. Newcastle soon extended it back to 10pts in a pattern that would continue over the coming months. Ferguson’s team would claw within 4 or 7 points yet Keegan’s men would win again to extend their lead.

As the photo shows, it looked destined to go down to the wire. Premier League chiefs even began planning a possible Play-Off Final at Wembley if the League season couldn’t separate the sides by points or goal difference. I asked a member of the McDermott family last week - Keegan’s no. 2 was of course his former Liverpool teammate Terry - and this play-off scenario revealed by The Premier League on Twitter last week was new to them. Such is Sir Alex Ferguson’s legendary influence with the English FA and Premier League that it is unthinkable that he would not know what was being planned. With his young side also chasing The FA Cup, to what lengths would he go to ensure Keegan’s team were caught and overhauled and fixture congestion avoided?

I believe the answer can be found in Man United writer Giles Oakley’s 2011 blog, interestingly titled ‘‘Cheat, cheat, cheat!’ – How Cantona’s late strike at QPR put United on course for the Double Double in ’96’.

With nine games to go, Manchester United had a rare chance to go top of the table after beating Newcastle 1-0 – if they could get a point away to Ray Wilkins’ QPR. It would be a tremendous psychological blow for Keegan’s team to lose the lead they had enjoyed for the majority of the campaign. Only the match didn’t quite go according to plan, Daniel Dichio scoring to put Rangers ahead. Fergie’s young charges even with Cantona back in the side following his return from suspension were blowing their big chance to seize the lead. QPR needed three vital points in a season that was threatening relegation and were hanging on for dear life.

Oakley describes the scene in the blog via ‘The Republik of Mancunia‘:

The gnarled old man next to me was getting more incensed by the second as the ref indicated with three fingers there were three minutes to go, when everyone thought we were already deep into injury time. Then centre-back Steve Bruce powered into the opposition half, won the ball and fed it to Giggs who had burst forward for the umpteenth time, this time down the left. Giggsy lofted a perfect cross over to the far post where there was the inevitable figure of Eric Cantona to crash the ball into the net with controlled violence. Pandemonium, 1-1. The Rangers fans went absolutely berserk and some tried to get on the pitch, presumably to lynch the ref. The police grappled the intruders to the ground, and hauled them off.

‘Cheat, cheat, cheat!!’

‘Cheat, cheat, cheat!!’ they chanted in frothing fury when the ref blew the final whistle moments later.”

QPR fans from the site QPR-Report give their side of events that day:

I remember the Man U game very well and Cantona scoring in the 96th minute or whatever it was. The ref would have played all night if he could until Utd scored
Threre was so much fighting after the game when Utd fans taunted us and I saw grown men leaving their kids in the ground who you would never expect to be involved running outside.”

A second adds,

“I have never been so annoyed or felt so cheated at a match as I was that day, I remember running from the back row of the upper loft to the front of that section and if I could have got down onto the pitch I think I would of - the 15 foot drop put me off! That’s true what you said there were fans I’d seen at Rangers for years who had never got involved in any trouble and were placid going absolutely mental throwing stuff on the pitch and fighting with Man U fans outside. Fergie certainly had Robbie Hart (the ref) ,yes I remember the name, in his pocket at the end of that game.”

Against the odds, Man United were top in both seasons and finished Champions yet from all accounts, it had been against the rules. ‘FergieTime’ has passed into the football lexicon yet make no doubt about it, that it is a byword for institutionalised cheating. There’s no doubting Sir Alex is a great football manager yet the win-at-all-costs mentality of his teams on the pitch certainly extended off the pitch to the manipulation and coercion of referees.

It is a theory explored by Nadim Bedran in his Manchester United refereeing conspiracy series. Ferguson’s real greatness as a manager was knowing which match to fix. Clearly, waiting until the end of the season for a ‘FergieTime’ late winner would arouse too much suspicion. Yet arranging it in the home straight near to the end of the season as this QPR result was is a less conspicuous trump card to play. Two seasons before, Manchester United benefitted from perhaps the first ever important FergieTime winner in the run-up to clinching the 1992/3 title. That was at the end of the Man United-Sheffield Wednesday game in which Steve Bruce scored a 97th minute winner. This Tweet from Sheffield Wednesday’s Mark Bright was playing that day is revelatory:

Like in the 1995/6 season, the ‘Fergietime’ goal meant Manchester United went top never to relinquish their title. Coincidence or corruption? What the runaway train that was Newcastle United at the time would have went onto achieve will never be known, only the impact of losing their lead, stopped in the tracks of their prime by Fergie’s whistle-blowers. How many other sides were similarly robbed by a manager who counts Stalin among his major influences? How might football history have been different? Remember, the League table doesn’t lie - nor does Lance Armstrong.

4 Comments on "Newcastle United: ‘Cheat, Cheat, Cheat’ - The Time Fergie and The FA Fixed Kevin Keegan’s Premier League Title"

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  1. Quis says:

    Jesus, you need serious counseling. Rationalisation is one thing but to carry that paranoia for 20 years can’t be healthy…

    • Stuart Latimer Stuart Latimer says:

      Haha, I wouldn’t have contemplated it until I started investigating football corruption this year. Lance Armstrong’s critics were dismissed as cranks, now he is the biggest sporting disgrace to ever walk the earth. Yet everything changes quickly - especially in football. Watch this space. Fergie’s Time…

  2. Stuart Latimer Stuart Latimer says:

    The truth will out, it did with Lance Armstong, Fergie’s Time is truly coming…

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