The FA Cup may be dying a slow death according to some, but back in 1974 the famous old competition threw up a tie that not only produced one of the greatest games of the season, but also provided one of the most controversial incidents in the cup’s long history as two teams played out a match that, to this day, doesn’t officially exist.
When we constantly hear that, ‘the last thing either club wants is a replay', it’s difficult to imagine that there was a time that teams would play, play and play again, if necessary, to determine a winner in English cup competitions.
Incredibly, though, when Newcastle United and Nottingham Forest were forced into a do-over, it wasn’t even as though the two sides had been inseparable the first time around, unable to break their opponents down. The Magpies had actually won the game thanks to a remarkable comeback in one of the all-time FA Cup classics.
It's hard to imagine now but before Brian Clough's arrival at the City Ground in the mid 1970s, Nottingham Forest were a shadow of the side that would eventually win the First Division champions and European Cup – twice.
They were side who had not enjoyed any real glory since winning the FA Cup in 1959, and for the relatively small crowds that did turn up to see their heroes there seemed little to get excited about in the future.
Newcastle, on the other hand, had won the 1969 Fairs Cup after a convincing 6-2 two-legged final win against Újpest FC – their last major trophy success – so for their long-suffering fans, the thought that domestic glory might just around the corner wouldn't have been too far fetched.
Despite European success Newcastle were chasing their first domestic silverware since 1955, but, in truth, there was little to suggest that this fixture would eventually become one of the most infamous in the history of these two famous old clubs.
In a season when the average crowd was just over 30,000, some 52,551 crammed into St James’ Park, with around 10,000 fans from Nottingham making the journey north, the majority of whom were housed in the Gallowgate End – a vast uncovered terrace behind one of the goals.
Newcastle United, under the guidance of Joe Harvey included Fairs Cup winning captain Bob Moncur, as well as future greats of the game like Terry McDermott, Frank Clark, Alan Kennedy and the super-confident “Super Mac”, Malcolm Macdonald.
Forest, despite not boasting such big names, had still managed to get past Manchester City and Portsmouth, thanks to a certain Duncan McKenzie; who had scored in all of the previous rounds.
Within minutes, though, the form book had been thrown out the window, as it only can be in the FA Cup, when Forest took the lead through Ian Bowyer, who latched onto a hopeful up-and-under from Martin O’Neil. The mass of Forest fans at the other end erupted.
Soon after, Toon full-back David Craig leveled, only for Liam O’Kane to put the visitors 2-1 up with a vicious drive – all this and it still wasn’t half time. But it wasn’t until the second half that things really got interesting as the tie that had been simmering nicely suddenly boiled over.
When Forest were awarded a penalty for a dubious looking trip on McKenzie, United defender Pat Howard was so incensed that he was sent off for arguing with the referee. The delay didn't seem to bother George Lyle though, who lashed the spot-kick home right in front of the hoards of Forest fans. 3-1 and surely that was enough?
Meanwhile, hundreds of Newcastle supporters who were packed in at the Leazes End began clambering over the advertising hoardings, either to escape the crush or in an effort to interrupt the game.
Seconds later and there was a full-on pitch invasion and in the chaos Forest's David Serella was hit on the head. Absolute pandemonium followed with hundreds of people being injured and 23 eventually being taken to hospital while 39 arrests were made for a number of offences.
But Instead of the match being abandoned referee Gordon Kew instructed the players retreated to the dressing room while they waited for police officers to clear the field. Despite two Nottingham Forest players being injured, following the attacks, the referee decided to wait until order was restored before restarting the match.
When play finally did resume it was as if 10-man Newcastle had been given a new lease of life. Roared on by the hostile crowd, they went for their opponent's jugular and a Terry McDermott penalty reduced the deficit, before John Tudor made it 3-3 with a spectacular diving header; a replay looked to be the best outcome on an increasingly fraught afternoon.
There was, however, one final twist when Malcolm MacDonald set up Bobby Moncur to make it 4-3 to Newcastle in the dying seconds. St James’ Park erupted, apart from the Forest fans at the Gallowgate End into a frenzy and, to the relief of the Toon fans, not to mention Mr Kew, the game finished with Newcastle as the victors. Once more the Newcastle fans raced on to the pitch poured onto the pitch but this time in celebration rather than fury.
Unfortunately for Newcastle their joy was short lived. Nottingham Forest immediately protested to the FA about the treatment of their players and the secretary of the FA, Ted Croker, quickly announced that a special committee of would investigate the incident with an eye to disqualifying Newcastle.
However, the subcommittee ruled that – in spite of Mr. Croker's comments – the match would actually be replayed at a neutral venue and Newcastle would be given a reprieve.
With the game having to be played over again it meant that the encounter that had taken place just a matter of days before was deemed to have never happened; the original tie would now have to be played again, this time hundreds of miles away at Everton’s Goodison Park.
Somewhat predictably, the teams played out a dour goalless draw and another replay was ordered – back at Goodison once more. In keeping with the previous encounters, Forest had a goal controversially disallowed and the game went to extra-time; but a Malcolm Macdonald effort was allowed to stand and meant, as they had all along, Newcastle would go through to the semi-finals, but only at the third time of asking.
If nothing else this ill-tempered trilogy ensured there would be bad blood between the two sides for years to come.
“Newcastle were unable to even spell our name correctly,” says Philip Soar in his book ‘The Official History of Nottingham Forest', referring to the match programme from the original tie which referred to the visitors as, “Notts Forest.”
There will be some who feel that justice was done when the Magpies were thrashed by Kevin Keegan and Liverpool at Wembley despite a confident Malcolm MacDonald claiming before the game that he was going to, “rip through Bill Shankly's defence.”
His threats never came to fruition and Liverpool romped to a 3-0 win – the largest winning margin in a final for 14 years. Following the demolition Liverpool’s Emlyn Hughes was asked what his team's motivation had been. “Malcolm Macdonald,” he said.
But it wasn't all bad for Forest. Three years later Brian Clough arrived at the City ground and would eventually go on to claim the First Division title and European Cup by the end of the decade. Newcastle, on the other hand, are still waiting for domestic silverware.