“I will love it if we beat them.”
Everything was in place for Newcastle to be crowned Premier League champions in 1995/1996.
They had the players, the fans, a hilariously extroverted manager, and their kit was bloody brilliant.
But the season ended in disaster and as a result, sealed Newcastle’s place as the Premier League’s biggest bottle jobs.
Newcastle had finished sixth the season before and were a team in need of investment (some things never change).
Backed by Sir John Hall’s millions, Manager Kevin Keegan looked to fill the void left by Andy Cole who had been sold to Man United.
Les Ferdinand, David Ginola and Shaka Hislop were the standouts from the summer’s business.
Faustino Asprilla and David Batty would join in February, more on that later…
Newcastle made a storming start to the season, winning eight out of their first nine matches.
With Keegan setting his side out in an attacking 4-4-2 formation, the Magpies believed they could outscore any opposition.
Newcastle set the pace ahead of title favourites Man United and Liverpool — and they didn’t even bother with defending.
The team is still remembered fondly by fans…
Halfway there and Asprilla’s fur coat
Keegan’s men held a lead of 10 points at the top of the table on Christmas Day.
By mid-January, this was extended to 12 points and some fans would have privately believed the job was done.
Keegan didn’t want to take anything for granted and added to his squad in February.
Colombian Tino Asprilla arrived for £7million, a man who is best remembered for landing in Newcastle wearing an eye-catching fur coat.
He did also score a hat-trick against Barcelona in the Nou Camp… but have you seen that coat?
Asprilla admitted that he knew very little about the club when he signed: “I saw on the map that Newcastle was by the sea.
“I was imagining yachts in the harbour and somewhere with sun.”
The Colombian’s arrival was accompanied by the signing of David Batty from Blackburn, significantly less exciting.
The wheels began to fall off in February 1996.
Following a 2-1 defeat to West Ham in the middle of the month, Newcastle began to drop points and panic crept in.
Keegan’s side picked up just one win in six during a horrible run, which included a decisive defeat to title rivals United.
Eric Cantona scored the winner at St James’ Park in early March.
The result left United just a point behind Newcastle and the bad results kept coming.
Keegan’s side played out a seven-goal thriller at Anfield, losing 4-3 to Liverpool in a defeat which would prove costly.
The game is best remembered for Stan Collymore’s last-minute winner which left a deflated Keegan hanging over the advertising boards.
The result allowed United to overtake them in the table.
They had thrown away a lead of 12 points.
The pressure would all prove too much for Keegan.
Following Newcastle’s 1-0 win against Leeds on April 29, which put his side within three points of United, Keegan went onto give us one of the most memorable Premier League moments.
Kitted out in the most unnecessarily large pair of headphones and a finger primed at the ready, Keegan used his post-match interview to fire shots at Fergie and United.
The image would prove to be the iconic moment in Newcastle’s monumental collapse.
The title race went down to the wire, with Newcastle needing a win against Spurs and in hope that Middlesbrough would beat United.
Neither happened, as Keegan’s men could only manage a draw and United ran out 3-0 winners against Boro.
Newcastle ultimately finished four points behind United in what remains the most heart-wrenching collapse in Premier League history.
And you thought Steven Gerrard’s slip or Spurs finishing third in a two-horse race constituted a ‘bottlejob’…
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