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Football League Greats: Malcolm Macdonald

30 October 2012

Some 240 miles separate Newcastle and London as the crow flies but the cultural, let alone sporting gulf, between the two great cities is considerably greater. Football may be a religion in the North East and the capital alike but the faithful worship very different Gods.

Malcolm Macdonald was under no illusions about the chasm when he journeyed north in 1971, signing for the Magpies in a £180,000 deal from Luton Town. The 21-year-old from Fulham was venturing into uncharted territory and despite two prolific seasons for the Hatters, the young striker had no top-flight experience. The Newcastle supporters were sceptical and so too was the media.

"When I first arrived on Tyneside a lot of the newspaper articles were derisive, suggesting a Second Division player was going to find the top tier something altogether different," he said. "But goals always shut moaners up and get the crowds cheering. I'm not a person to in any way be overwhelmed."

'Supermac' did not disappoint.

In five seasons at Newcastle, he scored 95 Football League goals in 187 appearances and quickly became an adopted Geordie, his place in the pantheon of Newcastle United's famed number nines assured.

A muscular but lightning quick centre-forward who was never afraid to attempt the audacious and outrageous, Macdonald began his career at Fulham in 1968 when the late, great, Bobby Robson plucked him from the relative obscurity of the Southern League and gave him his big chance with his local club.

A full-back in his teenage years, he began the transition to striker at Craven Cottage but it was at Kenilworth Road in colours of Luton Town that Macdonald blossomed into a genuine predator, scoring 49 league goals in just 88 games.

Newcastle United manager Joe Harvey was evidently watching and in the summer of 1971, Macdonald became a Magpie.

The burning question was how the youngster from south west London would perform in the North East's finest football cathedral, and the answer was provided when he made his St James' Park debut against Liverpool.

The Magpies had failed to score in their opening two league games that season against Crystal Palace and Spurs but the goal drought ended spectacularly as Macdonald slammed home a glorious hat-trick in a 3-2 victory.

Tyneside had a new hero in its midst.

He never won a major honour with the club - despite his two goals against Burnley at Hillsborough in the semis sending Newcastle into the 1974 FA Cup final - but in his five years he finished as the top scorer each and every season.

International recognition came in 1972 with the first of his 14 England caps in a match with Wales but it was his stunning performance three years later in a European Championship qualifier against Cyprus that earned him a place in Three Lions folklore when he scored a fantastic five.

The arrival of Gordon Lee, as Harvey's replacement, later that year was to spell the end of his time in the North East, however. Lee resented Supermac's superstar status and their relationship irrevocably broke down on a pre-season tour of Majorca in the summer of 1976, prompting Macdonald to hand in a transfer request.

To the dismay of the fans, he signed for Arsenal. He spent three seasons at Highbury and again came within touching distance of major silverware with two goals in the semi-finals of the FA Cup in 1978 against Leyton Orient only to finish on the losing side at Wembley.

His playing days were cruelly curtailed by a serious knee injury sustained in a League Cup clash with Rotherham in 1978 and despite a long battle to regain full fitness, he accepted defeat nearly a year later and retired.

"I had a very difficult 10 months and knew during then I was fighting a desperately uphill battle," he said. "When the final word is given it is very difficult to accept. So I walked out of Highbury for the first-time as a non-player and met friends at Lords Cricket Ground , had a couple of beers, witnessed a wonderfully exciting innings from Ian Botham, took the train home and woke up the following morning to get on with the rest of my life."

In 1980 the 'rest of his life' took him back to Craven Cottage as Fulham's new manager, replacing Bobby Campbell. The Cottagers were languishing in Division Three but Macdonald proved an astute operator in the transfer market, bringing in Ray Houghton, Ray Lewington and Paul Parker and alongside the likes of resident players Sean O'Driscoll, Gordon Davies and Tony Gale, Fulham prospered.

Elevation to the Second Division came in 1982 and Macdonald and his side came agonisingly close to back-to-back promotions the following season only to finally finish fourth. He left the Cottagers in 1984 and after an ill-fated stint at the helm at Huddersfield Town during the 1987/88 season, he called time on his managerial career.

Life after football proved colourful and sometimes controversial. Bankruptcy, a successful battle with alcoholism and marital problems all tested his resolve to the limit but his media work and role as an agent all proved 'Supermac' still had plenty to offer.

More significantly, Macdonald's name is still reverently mentioned on Tyneside in the same breath as the Gallacher, Milburn and Shearer; an enduring tribute to the Londoner who captured the hearts and minds of the Geordie faithful.

Career Statistics:
Fulham (1968-69) - 13 Football League appearances, 5 goals
Luton Town (1969-71) - 88 Football League appearances, 49 goals
Newcastle United (1971-76) - 187 Football League appearances, 95 goals
Arsenal (1976-79) - 84 Football League appearances, 42 goals

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