IT’S a game Mick Quinn will never forget – for all the wrong reasons.
Quinn played well over 500 matches in his professional career.
It was the most disappointing time of my whole careerMicky Quinn
But one particular game, played almost a quarter of a century ago, still nags away at him.
More than local pride was at stake when Newcastle United and Sunderland met at St James’s Park on May 16, 1990 – in the Second Division play-off semi-final second leg.
And something had to give at St James’s Park after a goalless first leg.
Newcastle, having finished three places and six points above Sunderland, were the favourites, but goals from Eric Gates and Marco Gabbiadini steered Denis Smith’s Rokermen into the Wembley final.
Quinn, now a racehorse trainer and broadcaster, rates that night as his lowest moment in football.
“All I really remember from derby games was players kicking lumps out of each other,” recalls Quinn, who will have a keen eye on Sunday’s Wear-Tyne derby. “But my biggest derby memory was also one of my worst as a professional – the second leg of the play-off semi-final in 1990.
“I always remember kicking off at Roker Park (in the first leg) and hearing that roar. I remember Paul Hardyman’s penalty (in the last minute). He then absolutely leathered Budgie (John Burridge) in the head afterwards and got sent off.
“It was a great result for us. We didn’t feel the job was done, but we knew we had a massive chance of going to Wembley for the final.”
Quinn is convinced the outcome would have been different had the post not denied Mark McGhee an early goal.
“I wasn’t 100 per cent for the second leg, I was carrying a hamstring injury,” said the 52-year-old, who had joined Newcastle from Portsmouth at the start of the 1989-90 season.
“Mark McGhee then hit the post – the inside of the post – in the first nine minutes, and it somehow didn’t go in.
“If that had went in, it would have been a different game. Whoever got the first goal was always going to win, and Eric Gates got it. I had come off in the second half by the time Marco Gabbiadini got the winner.
“It was the most disappointing time of my whole career. I had a great season – scored 39 goals and won the Golden Boot – but it all ended badly.”
The game was stopped for 21 minutes by a pitch invasion after Gabbiadini’s strike, with some Newcastle fans having decided to get the match abandoned.
But referee George Courtney ensured the game restarted.
Newcastle were promoted three years later under Kevin Keegan, but Quinn never got a chance in the top flight, by then renamed the Premier League, with the club.
“I wanted nothing more than to score the goals that got Newcastle into the First Division, as it was then,” said Quinn.
“I didn’t get the chance with Newcastle. Kevin Keegan came in and the place took off, but myself and Kevin didn’t see eye to eye and I was sold.
“I did play in the Premier League, and exploded into it with Coventry City.
“But I’d wanted to do it with Newcastle. It was the best time of my career.”