This season, Newcastle reached the final unimpressively, scraping through narrow wins against weak clubs. More than once they had won only by a lucky-looking goal. But the truth is that they made their luck, playing tough, straightforward, opportunistic soccer. The morning of the Cup Final, Scottie Hall summed it up in the London Daily Sketch:
" Manchester are the poets, the creators of soccer beauty. Newcastle are the sound jobbing plumbers. But unlike the race of plumbers, Newcastle never forget to bring their tools to the job. I hereby nominate Newcastle."
In the Mirror, Bob Ferrier agreed:
"Their [ Newcastle's] blundering indiscretions and sheer audacity go beyond belief. Just as they are the masters of not doing the obvious, so they are masters at making the most of 'today'...they have the marrow of greatness in their bones.
"But there is something more. They walk in company with the gods that guard this game of football. They are the chosen, the darlings, the silver-spoon boys. Call it second sight or a sporting sixth sense—whatever it is, Newcastle have it, and it always brings them home when all seems clearly lost."
Just before the start of the game Newcastle looked like a team sure of its destiny. The players were relaxed as they stood at attention to shake hands with the Queen and the Duke. Manchester looked tense, keyed up.
Newcastle coolness brought one of the quickest goals in Wembley history. From the corner flag their winger, Len White, banged the ball to the head of Jackie Milburn, standing, unforgivably unmarked, 12 yards outside the Manchester goal. Milburn swayed back, then snapped his head forward, hitting the ball with all the strength his neck could summon. It went like a bullet to the underside of the crossbar of the Manchester goal, bounced down on the right side (for Milburn) and Newcastle was one up 45 seconds after the kickoff.
MEADOWS IS INJURED
Worse was to follow for Manchester. In the 19th minute their right fullback, Jimmy Meadows, raced for the ball in competition with Newcastle's will-of-the-wisp left winger, Bobby Mitchell. Meadows forgot the dragging power of the unusually thick Wembley grass: the cleats of his right shoe caught in the turf and he fell, tearing the ligaments of his knee, which might be enough to put him out of soccer for good. Certainly it ended his appearance at Wembley, and luckless Manchester was left with 10 men.
Since substitutions are not permitted in British soccer, the dice were now heavily loaded in Newcastle's favor. Just the same, it was under this handicap that Manchester began to play high-class football, rewarded 30 seconds before the end of the first half with an equalizing goal, brilliantly headed by Bobby Johnstone.