The Night Faustino Asprilla’s Hat Trick Sunk Barcelona at St. James’ Park

Photo by blue_rat

It’s September 17, 1997 and Newcastle United are about to embark on their first Champions League campaign. La Liga runners-up Barcelona provide the opposition, boasting names such as Rivaldo, Luis Figo and Luis Enrique.

Newcastle were going into the unknown. After finishing runners-up in the Premier League to Manchester United the previous season, Kenny Dalglish’s side deserved their chance with Europe’s elite. Few gave the Magpies a chance, after all they were making their Champions League debut against the side who had won this competition only five years prior.

Without the injured Alan Shearer, and with the summer departure of Les Ferdinand to Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle were without a prolific goal-scorer. They had little in the way of an attacking threat.

Young summer recruit Jon Dahl Tomasson found himself with a starting role in attack, in what was the biggest game of his career so far. Tomasson had finished SC Heerenveen’s top scorer the season prior, but for all his goals in the Eredivisie he was completely inexperienced at this level.

That however didn’t matter, as his strike partner for the night was about to put on a show that even the most optimistic of Newcastle fans couldn’t have imagined.

Colombian striker Faustino Asprilla had obviously not read the script, as he went on to score a hat-trick against a world class opposition on a night that has gone down as one of the greatest in Newcastle United’s history.

Fourteen years on and I’m sat in a city centre cocktail bar, ready to meet Newcastle’s hat-trick hero of ’97. Given his laid back approach on the pitch it was no little surprise to me that he was running late.

Upon arrival I wasn’t surprised with his attire too; Torn, denim shorts and a plain run-of-the-mill Italia t-shirt. He cut the figure of a man who cares little for his appearance. Of course that doesn’t matter, but I found it humorous how one’s style of play on the pitch could be reflected so much in his choice of clothing.

“Thank you for welcoming me,” he said, before ordering a sparkling water from the waitress who is clearly unaware of the status of the man she is serving.

“I like coming to Newcastle, I try to come here as much as I can when I am nearby,” he explain3e via Carlos his interpreter.

The bar is relatively busy, but I doubt there is one drinker who has noticed the company I am in. It’s hard to believe that these people are in the presence of a man who provided the city of Newcastle with one of its greatest footballing nights, and yet he simply fades into the background.

After he explained to me he had simply returned to visit the area, it didn’t take long before we were on to the important stuff – that night against Catalan giants Barcelona.

Asprilla, or Tino as he’s better known in these parts, initially played down the achievement, yet it was still clear this was a highly regarded memory for the Colombian.

“It was a very good game, but it was just a normal game because it wasn’t like we won a trophy from it. It was though a very well played game by Newcastle,” he explained.

He is right to acknowledge his team-mates for their efforts on the night, but it was Tino who made the headlines. It was a night that is still talked about today, a special night that nobody associated with Newcastle will forget.

“Obviously I am very proud of scoring a hat-trick against Barcelona because it’s a well remembered thing and part of Newcastle’s history. Even though I only played for one and a half years I get a very warm welcome every time I come here, and it’s good to know the fans still remember what I did for the club,” says the former number eleven.

After arriving from Parma in February 1996 under Kevin Keegan, it was soon evident Newcastle had signed a somewhat interesting character.

After being limited to mostly substitute appearances initially, the sale of Ferdinand and Shearer’s lengthy injury lay-off gave Tino his chance for a regular starting place ahead of the 1997/98 season.

On the opening day of the new campaign Asprilla was partnered in attack for the first time with Tomasson, as Newcastle claimed a 2-1 victory over Sheffield Wednesday at St James’. Tino netted both goals, two of nine Premier League goals he would notch during his time in the North East.

While Asprilla’s stay at Newcastle was relatively short, he still remains a fan’s favourite, deservedly so given his heroics against Barcelona.

A first half penalty followed by two headers gave Tino his treble, as Newcastle found themselves 3-0 up and in ecstasy. The visitors pulled two back, but Asprilla and his side held on to a result that sent shockwaves around Europe.

For that night he will always be remembered by the Geordie faithful. Inconsistency on the pitch unfortunately saw a premature end to Tino’s time at Newcastle, but he smiled as he explained his appreciation for the reception he still receives on Tyneside.

“It’s great to come back to a place where you know you’re welcome. It’s great for me to come to Newcastle and get admiration from people who may never have seen me play but still recognise me and know what I did,” he explained.

Now retired and residing near Bogota in his native Colombia, Asprilla gets little chance to follow his former club’s fortunes.

During his visit to the North East he had chance to watch the end of Newcastle’s season, as the Magpies clinched a 12th place finish in their return season in the top flight. After coming close to winning the Premier League title during his time at Newcastle, Asprilla finds it difficult to compare the club’s current side to that he represented in the nineties.

“It’s not very good to compare teams, but when you look at the team I played in it was fighting for the title and the team now are just fighting to survive in the middle of the table.”

Soon to be heading home to South America, Asprilla wished his former club well but wasn’t shy in giving his verdict on Alan Pardew’s side.

“Newcastle did well this season given the team that they have,” said Asprilla. “If they want to try and achieve and get higher up the table, they definitely have to bring three or four new faces that are willing to fight for the team.”

Pardew’s squad could have done with an Asprilla-like addition on Wednesday night as the transfer window slammed shut, but the Magpies fans were once again left disappointed by the club’s transfer activity.

Players like Asprilla bring frustration but with that comes the capability of providing nights like that of September 1997. It’s somewhat fitting that his hat-trick against Barcelona were his last Newcastle goals, three of nine he netted in Europe for the club.

In eighteen months Asprilla provided everything at Newcastle. Poor performances were overshadowed by moments of individual brilliance, and of course his trademark celebration of a cartwheel followed by three punches of the air.

Gone but never forgotten. The part Asprilla played in such a historic encounter warrants the admiration he still receives over a decade on. The little Colombian took the lead role in a show that could be argued as the greatest Champions League debut in recent history, a performance that will see him eternally idolized by the people of Newcastle.

Follow Martin Lindsay on Twitter at @martinlindsay11

6 thoughts on “The Night Faustino Asprilla’s Hat Trick Sunk Barcelona at St. James’ Park”

  1. Are you writing this to torment us? We are a club whose name is, quite literally in one respect, being dismantled by Mike Ashley. I don’t foresee an end to the reign of a man who has absolutely nothing but contempt for the fans and the city, and is happy to keep us at the limits of survival in order to make a profit from selling key players whilst maintaining a threadbare squad, just like sports directs business model.

    Asprilla, Albert, Shearer, Cole, Ferdinand, even Ginola. We had the means to cement ourselves in the top 4 as England’s second team, even challenge for the title. But when Keegan walked and Shepherd let men like Souness and Gullit take charge, we were never a match for Fergie’s Manchester or Arsene’s Gunners. Ashley is happy to keep us at the limits of survival for profit, and only when the ownership changes will we ever dare to have ambitions beyond survival.

  2. My favorite player ever, even with his inconsistency. I watched this match live in Kuwait and that was the night I became a Newcastle for better or worse until death do us part…

  3. Dan, what are you talking about? You seem to really be focused on the negative. Selling Andy Carroll seems to be pretty wise right now given his sparse return so far in a Liverpool shirt. Toon fans seem to want to buy big name, big money players, but the last time you did that, you got POWEND. Mikey Owen did nothing for you but drain the club’s bank account. Same goes for guys like Alan Smith and Viduka. The players that Ashley and Pardew have brought in signify a logical approach to building a young, skillful, and energetic team.

    Tiote: You’ve seen him play. He’s quality. Every team needs a guy like this and Newcastle have one of the best and youngest.
    Davide Santon: Fantastic young back that had a minor setback under Mourinho’s wrath. This is a major coup for Toon to get this kid.
    Cabaye: He engineered Lille’s trophy-winning season last year.
    Ben Arfa: Terrible luck with bone crushing injuries, but he is a talented footballer.
    Marveaux was wanted by some top clubs like United, Chelsea, and Liverpool, but Toon got him. Krul is a fabulous keeper and Taylor and Coloccini are a decent team in central defence. Obertan had a hiccup with United, but he’ll come around.

    Let go of the past. It’s OK. Nolan was past it and Toon didn’t want to get bogged down in another huge contract for someone on the decline. Barton was causing too much of a headache. I loved him, but can’t blame Newcastle for getting rid of him. Really, Newcastle need a big time striker, which they did try to get, but it’s tough when there is a limited supply.

    Stop crying Toon fans. The future is bright. Ashley is not dimantling anything. You’re all sad because you didn’t blow 40 million of the “Carroll Money” on some big name. It’s wise to spread it around and get some players who will increase in value.

    1. If we had bought just one proven striker in since January, I would have joined the “oh, don’t worry about it” brigade. As for ‘the future is bright’, I assume bright as in profit margins from becoming a selling club with little reinvestment and a reliance on Ryan Taylor for 20 goals a season.

      Again we were linked with every name in the who’s who of European strikers, yet mysteriously Pardew got all of nobody worth mentioning ‘over the line’ despite having two transfer windows to do so. I’m not asking for tens of millions spent, but for Christ’s sake if you can’t temp one £7m+ forward to join over two windows whilst giving your best midfielder away for free (to a club who’s wise investments make them good candidates for survival) then there is something deeply wrong with the way things are being run.

      Everyone criticises us for holding on to the past, but in my lifetime we’ve gone from title challengers and Barca beaters, to mis managed mid table flops, relegation and then premier league obscurity in 20 years. It is enough to drive you insane, I almost pity Leeds fans. But isn’t that why we love football?

  4. Folks, let’s not forget. For the world cup 94 qualifiers, this guy was involved in the absolute demolition of Argentina (in Buenos Aires, nevertheless) with a score of 5-0. This is a historic win for all you blokes that know little of South American futbol. This was a well received win across the continent because the Argies have a tendency to be a little egotistic. Why? I dont know, it’s not like theyre Brazil.

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