‘They Only Had To Turn Up’ - How Shay Given Beat Barcelona

‘They Only Had To Turn Up’ - How Shay Given Beat Barcelona

You might not always put Shay Given and the Champions League in the same sentence, yet one of the Donegal man’s first games as number one for Newcastle United was their famous 3-2 victory over the mighty Barcelona in September 1997

The former Celtic youth player was signed by Kenny Dalglish in the summer of 1997 from Blackburn Rovers. Just a few weeks later he was playing in goal against a team including the likes of Luis Figo and Rivaldo, and of course managed by Louis Van Gaal

"I had just moved from Blackburn and Kenny Dalglish gave me the number one jersey," Given told Sky Sports in 2019

"There were great goalkeepers like Shaka Hislop, Pavel Srnicek and Steve Harper, so there was a lot of competition to be number one but Kenny gave me that responsibility and put the belief in me to be Newcastle's first-choice goalkeeper.

"That year I have memories of playing in the Champions League and the famous night and one of the best nights of being at Newcastle - beating Barcelona."

A remarkable hat-trick from Faustino Asprilla - in what turned out to be his last goals for the club - gave Newcastle a sensational 3-0 lead after 50 minutes. An early penalty put Dalglish’s side 1-0 up before two lovely Keith Gillespie crosses from the right either side of half-time led to two towering Asprilla headers. 

Newcastle attempted to close the game out but with 17 minutes remaining on the clock, Barcelona pulled one back through Luis Figo. Given made a number of crucial saves, including one against legendary Brazilian striker Rivaldo, that kept the Spanish giants at bay. 


However, the deficit was reduced to one when Luis Enrique scored what turned out to be a consolation goal for Van Gaal’s side. The former Republic of Ireland international - who would go on to win 134 caps for his country - remembers how Dalglish’s men were written off by the Spanish media prior to the game. 

shay given

Given continued:

"It was a special night, I think most Newcastle fans talk about where we were when we beat Barcelona, even looking back now.

"It was a big build-up as you can imagine, with Champions League football being at St. James' Park, just with Barcelona and how big a club they are rolling into town.

"Louis van Gaal was the manager and I think the talk in the Spanish press was just that they only had to turn up at Newcastle and they would win the game, but we had different ideas.

"Asprilla got the hat-trick and the roof was coming off St James' Park, it was such a special atmosphere. They got a couple of late goals but we managed to win the game, and there were some great scenes at the end to beat the mighty Barcelona.

"The crowd was maybe 37 or 38,000 but I felt like there were 137,000 there. It was so loud."

After the game, Dalglish was full of praise for his side and asked others to start respecting what a great football club Newcastle United were.

"Tino (Asprilla) will get all the headlines tomorrow and rightly so because he scored three great goals and caused them many, many problems, but every one of the players is a hero. They are all equally important because they went out there and battled really hard,” Dalglish as per


"People will respect Newcastle. If they don't then that's their problem - it's not mine. We don't have anything to prove to people, we are what we are. The most important thing is to look forward and hope they can continue at that level of performance,” he added.

Van Gaal was not happy with his Barcelona players after the defeat, bemoaning the fact that Newcastle were allowed to dictate the game and play it on their terms. 

"The individual performances of Gillespie and Asprilla decided the game. When I came to Spain I was pleased because of the mentality of the Spanish players to be aggressive. But I am very disappointed by the fact that Newcastle could play their own game,” Van Gaal said as per 

One match report at the time - after praising Asprilla, Gillespie and captain Robert Lee for their performances - signalled out Given for a couple of crucial saves during the final quarter that ensured the Premier League side held on for a famous victory. 


“They needed a fourth hero - Shay Given, the goalkeeper. Having apparently won the game, Newcastle let Barcelona penned them in their area and, after 72 minutes, Luis Enrique pulled a goal back. Rivaldo then hit the bar and was twice brilliantly denied by Given before, with three minutes remaining, Luis Figo scored from the edge of the area. Nerves were shredded as the horrifying prospect of another Newcastle collapse loomed but this time they survived,” The Independent read

shay given

The match was refereed by Italian official Pierluigi Collina who would go on to win Fifa's ‘Best Referee of the Year’ six consecutive times and is widely considered to be the best referee of all-time.

Despite the victory over Barcelona, Newcastle didn't capitalise on their great start to the group and would not win any of their next four games - including a 1-0 defeat in the Camp Nou - as they finished third in the group. A poor showing in Europe was compounded with a 13th place finish in the final 1997/98 Premier League table and a heartbreaking FA Cup final defeat to Arsenal, who would go on to complete the ‘Double’.

After Given’s debut season for Newcastle in the Champions League, he would only play in the competition for one more season, in 2002/03. This time the Magpies - under legendary manager Bobby Robson - had more success, reaching the second group stage before exiting the competition in a group which included European giants Inter Milan, Bayer Leverkusen and Barcelona once again. 

The 45-year-old played a total of 14 times in Europe’s premier competition and is one of just 25 Irish players who have made at least one appearance in the Champions League group stage since it was rebranded from the European Cup in 1992. 


Newcastle and Barcelona teams:

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Barton, Watson, Albert, Beresford; Gillespie, Lee, Batty, Barnes (Ketsbaia, 80); Tomasson (Peacock, 77), Asprilla. Substitutes not used: Howey, Rush, Pinas, Hughes, Srnicek (gk).

Barcelona (1-3-4-2): Hesp; Celades; Reiziger, Nadal, Sergi; Figo, De la Pena, Amunike (Ciric, h-t), Rivaldo; Enrique, Anderson (Dugarry, 55). Substitutes not used: Abelardo, Amor, Pizzi, R Garcia, Busquets (gk).

Referee: P Collina (Italy).

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