â€œWhat is taken to the cup final every year but never used?â€
This used to be a quasi-famous trick question asked in pub quizzes and the like, and the correct answer is, of course, the losersâ€™ ribbons. A few wags have offered up an unfortunate and somewhat cruel alternative answer to the question over the years, and in doing so the name â€˜Malcolm Macdonaldâ€™ has been uttered. This was in response to Macdonald supposedly repeatedly running out at Wembley for cup finals only to go missing and barely get a kick.
It really is rather cruel that in some quarters Macdonald – â€˜Super Macâ€™ – is remembered for being the butt of a joke concerning what he failed to do on a few occasions, rather than for all the things he did manage to achieve on the pitch, but there you go.
Most famous for his periods at Newcastle and then Arsenal in the 1970s, Macdonald was born in Fulham and grew up as a fan of the Cottagers, with Sir Bobby Robson his hero. After a couple of false starts with local non-league clubs, Macdonald was signed by Robson during the latterâ€™s short-lived reign in charge at Craven Cottage.
By now Macdonald had been converted from his original position of full-back to striker and promptly set about reinventing himself with dramatic results. First, however, Macdonald had to take a step backwards before he could go forwards. After just 15 appearances and five goals, Macdonald was transferred to Luton Town. As Luton were then in the Third Division while Fulham were in the Second, on paper this was perhaps not a promising career move but Macdonald was an ever-present in the Hatters’ first season down, scoring 25 league goals and three more in the cups as the Bedfordshire side was promoted at the first time of asking.
Back in the Second Division, Macdonald continued where he had left off and another 30 goals in all competitions the next season attracted the attention of several clubs, but it was Newcastle United that ended up signing him for a transfer fee of Â£180,000 in the summer of 1971. Making his debut against Liverpool, Macdonald promptly scored a hat-trick and the legend of â€˜Super Macâ€™ was born.
A swashbuckling centre-forward with a direct style of play combined with a devastating speed – he was supposedly timed at 10.4 seconds over 100 metres later in his career – Macdonald was instantly a hero for the Geordie faithful and would remain so over the next five seasons, ending up top goal scorer each time.
Never short of self-confidence, Macdonald made good copy for the nationâ€™s media and so it came to pass that when Newcastle embarked on a good FA Cup run in 1974 he was much in demand for interviews. Scoring twice in Newcastleâ€™s semi-final victory over Burnley, the man himself was in no doubt that a repeat in the final against Liverpool was on the cards and in the build-up to the final spoke at great lengths regarding what he proposed doing to the Liverpool back four.
Well, the best-laid plans and all thatâ€¦..Macdonald got to kick the ball approximately six times that Wembley afternoon and considering four of them were each time Newcastle kicked off, then itâ€™s perhaps not difficult to see what sort of influence he had on the game which ended in a 3-0 victory for the Anfield men. After the match, there was a fair amount of schadenfreude aimed in Macdonaldâ€™s direction for what was perceived to be his ill-timed and ill-advised comments as they were said to have acted as an extra spur to the Liverpool defence to keep him quiet.
Two years later and Newcastle and Macdonald were back at Wembley again, this time for a League Cup Final showdown with Manchester City. Once again Macdonald was amongst the players favoured to make a difference on the lush turf, but once again he was largely anonymous as Newcastle fell to another defeat, this time by a 2-1 scoreline.
That summer of 1976, Macdonald would break the hearts of Newcastle fans when he decided to swap St. Jamesâ€™ Park for Highbury courtesy of a Â£333,333 and 34 pence transfer. The reason for this exact and rather peculiar fee is said to be because Newcastle insisted on receiving exactly one-third of a million pounds and the amount was rounded up to the next full penny.
Drawn by the glamour of London and the perceived better prospect of winning honours, Macdonaldâ€™s decision to leave Newcastle still came as a slight surprise to some but his relationship with Newcastle manager, Gordon Lee, had broken down by then and a move was probably in everyoneâ€™s best interests.
His arrival in North London was welcomed at Highbury and his first two seasons with the club saw a total of 55 goals plundered in 102 games as Macdonald, unsurprisingly, once again ended up as top goalscorer. The Arsenal side of this time and age was an exciting one that just lacked a killer instinct, perhaps. With highly skilful players such as Alan Hudson, Liam Brady and later Graham Rix in midfield pulling the strings, and Frank Stapleton partnering Macdonald upfront, the team prospered and seemed to be on the verge of great things.
A niggling injury in the second half of the 1977-78 season seemed to be little more than frustrating at the time as Macdonald kept playing and banging in the goals but it was to contribute to far-reaching consequences later. Arsenal made the League Cup semi-finals that season, losing to Liverpool, but went one better in the FA Cup where Orient were dispatched in a Stamford Bridge semi-final courtesy of a 3-0 scoreline with Macdonald once more grabbing a brace.
Ipswich Town lay in wait for the Gunners at Wembley, and Arsenal were firm favourites to prevail with a three-pronged attack consisting of Macdonald, Stapleton and Alan Sunderland with Hudson and Brady probing from midfield. Unfortunately, neither Brady nor Macdonald were properly fit on the day and, wearing yellow shirts, the entire Arsenal side turned in an abject performance and were somewhat fortunate to escape with a single goal defeat as the Suffolk side ran out 1-0 winners.
This was to be Macdonaldâ€™s final game at Wembley and the third in a trilogy of club matches in which he failed to shine – hence the formation of the witticism at the outset of this article – and it meant that he would end his club career with no tangible honours at all.
Early the following season, 1978-79, Macdonald suffered a serious injury on his already weakened knee whilst turning out for Arsenal in a League Cup game against Rotherham and that basically spelt the end of his career at 29. Despite a couple of aborted comebacks and a short spell playing for DjurgÃ¥rden in Sweden, the illustrious playing career of â€˜Super Macâ€™ was over.
It was a career that shone at times but perhaps never quite reached the heights his talents deserved. A glance at his short-lived international career would appear to bear this out as a relatively paltry 14 caps was all he could muster. While his club form was such that the media clamoured for his inclusion in Don Revieâ€™s sides, the man himself was not convinced and supposedly told Macdonald before a game with West Germany at Wembley that he was only in the side due to the pressâ€™s persistence and if he failed to score then he would never be picked again.
Macdonald did score in that match as England triumphed 2-0, and in a European Championship qualifying match against Cyprus, he scored all five goals in a 5-0 victory. Unfortunately, these were the only goals Macdonald managed in an England shirt.
After his playing days were over, Macdonald tried his hand at management and had some initial success at Fulham where it had all begun more than a decade earlier. Promotion from the third flight was achieved in 1982, and for a long period of the following season, a second successive elevation seemed assured as Fulham spent most of the campaign in the top three. Unfortunately, an awful run-in saw the side slip out of the promotion places and, unable to recover from this blow, less than a year later Macdonald had left the club.
A later spell in charge of Huddersfield Town was notable only for a 10-1 league defeat suffered at the hands of Manchester City, a match in which three City players scored hat-tricks.
Upon leaving Huddersfield, Macdonald left football behind for good and ventured into business, suffering from the after-effects of the knee injury that ended his career. The PFA paid for him to have an operation on his troublesome knee after he ran into financial difficulties.
Nowadays Macdonald keeps busy with a radio show in the north-east of England and through making public appearances. He is still widely revered throughout the game and especially amongst both Newcastle and Arsenal fans who remember him fondly.