Saturday 30th March 1985
Newport County 2 Lincoln City 1 (Canon League Division Three)
By Malcolm Johnson
After City’s promotion to Division Three (now League One) in 1981 further promotion the following season was missed by a single point. Troubles off the field were then the main reason for a second failure to reach a deserved place in the Second Division. Manager Colin Murphy then seemed to rather lose his way, and despite some highlights, the 1983/84 season had seen a below mid-table finish.
With the previously successful team gradually breaking up it also appeared that Murphy had lost his ability to spot a good player, as many of the replacements turned out not to be of the same standard. This was shown by the first win in the current season not arriving until the beginning of October with the Imps next to bottom of the division.
Since then results had only been good enough to just about keep them out of the relegation places although a run of seven points from four games, including a 1-0 win at Preston in the last game, had seen them rise to a season high of 14th place going into this game.
In many ways Newport County paralleled City’s fortunes throughout the 1980s. Promoted from the Fourth Division a year before the Imps they had also just missed out on further promotion and similarly seen their best players, such as John Aldridge, begin to drift away.
Finishing one place above City in 1983/84, the form of the two clubs in the present season had also been remarkably similar and they were currently 15th, one place below the Imps. In his second spell in charge of Newport was Colin Addison, halfway through a lengthy managerial career which had started when he took Hereford United into the Football League and included two years at Derby County. Upon leaving Newport at the end of the season he spent some time coaching and managing abroad including a spell as manager of Atletico Madrid. The string of clubs he later managed included Southern League Merthyr Tydfil where he was in charge when I moved to the area 12 years later.
The teams were:
- Stuart Naylor
- Mark McCarrick
- Steve Collins
- Neil Redfearn
- Alan Walker
- Steve Thompson
- John McGinley
- Phil Turner
- Gordon Hobson
- John Thomas
- Gordon Mair
- Ross Jack (for McGinley)
- Mark Kendall
- Linden Jones
- John Relish
- Tony Pulis
- Terry Boyle
- Trevor Matthewson
- Neville Chamberlain
- Tony Reid
- Steve Cooper
- Tony Kellow
- John Lewis
- Kevin Kent (for Kellow)
City goalkeeper Stuart Naylor was one of the better players among the replacements for those who had left. Coming through the youth set-up and still only 22 he had succeeded David Felgate when the latter had been allowed to go out on loan the previous November to first Cardiff and then Grimsby. Neither full back however could be classed as equal to the players they had replaced. Able to play on either the right or the left, 23-year-old Mark McCarrick had been signed in the close season on a free transfer from Birmingham City after playing 15 times for them in the First Division. Initially the early season stand-in for Phil Neale while the Worcestershire captain was away on cricketing duties McCarrick had since been in and out of the side.
At left back was Steve Collins signed on loan from struggling Fourth Division side Southend a fortnight previously due to injuries keeping Neale and skipper Gordon Simmonite out of the side. In the centre of defence was Alan Walker, signed from Conference side Telford United for £21,500 in the autumn of the previous season as the second player to attempt to fill the shoes of the departed Trevor Peake. Walker did have Peake’s former defensive partner Steve Thompson alongside him. ‘Tommo’, at the age of 29 was now in his fifth season with the club, and with Gordon Hobson and Phil Turner one of only three players remaining in this match who had been part of the side that just missed out on promotion. Turner, in midfield, was now in his sixth season although still only 23.
Alongside him was Neil Redfearn, signed from Bolton for £8,000 the previous year after a spell on loan and who at the age of 19 was still at the promising youngster stage of what was to be a lengthy career at higher levels.
City played with two wingers, with the tall John McGinley on the right. He had been signed the previous autumn from a club in Belgium after playing for various non-league clubs in the north-east and making a handful of appearances for First Division Sunderland. Although left-footed he had mostly been played on the right wing and proven quite adept at crossing the ball with his ‘wrong’ foot. On the left was Scotsman Gordon Mair who had joined from Notts County at the start of the season for £25,000 after playing around 130 games for the Magpies in the top two divisions.
In attack was 27-year-old Gordon Hobson who had started his Imps career as a winger in the days of Willie Bell’s management before emerging as a prolific scorer under Colin Murphy, although with only 7 goals in the current season so far. His strike partner was a similar type of player in ex-Chester City John Thomas. Signed before the start of the previous season at a cost of £12,500 he had finished as leading scorer with 16 goals but had only 4 to his name this time around having missed many games through injury.
Substitute was striker Ross Jack, who along with Thomas was one of two players Colin Murphy had not been allowed to sign midway through the 1982/83 season thus arguably derailing City’s promotion challenge. Eventually joining the following summer, he had cost £15,000 from Norwich City for whom he had been leading scorer in the 1981/82 season when they won promotion to the First Division.
As with City, the Newport line-up showed few players remaining from their successful side of a couple of years before. One exception was goalkeeper Mark Kendall who had been signed from Spurs in 1980 for a club record fee. After going on to make almost 300 appearances for Newport he later joined Wolves to be part of their rise from the Fourth to Second Divisions.
At right back was Linden Jones who had joined the Ironsides from Cardiff early the previous season as part of an exchange deal involving four players. Partnering him was the experienced John Relish who along with Kendall had been part of Newport’s successful side and had played around 300 games for the County. He was later to have a brief spell as manager before returning again to be the first manager of the newly-formed Newport AFC. After that, like Colin Addison, I was to encounter him later when he spent two years in charge of Merthyr Tydfil.
Central defender and captain was Terry Boyle who had won a solitary Welsh International cap with Crystal Palace before a spell with Bristol City from whom he had joined Newport two years before. Alongside him was the 22-year-old Trevor Matthewson who was in his second season with the club. He had joined from Sheffield Wednesday for whom his grandfather had played, and was also the nephew of Reg Matthewson who had made over 300 appearances for Sheffield United and Fulham. At the end of the season he joined Stockport for a couple of seasons before captaining the Imps to their Conference championship success in 1988.
In midfield was Tony Pulis, a 27-year-old journeyman lower division player who had joined his hometown club at the start of the season from Bristol Rovers. He was of course to go on to have a lengthy managerial career, most notably with Stoke City, which is continuing today.
Also in midfield was former Derby County apprentice Tony Reid, and John Lewis who had joined from Cardiff as part of the same transfer deal that brought Linden Jones to the club. Aged 29, he later had a spell as player-manager of Newport as they were relegated from Division Three two years later. He then managed a string of Welsh non-league clubs including twice with Merthyr Tydfil, becoming yet another of those involved in this match to later cross my path. In attack was another player like Matthewson to have relatives in the game.
Neville Chamberlain had started his career with Port Vale alongside his brother Mark who had recently played a number of games for England, and whose son is the present Liverpool and England player Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Striker Tony Kellow had joined in the autumn from Swansea and now aged 32 had a prolific scoring record mainly with Exeter for whom he was to finish with a record of around 170 goals in 350 games. Centre forward, 20-year-old Steve Cooper, had signed from Birmingham at the start of the season with his only league experience being a loan spell with Halifax. Substitute was another 20-year-old, former West Bromwich youngster Kevin Kent who was to help Mansfield Town to promotion from Division Four the following season.
There was an attendance of 1,307 which turned out to be Newport’s lowest of the season at home but was to be one of six sub-2,000 gates they had that season. City themselves were to fail to reach the 2,000 mark at Sincil Bank on seven occasions at a time of low attendances throughout football generally.
City had made the four-hour journey to South Wales on the morning of the game and it looked as if travel fatigue could have been responsible for their sluggish start to the match, as slack marking and inaccurate passing gave Newport almost a free run.
The home side could have gone ahead as early as the sixth minute when hesitancy by City goalkeeper Stuart Naylor allowed Linden Jones to head a corner inches over the bar. But five minutes later Newport went ahead when Naylor could only help a long range shot from Tony Reid into the net as it swung and dipped in the wind. Going a goal down seemed to have no effect on City’s play and on 17 minutes they conceded again.
Following a mis-hit shot from Neville Chamberlain Tony Kellow was on hand to clip the ball under Naylor and defeat Steve Collins’ attempt to clear it off the line. City pulled a goal back on 30 minutes when Gordon Hobson beat two players before hitting a left-foot shot into the net, but any hopes of getting something from the game faded in a lacklustre second half from both sides.
Newport’s win saw them move above City into 14th place and the two sides could only muster three more league wins between them (just one for City) but both picked up sufficient points from drawn games to see the Ironsides finish 18th, one place above the Imps who were five points clear of relegation. The season ended of course with the tragic events at Bradford which reminds us of the reason for the name of this website.
With the departure of Colin Murphy and all but Phil Turner of the remaining players from his successful side City embarked on a decline which would see them relegated from the Football League two years later. Newport County continued to almost shadow City, ending up out of the league a year after that, but there the parallel ended as they were forced to go out of business midway through their season in the Conference.
Later in that year the club was reformed as Newport AFC but due to a new policy of the FA of Wales which aimed to prevent Welsh-based non-league clubs from playing in English competitions were forced to play home matches in Gloucestershire. By the time they were eventually allowed to play in their native town again Somerton Park had been turned into a housing estate. After some years playing at an athletics stadium called Spytty Park and rising to the Conference Premier they leased the local rugby ground at Rodney Parade and aided by having a millionaire lottery winner as chairman reached the Football League in 2013.
Of the five matches I saw at Somerton Park two have stuck in my mind but this wasn’t one of them. My player ratings show I thought half the team gave a below average performance – including both Phil Turner and Neil Redfearn in midfield. Only player to rate above average was Gordon Hobson.
Somerton Park itself was one of the small, old-fashioned rather ramshackle grounds of which there were several in the lower divisions in the 1980s (e.g. Spotland, The Feethams, etc). It had a centrally-placed smallish wooden main stand with terracing on either side and a low wooden stand opposite. There was covered terracing at one end which was set back from the pitch as a relic of the speedway track which had once been at the ground.
The other end was an open terrace with a wall at the back over which could be seen the roofs of trains passing by on the main line into South Wales. The wall is still there, and whenever I go past on the train nowadays, I always spare a glance for the housing estate that now stands behind it and remember the old days. It must be said however that Rodney Parade is a lot more conveniently situated, and whatever its defects is a much superior ground.