With Brian Clark’s passing this week and Newport County starting life in the Blue Square Premiership today (best of luck County), I thought I’d do something different this time and recall a game I saw which, although having plenty of people with Cardiff City connections involved in it, did not feature us.
While no one can doubt that Brian Clark’s first spell with City was a success, the same cannot be said about his second one I’m afraid. The 1975/76 promotion season is remembered with great affection by the those of us old enough to have experienced it, but Brian Clark’s contribution is largely forgotten because, truth be told, one goal from the veteran striker from twenty one league starts offered all of the proof that was needed that the 33 year old was not the same player that had terrorised Second Division defences with John Toshack a few years earlier.
It was no surprise therefore that City did not offer Clark a new contract at the end of that season and, during the seemingly never ending summer of 1976, he signed for our neighbours Newport County who, as usual at that time, were looking forward to a season in the Football League’s basement, Division Four. One thing Brian Clark wouldn’t have been short of though at his new club was familiar faces as the close relationship which had always existed between the club’s was emphasised by a heavy Cardiff City presence at Somerton Park.
On the playing side, Clark’s former City team mates Gary Bell, Peter Morgan, Steve Derrett, Tony Villars and John Parsons were all in the County team that kicked off the 1976/77 league campaign with a home game with Stockport and they were joined a few months later by Don Murray who returned to South Wales from a one year spell in his native Scotland with Hearts. The ex City influence did not end there either with Ronnie Bird working as Assistant to Jimmy Scoular who was making a return to management for the first time since his sacking by Cardiff in November 1973.
One of the first things our former manager did at Newport was to change the club’s kit from the traditional amber/orange and black to what can only be described as an Argentina like kit – with the benefit of hindsight, that idea seems a daft one and the club soon changed back to their normal colours, but I can remember at the time that a busy summer in the transfer market helped lead to a feeling of a new era at Newport which the change of kit seemed to epitomise.
Unfortunately though, it appeared that his break from the game had not done Jimmy Scoular any favours and the old magic touch from his Cardiff days was no longer there. That first match against Stockport was lost by 1-0 and that match summed up County’s first half of the season – defensively they weren’t bad, but they just could not score goals. Scoular lasted only until January before resigning with County having gone thirteen games without a win, but things didn’t improve under his successor Colin Addison either who saw his new side pick just the one point from his first six matches in charge.
In their first twenty six matches, County scored just thirteen times and, with them suffering from plenty of postponements throughout the winter, they went into March marooned at the bottom of the table with another application for re election looking inevitable (back in those days the bottom four sides in the old Fourth Division had to apply for re election to the Football League which meant that their fate was very much in the hands of the Chairman of the other clubs who would decide whether they wanted to keep the strugglers in place or vote in one of the non league clubs who were putting themselves forward for election). That lack of goals offered evidence that Brian Clark was finding life in the basement a struggle – despite being a regular starter in the team, he had only scored in the one game when his two goals were enough to gain one of only two victories up until then against Aldershot (it was the only league game up to then in which Newport had scored more than one in all season!).
Slowly though, Colin Addison began to improve things and three successive home wins (with Clark scoring in two of them) at least got County off the foot off the table. However, with the team having suffered eight consecutive away defeats, there was still a feeling around that a bottom four finish was inevitable when league leaders Cambridge United came to Somerton Park on 5 April. Cambridge, under rookie manager Ron Atkinson, were on their way to winning the title and within eighteen months they would be visiting Ninian Park to play City in a Second Division match as they earned back to back promotions by finishing runners up to Wrexham in the Third Division in 1977/78.
The Cambridge team that faced Newport had a nucleus of players who would prove themselves in the Championship and one or two others who would go higher than that in their careers, but, they were no match for Newport and Brian Clark in particular on the night. Clark was able to give County regulars a glimpse of why he had been so good for Cardiff in his first spell that night as he found the net three times to inspire County to a great 4-2 win which had a dramatic effect on the rest of their season.
Remarkably, County still had twelve matches to play after that night and seven wins from their next eleven matches got them into a position where a victory in their last game against Workington would see them finish clear of the bottom four. As it turned out, they managed a 1-0 win in an absolutely awful match watched by a huge crowd, by Somerton Park standards at least, of 8,3,13. That match was to be Workington’s last in the Football League as, having finished in the bottom four so often before in recent seasons, they fell victim to re election procedure and found themselves replaced a month or so later by Wigan Athletic.
As for Brian Clark, he only scored one more goal after his hat trick against Cambridge so only ended up with eight in all, but without those three against the Champions elect, Newport might have gone the same way as Workington. Clark played on for one more season and, although not playing as many games, managed to score one goal more than in his first season with the club, but there is no doubt that the highlight of his time with Newport was that night when he rolled back the years against Cambridge.
5 April 1977
Newport County 4 Cambridge United 2
County Plumley; Derrett, Walker, Jones, Bell; Byrne, Emmanuel, , Preece, Relish (1); Woods, Clark (3)
Cambridge U Webster; Batson, Stringer, Fallon, Harper; Watson (O’Neill 1), Horsfall, Hall, Seddon; Finney (1), Biley