Although I haven’t checked this, I would say that the first City v Scunthorpe match I saw was in about 1987, but I did get a look at them seventeen years earlier when I paid my first visit to Somerton Park to watch Newport County take them on. I’ve mentioned before on here that, if I do have a second team then it is probably County, but, back in 1970, it was still two or three years before I became someone who would go to their games wanting them to win (except when they were playing us of course!). I have to admit that the reason me and six or seven of my mates went to watch County that day was not to support them but to laugh at them, because, at the time when City were selling John Toshack as they challenged for that elusive place in the top flight, County were setting records for all the wrong reasons.
Newport, with ex City left back Bobby Ferguson as player/manager, had made a terrible start to the 70/71 campaign – a 6-1 drubbing at Southport in their first away match set the tone for a dreadful first half of the season which saw them lose their opening ten games before a 2-2 draw at Hartlepool seven days before they faced Scunthorpe finally saw them gain their first point.
A combination of County finally breaking their duck and the first appearance of their former player Harry Harris, signed on loan from Portsmouth (where he made nearly 400 appearances) saw the crowd at Somerton Park reach 3,539. This was County’s best crowd since the opening day of the season, but that figure did not include our group who had all climbed over the corrugated iron fence at the Railway End (the only time I ever did it – honest!) and they ended up seeing County score twice as many goals as they had managed at home all season, yet still end up losing a game which was more entertaining than I imagined it would be.
Besides Harris, the County side that day included Ferguson who was a solid, if unspectacular, performer for us in the mid 60’s before losing his place when Gary Bell (originally signed as a winger) began to show his ability at full back. Graham Coldrick, who played in a variety of position while making nearly a hundred City appearances before settling down as a right back also played, while midfielder Ronnie Radford would enter FA Cup folklore about fifteen months later when his spectacular goal helped non league Hereford United to a win over First Division Newcastle at a very muddy Edger Street.
As for Scunthorpe, they were just below halfway up the table and didn’t have one of those stars from yesteryear in their ranks who would add couple of hundred or so to the gates of clubs in the basement as people turned up to see how far the mighty had fallen. No, Scunthorpe weren’t much of a draw at all at the time, but they did include a player who would captain his country and become European Footballer of the Year by the end of the decade.
Kevin Keegan had made his first appearance for Scunthorpe a couple of years earlier at the age of just seventeen. Scunny finished in the bottom four of the old Fourth Division in 69/70 and so, under the rules in place at the time, had to go cap in hand to the other eighty eight league clubs hoping that they would vote them back into the Football League. However, Keegan had starred in Scunthorpe’s run to the last sixteen of the FA Cup that season and, although his name meant nothing to us at the time, he was beginning to establish a good reputation for himself as big clubs started to take an interest in his progress.
Over the years I have occasionally discussed the time we saw Kevin Keegan play at Newport with some of those who went to the game with me and we are all unanimous that Keegan made absolutely no impression on us that day. No, the Scunthorpe player who we noticed was their centre forward Nigel Cassidy – for a start, there was his appearance as his long hair and droopy moustache meant that he was the sort of player who opposition fans would notice and make a target for insults and abuse, but, besides that, he wasn’t bad either.
Cassidy opened the scoring with the only goal of the first half that afternoon, then got the decisive one after the break as County fought back strongly with a couple of goals of their own through striker Willie Brown and it turned out that I had not seen the last of him during that year. Three more goals in Scunthorpe’s next two matches for Cassidy meant that Keegan wasn’t the only one of their players attracting scouts from higher division clubs and, five weeks after playing at Newport, Oxford United (then in Division Two) paid a club record £20,000 for the striker.
After a couple of matches in which his new team failed to score, Cassidy’s third appearance for Oxford was against City and I was at their old London Road ground to watch him settle the game with a goal inside the first five minutes. This match was played during the six week period following the sale of John Toshack when the City Board seemed to be sitting on their hands when it came to trying to put together a deal to bring in a replacement. Eventually, Alan Warboys came in from Sheffield Wednesday and proved to be a more than adequate replacement for Toshack (for that season at least), but, during those six weeks City played three away matches and, besides the one at Oxford, were also defeated at Charlton and Millwall. All three of these sides were in the lower half of the table at the time with Charlton in particular struggling and, although people, justifiably, point to late defeats against Watford and Sheffield United as being very important reasons why we didn’t go up that year, those three away defeats in November/December were just as vital in my book.
As for the teams and some of the main players that day, well Scunthorpe had a season of mid table mediocrity while it was very much a campaign of two halves for County. A few weeks later they were humiliated in the First Round of the FA Cup when they were beaten 6-1 by Barnet who were a non League side at that time and. incredibly, they had just three points (all from draws) to show from twenty four games going into 1971. However, a draw at Exeter in their first match of the new year was followed by the win that they must have thought would never come as Southend were beaten 3-0 at Somerton Park. County were transformed after that as they won nine and drew four of their last twenty matches – this wasn’t enough to get them out of the bottom four, but they managed to climb above Hartlepool and Barrow as their strong finish helped secure enough votes to stay in the Fourth Division.
Bobby Ferguson, hardly surprisingly, lost his job as County’s manager during their awful run of results, but continued to play for them as former boss Billy Lucas took over in a short term capacity (City favourite Brian Harris became player/manager in the summer of 1971) and he obviously hadn’t had enough of the management game because he went on to have a fairly successful five year spell as Ipswich boss in the eighties. Nigel Cassidy did pretty well at Oxford before signing for Cambridge United in 1974 and, after a short spell playing in America, he retired from the game in 1976 after an injury suffered during a second spell at Cambridge – he died at the early age of sixty two in 2008. Kevin Keegan saw the season out with Scunthorpe before signing for Liverpool in the summer for £35,000 – to general surprise, Bill Shankly pitched him straight into the first team where he scored against Nottingham Forest on the first day of the 71/72 season and he never looked back after that.
10 October 1970
Newport County 2 Scunthorpe United 3
County Massey; Williams, Coldrick, Harris (H), Ferguson; Thomas, Radford, Hooper, White; Brown (2), Jones (Harris (P))
Scunthorpe Barnard; Foxton, Deere, Welbourne, Barker; Keegan, Kisby, Davidson (1), Heath; Kerr, Cassidy (2)