County 0 Carl Zeiss Jena 1 (County lost 3-2 on aggregate)
European Cup Winners’ Cup quarter-final, second leg, March 18, 1981
This remarkable European Cup Winners’ Cup quarter-final tie from March 1981 is still widely talked about – an epic showdown that even forged friendships and links between the two clubs and its supporters to this very day.
Welsh Cup holders County had somehow overcome the odds to gain an incredible 2-2 draw at the Ernst Abbe Stadium, deep inside the old communist East Germany, in the first leg.
The 200 hardy fans who had made the trip, mostly by coach, saw Tommy Tynan write himself into Newport County folklore with two goals that night – both of which were equalisers – with the crucial second coming literally on the stroke of full-time.
He cancelled out two Jurgen Raab strikes for the hosts in front of a 16,000-strong crowd.
So, it was back to dear old Somerton Park a fortnight later for the second leg, and somehow 18,000 spectators squeezed though the cranky old turnstiles to see if County, who finished that season in mid table in the old Third Division, could finish the job off against a side that included seven East German internationals.
Given the fact we had two away goals in the bank, a 0-0 or 1-1 draw would have seen us through to the last four of what was then, the second ranked European competition.
However, we came up against a goalkeeper in Hans-Ulrich Grapenthin, who that night along with a crossbar and a few handily-placed defenders on the line, had the game of his life making two unthinkable saves.
County manager Len Ashurst had predicted in the press the day before of a “cat and mouse” game, but it was anything but as County, roared on by their biggest crowd in 13 years took the tie to Jena.
Following a nervy start, County almost scored twice in as many minutes as first skipper Keith Oakes’ header was hacked away by Gerd Brauer, then from another pinpoint Kevin Moore corner, David Gwyther this time saw Brauer clear acrobatically off the line – although many people, including the burly striker himself, were convinced the ball had crossed the line.
The Swansea-born forward, who was an extremely popular player, told the media after the match: “My header was at least a foot over the line and the television will show that clearly.”
It had been a hectic start, and more was to follow when in the 16th minute, Oakes again soared majestically above the under-pressure German defenders from Nigel Vaughan’s corner, to head past Grapenthin only to see Eberhard Vogel this time clear his lines.
Steve Lowndes then forced a save from the East German stopper before the moment that shocked the home fans and many more listening in on radios around the country that night, as 62-times capped Lothar Kurbjuweit’s 25-yard free-kick skidded off the greasy surface to beat County’s No.1 Gary Plumley, giving the Germans a wholly undeserved lead.
Try as they might, County couldn’t get the goal they needed and apart from the odd breakaway that never really threatened, the visitors defended superbly thereafter to protect their lead.
Hero of the first leg Tynan smacked the crossbar midway through the second half, before the superhuman Grapenthin made possibly the best save I, and many others ever saw live – again it was Oakes who was denied at the Cromwell End, just two yards out from a Karl Elsey cross.
Grapenthin also showed superb reflexes to deny another Gwyther header; whilst even as late as the 88th minute, Kevin Moore was denied with a fourth clearance off the goal-line.
An eerie silence fell when the referee blew his final whistle, as no away fans were allowed to travel in that era of the Cold War, and for a few stunned seconds you could literally hear the proverbial pin drop until the hysterical joys of relief shown by the Jena players echoed around the pitch.
However, the home crowd weren’t too keen on going home and many instead stayed and sung on the terraces and behind the dressing rooms, as they were so proud of County’s herculean efforts.
So alas, it wasn’t to be, and it was Jena who drew Portuguese giants Benfica in the semi-finals before losing the final itself 2-1 to Dinamo Tbilisi in Dusseldorf.
Words by Chris Shingler
Photo Courtesy of South Wales Argus