1979/80 review

The 1979/80 season was a year of triumph for both Newport County AFC and Walsall.

On the 100th anniversary of competitive football in Britain, both sides secured promotion to the Third Division after finishing in 2nd place and 3rd place respectively in the Fourth Division.

Re-live what happened that season in the following article, as both sides prepare to face each-other again in the Emirates FA Cup at Rodney Parade on Saturday.


Summary of the league season

The 1979/80 Fourth Division was composed of 24 teams, of which 15 teams are still in the top four divisions of the English game.

Two current Premier League sides helped compose the division, with Huddersfield Town in-fact winning the league and Bournemouth finishing in 11th place.

Interestingly, both County and Walsall only lost twice at home throughout the entirety of the campaign, including to each other.

And it was a good thing that both teams secured away victories as County headed to Fellows Park (Walsall’s ground from 1896 to 1990) on the final day of the season requiring a win to secure promotion.

Nearly 8,000 County fans made the short trip over the bridge in hope of seeing a first County promotion since 1939, and they were duly rewarded with a 4-2 victory.

Two goals in two minutes from John Aldridge put County in command early-on, the front-man getting his 13th and 14th goals of the league season in the 20th and 22nd minutes.

Walsall player/manager Alan Buckley reduced the arrears shortly after with a penalty, only to see County hit back almost instantly before half-time through Dave Gwyther.

Don Penn got Walsall back into the game mid-way through the second half, to set up a tense finale for both sides.

But any nerves from a County perspective were soon put behind them, as Tommy Tynan secured the victory with a fine header in-front of the travelling fans.

The introduction of three points for a win didn’t come into English football until 1981 so this was still a time where victory secured a team two points.

And had County drawn or lost the game at Fellows Park, they may not have been promoted.  

The Exiles finished a solitary point ahead of Bradford City, who missed out on promotion via goal difference to Portsmouth.

Walsall made their promotion slightly easier than County, securing it with two games to go, although were still in with an outside chance of winning the title on the final day of the season.


How they fared in the cup competitions

The Exiles made a swift exit out of the FA Cup that season, losing 1-0 to Portsmouth in-front of nearly 20,000 fans at Fratton Park.

Walsall, meanwhile, had a slightly longer spell in the competition. A 2-0 victory saw them past Stockport County, drawing Halifax Town in the second round.

Both sides drew 1-1 in Walsall, before another draw by the same scoreline in the replay.

In the absence of penalty shootouts (which were introduced fully in 1991), the game went to a second replay. Halifax Town triumphed this time 2-0.

The League Cup also had a different format to the modern-day version of the competition. All first-round ties were played over two legs, with away goals used if necessary.

And both County and Walsall fell in the first round.

Tommy Tynan’s goal gave County a slender lead over Plymouth Argyle, only to lose the second leg 2-0 at Home Park.

A 2-1 defeat and subsequent 0-0 draw saw the Saddlers eliminated by Chester City.

But it was the Welsh Cup that reaped the most rewards for County that season, winning the competition for the first time in the club’s history and subsequently qualifying for the European Cup Winners Cup.

That cup run started with a 2-0 home victory over Cardiff City, with goals from Tommy Tynan and John Aldridge at Somerton Park.

Steve Lowndes’ strike saw the Exiles past Wrexham at the Racecourse in the next round before brushing aside Merthyr Tydfil 3-1 in the semi-final thanks to Aldridge and a double from Dave Gwyther.

That set up a two-legged final with Shrewsbury Town, the holders of the competition, with the first leg at Somerton Park.

Tynan scored twice as Keith Oakes unfortunately scored an own-goal to give County a narrow advantage in the tie.

But a routine 3-0 victory at Gay Meadow courtesy of Tynan, Lowndes and Gwyther saw County complete a terrific season under the stewardship of Len Ashurst.

The starting side was the same for both legs of the final, which was as follows:

Gary Plumley, Richard Walden, Keith Oakes (C), Grant Davies, Neil Bailey, Nigel Vaughan, Steve Lowndes, Dave Gwyther, Kevin Moore, John Aldridge, Tommy Tynan.



County squad

Arguably one of County’s greatest ever sides, the team thrived in the 1979/80 season under the stewardship of Len Ashurst.

John Aldridge finished top scorer for the season, 16 goals in all competitions, while his strike-partner Tommy Tynan got 13.

Dave Gwyther wasn’t too far behind with 11 goals, while penalty taker Nigel Vaughan joins Gwyther on the same amount.

Club captain Keith Oakes ended the season with 10 from defence as five players got double figures for the campaign across all competitions, while Steve Lowndes was one off with nine.

Howard Goddard scored six, Kevin Moore chipped in with five and Dave Bruton got four goals.

A further six players scored that season: John Relish, Neil Bailey, Steve Warriner, Richard Walden, Mike Bruton and Trevor Thompson all scoring one goal each.

Goalkeeper Gary Plumley kept a stunning 21 clean sheets across all competitions.


Walsall squad 

 Photo courtesy of The League Paper.

Here is a rundown of some of the players that made up the Walsall squad during the 1979/80 promotion season:

Don Penn

Top scorer in both the promotion season and the 1981/82 campaign, Don Penn played at Walsall for six years between 1977-83.

He scored 25 goals in 1979/80 and 14 in 1981/82, as part of his 54 goals for the club.

Penn made 151 appearances over the six seasons.


Alan Buckley

A club legend as both a player and manager, Buckley finished top scorer for the club on seven occasions, including five consecutive seasons from 1974-78.

Over two playing spells, Buckley made over 400 appearances and scored over 170 goals for the club.

Buckley was in fact player/manager in the promotion season, his first as manager, in one of the seven seasons that he held the position.


Ian Turner

An FA Cup winner with Southampton in 1976, Turner spent three seasons at Walsall, with the first of those being the 1979/80 campaign.

Incidentally, Turner spent a short loan spell with County in the previous season, making seven appearances.

Once at Walsall, Turner played for 39 games before moving onto Witney Town.  



What happened next?

The 1980/81 season was relatively successful for the Exiles.

A 12th placed finish in the Third Division was joined by a quarter final appearance in the European Cup Winners Cup.

County beat Irish side Crusaders (4-0 on aggregate) and Danish outfit Haugar (6-0 on aggregate) on their way to the last eight, before falling to Carl Zeiss Jena after a 2-2 draw away and a 1-0 defeat at home.

The German side then went on to beat Benfica in the semi-finals before losing the final 2-1 to Dinamo Tbilisi.

Following on from that season, County stayed in the Third Division until 1987 when they finished bottom of the table.

Another bottom placed finish again followed a year later, before the subsequent reformation of the club in 1989.  

For Walsall, they remained in the Third Division until 1988 when they secured promotion to the Second Division thanks to a third placed finish.

But they could only survive for one season in the equivalent of the modern-day Championship, going on to secure back-to-back relegations to the Fourth Division by 1991.

Since then, they have been back to the equivalent of the Championship again, although have spent the past ten seasons in League 1, with their highest placed finish of third coming in 2015/16, losing in the semi-finals of the play-offs to Barnsley.


A reminder for Saturday’s Emirates FA Cup tie…

In recognition of a wonderful season during the 1979/80 campaign, four players from that side have been invited to Rodney Parade as guests of honour.

Gary Plumley, Neil Bailey, Grant Davies and John Relish will all be in attendance, and will be reminiscing about the season in the Hospitality Suite before the game.

They will also be making an appearance on the pitch at half-time, for supporters to show their appreciation to them for their efforts to the club.