Manchester United: The 1976 day the Red Devils rescued Newport County

Lou Macari in action for Manchester United in 1976Venue: Rodney Parade, Newport Date: Sunday, 28 January Kick-off: 16:30 GMTCoverage: Live on BBC One, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru 2, BBC Sounds, BBC Sport website and app, plus live textHighlights: Match of the Day, BBC One from 22:30 GMT and later on demand

Manchester United will this week aim to avoid a giant-killing at the hands of a club they once helped keep alive.

United’s eyes may be on silverware as they travel to Rodney Parade on Sunday, but Newport County will reap the riches of the fourth-round tie.

It is estimated the game is worth £400,000 to the club that is thought to have the lowest League Two budget.

Huw Jenkins’ takeover was confirmed this week, and a good job too given only a few months ago fans were warned there was not enough money to cover the costs of the season ahead.

But it will not be the first time United have helped swell the County coffers.

And without an act of generosity almost half a century ago, there may well have been no Newport to dream of cup fairytales.

Things had been bleak for County in the winter of 1976.

Languishing in the lower reaches of Division Four, the club were in the all too familiar predicament of financial hardship.

In his Newport County history Amber in the Blood, Tony Ambrosen writes: “In October it was apparent the club was in a financial crisis.

“At least on this occasion the more pleasant side of football could be seen.

“An appeal raised £3,500 and supporters of Bradford City and Southend United (to which three fans made a 180-mile sponsored walk) made collections. Dave Mackay and Des Anderson donated their fees from newspaper articles.”

In November, Gordon Milne’s Coventry City played a game at Newport’s old home of Somerton Park, also to raise money. Newport lost 7-1.

But it was only when Manchester United sent a team of stars to play a south Wales XI that County could breathe again.

The quickly assembled hosts were a scratch side, consisting largely of Cardiff City and Swansea City players.

The Bluebirds involved included goalkeeper Ron Healey, midfielder John Buchanan and striker Tony Evans, while Wales internationals Alan Curtis and Robbie James, as well as Danny Bartley, were the Swansea representatives.

Tommy Docherty managed Manchester United between 1972 and 1977

Yet United, then managed by Tommy Docherty, fielded a strong line-up.

European Cup winner Alex Stepney was in goal and the team in front of him was littered with internationals including Sammy McIlroy, Lou Macari, Steve Coppell, Stuart Pearson and Gordon Hill.

Also in the starting line-up were the brothers Jimmy and Brian Greenhoff.

There were just three Newport players in the south Wales XI squad – centre-back Don Murray, striker Brian Clark and goalkeeper Gary Plumley, a second-half substitute for Healey.

Plumley was just thrilled to be part of it.

“I followed United from an early age,” he said. “I played at Old Trafford in the FA Youth Cup for my previous club, Leicester City, and saved a penalty.

“I remember being so excited when I found out I was to be included in the squad, along with two of our experienced pros, Don Murray and the late Brian Clark.

“Arriving at the ground was an experience, too. Even though it was a fundraising game, it was against Manchester United. There were people everywhere.

“I remember walking past the legendary John Toshack, and out of nowhere he said, ‘Hi Gary, enjoy your game tonight’.

“That blew me away. I was a 20-year-old kid who, only a few months ago, made his debut in the Football League.

“I don’t remember anything about the game, it seemed to flash by so quickly.

“I do remember being disappointed that I didn’t have much to do, but pleased to have kept a clean sheet.

“Phil Dwyer scored the winner for us late on, another great Cardiff City clubman who’s no longer with us, and we won 1-0. The rest is just a blur.”

United lost 1-0, but the scoreline was not the biggest result.

The £8,000 raised that night helped ensure Newport survived financially in a season which would also be remembered for a dramatic escape from relegation.

Plumley added: “I have no idea what the gate was or how much was raised, but one thing’s for sure, there wouldn’t have been the great escape at the end of the season without it.

“[There would have been] no Welsh Cup win, no promotion and no European campaign [after that season] had Cardiff City not been so generous in arranging the game.”

Some 13,000 fans attended the game and the money raised went to the Newport County Fighting Fund.

The old club finally went out of business in 1989, after being in existence for 77 years.

From the ashes, Newport County AFC, a new club was formed by dedicated fans.

Despite battles with authority and twice having to play across the border in England, the Exiles, as they became known, defied all odds to rise back through the ranks of the English football pyramid to become a Football League club again in 2013, courtesy of a memorable 2-0 win over Wrexham in the Conference play-off final at Wembley.

But the demise of the old Newport could so easily have happened in the late 1970s had Manchester United and others not come to their rescue.

Now, 48 years on, it is another chance for Newport to make the most of United’s appearance in Wales, in a game that is likely to raise 50 times as much as the fundraiser that has escaped so many memories.

But for lifelong fans like Tim Thraves – for many years the club’s PA announcer – the arrival of Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes and the rest will stoke memories of financial hardship, relieved by one of the biggest names in world football.

He recalled: “Newport were £100,000 in debt, which is a lot of money thinking about it now. They were in a desperate state.

“It was very precarious and Newport were very close to going out of business.

“So fair play to the generosity of Cardiff and Swansea. And great gratitude to Manchester United.”

Manchester United: A Stepney (P Roche), A Forsyth, S Houston, S McIlroy (G Daly), B Greenhoff, (A Albiston), M Buchan, S Coppell, J Greenhoff, S Pearson (C McGrath), L Macari, G Hill ( D McCreery)

South Wales X1: R Healey (G Plumley), P Dwyer, D Bartley, A Campbell (P Sayer), D Murray (D Livermore), A Larmour, R James, A Curtis, T Evans, J Buchanan, B Clark


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