Proud Boy From The Valleys Who Shone At Wolves
Several weeks ago, we brought you a Newport County fan’s view of the life and times of Mark Kendall. We are now delighted to do the same with the keeper’s good friend, Nigel Vaughan, a skilful midfielder at Molineux in the renaissance years. Again, we are indebted to Andrew Taylor for sending us the following text:
Nigel Vaughan, Newport’s Player of the Year in the promotion and Welsh Cup winning side of 1979-80, was a product of local football and joined the groundstaff after a trial in December, 1974.
“My brother Haydn was associated with County and knew Graham Reynolds,” he said. “They’d been trying to persuade me to go down for a while. I’d been playing for Lodge and also had a few games for Albion Rovers (the South Wales version).”
One of my old press cuttings shows 14-year-old Nigel receiving the Ron Gray Trophy from County winger Andy White as Lodge Player of the Year. “Andy was a hero of mine as he’d played for Caerleon and so it was great for me when I joined the club and he was still there,” Nigel added. “In local football, I’d played up front and, at 15, dropped back to midfield.
“When I played in the trial game, though, they said: ‘We can’t put you in midfield as we have a boy, Mark Aizlewood, to play there. So we want you to play left-back.’ I’d never played there before. I must have done ok as they put me on the ground-staff. Later, I had a bit of a moan and they gave me a one-year apprenticeship.”
The build-up to that apprenticeship offer on Nigel’s 17th birthday in May, 1976, had seen him play a starring role in County’s successful youth side, who regularly netted double figures in the Gwent Youth League and most notably gave Newcastle a scare in the FA Youth Cup quarter-final.
“We had a very strong side that year. Andy Beattie was the Guv’nor of the apprentices and we had Mark, Carl Hilberg and Lee Arthur among others. It was a big thing for us to play Newcastle and I’m still proud of how far we went.
“They scored twice early on and we pulled one back and had all the game after that but just couldn’t get the second goal. To be honest, I never thought I had a chance of making the grade and was just enjoying playing in the Welsh League and learning the trade.
“A highlight was playing at Pembroke and Dai Williams was in charge and set to play in centre midfield. I later heard him say: ‘Vaughany was oustanding today.’ When you look at the first team at the time, I was up against people like John Relish and Gary Bell. I was Belly’s and Brian Godfrey’s boot boy. Belly was very good to me.
“Dave Elliott was the manager and a nice bloke but I didn’t know him that well. I can remember at Christmas, they all went over the Black Horse and he offered me a lift to town. I said: ‘Yes please, gaffer’ but wish I hadn’t. He must have been well over.
“Jimmy Scoular came in and literally changed the dressing rooms – with Bob, Steve Lowndes’ dad. They did them up properly. He made a difference. In those days, if you finished in the bottom four, you had to get voted back in by the other clubs and I think because he knew a lot of people, we stayed up.
“Belly and the other ex-Cardiff boys knew how to wind him up. They’d knock the ball in five-a-sides just so he had to stretch and watch him moan. We’d play left footers v right and he would go mad with his own side – we’d never finish until they’d won.
“I tell you what, though…..I will always remember one day down the Glebelands, he had us practising pattern play with the ball going from right-back to centre midfield and then out to Andy White on the left wing. They couldn’t do it and he lost patience, got hold of the ball and immediately drilled it 60 yards straight to Andy’s feet. He didn’t have to move! From that point on, I looked at him as a different bloke.”
Nigel made his League debut as an apprentice during the ‘Great Escape’ season of 1976-77.
“I was training at Underwood Leisure Centre and joined in the pattern play at left-back and when we got back, I was in the bath with the pros and so didn’t have to do my work,” he said. “It was a great feeling.
“I was in the team at Rochdale and played at the back with Don Murray. I came running out nice and quick and their full-back slid in from ten yards and took me out. Don said: ‘Hey, slide in first next time and go higher – protect yourself!’ I always remembered that.
“I kept my place for the next game in the FA Cup at Bournemouth because ‘Belly’ was still suspended and we drew 0-0. The gaffer pulled me in before the replay on the Tuesday and said he was playing ‘Belly’ and I couldn’t complain as he was a super player and realistically there was a big difference in class and experience. I finished the season well, though, scoring a goal when we beat Cardiff to win the SA Brain Cup.”
Nigel also obtained two Welsh youth caps that season, both against England, and didn’t let the off-field financial problems unduly deter him.
“You just want to play football and so life goes on. Gordon Taylor from the PFA came in and said that they would only help with the wages of the married players.
“Colin Addison came in and was flamboyant in his red shirt and had a good reputation from his time at Hereford. Ronnie Radford’s goal for them against Newcastle in the Cup is my all-time favourite. He also brought some players in from them who made a difference.
“They must have liked me because, at the end of the season, they gave me a pro contract. But, without a shadow of a doubt, if I was right-footed, I wouldn’t have got anywhere as I was only small.
“It was all at a cost as, up until I was 21, I never had a social life – I ate and slept football. But, again, if I hadn’t been that dedicated, I wouldn’t have made it.
“The next season, though, I was disappointed as I only played about ten games but it continued my education, like at Exeter when I ran on past Brian Clark after the ball and he gave me a mouthful as I should have run off him.
“He was another superb pro. I went on my own to the Player of the Season ‘do’ in a hotel near the Gwent and was all starry-eyed and remember Murray’s wife saying to me that she liked a massive plant in the reception area, and ‘That would look lovely in my home!’ I can always remember seeing Don going home with it at the end of the night!
“Ronnie Bird was the trainer and was an ex-hairdresser. I said: ‘Ron, can you cut my hair?’ ‘Yeah’ he said, but he’d only done the one side when he had a phone call and had to go home. I said: ‘You cant’ leave it like this!’ – but he was gone and my mum and dad weren’t very happy with that at all.
“I never felt that I was a first-team player that season but then Len Ashurst came in. Len is my hero as he made me the player I was. One day, he pulled Ron over with me and said: ‘Birdie, why has this lad only played ten games for us?’ Ron said, ‘He’s a bit small.’ Len said: ‘Bollocks, Ron, he should be in the first team.’
“In the end, he used to pass notes to ‘Birdie’ as they weren’t talking. It was the turning point for me, though. At pre-season in Aberystwyth, he called me to his room and said: ‘Do you think the players like you?’ I said: ‘I don’t know’ and he told me: ‘All the other players want your ability and believe in you – and you must, too. You will play until you are 32.’ And he was right. I did.
“He would be on at me to get involved – I wasn’t a tackler – and told me: ‘I want you to break your leg!’ I’d be had up if I said that to my players today! I was a little bit disappointed that he didn’t take me with him to Sunderland. I had to laugh at pre-season camp in Aberystwyth – all the lads were saying: ‘Go on gaffer’ for him to dive off the top board. It was well up. He did and was black and blue when he got in the bath later!”
Eddie Woods also helped Nigel’s confidence before the giant-killing FA Cup encounter with West Ham – a game in which Nigel’s corner set up County’s opening goal by Howard Goddard.
“Before the game, we went to the New Inn and West Ham were there. I was in the back of a car with Eddie Woods and he turned around and said: ‘Did you hear that ‘Vaughnie’? Trevor Brooking said: ‘I hope Nigel Vaughan isn’t playing!’ He was a good lad, Eddie. I was stood just behind ‘Pop’ Robson when he scored for them – what a shot that was! I was so pleased with our first goal as we’d worked on our corners.”
Nigel made 33 appearances during the 1978-79 season, scoring four goals. The next campaign would see things get so much better and Nigel responded to Ashurst’s challenge to have the same faith in himself that others did; in quite spectacular fashion, in fact.
“All the players gelled so well that season. Len knew the background of the players he brought in and there were no bad eggs. Tommy Tynan would have a bit of a problem with you if you didn’t pass the ball to him in certain areas but he was all right with me.
“We had the right blend of youth and experience in the side. We used to call Dave Bruton ‘Cramp’ because he’d go down after 75 minutes but he was great for us in centre midfield and would get you organised. Kevin Moore was an unsung hero. We could give him the ball and he would keep it for five to ten seconds – and that is a long time in football – no-one could get it off him!
“Keith Oakes was the best player I played with at Newport. He was superb at the back, a real stalwart. Mind, you could go through loads of them like Neil Bailey and ‘Lowndsie’ (Steve Lowndes) and Richard Walden. In goals, we had Gary Plumley and later Mark Kendall.
County had an embarrassment of riches up front with Tynan making himself an icon and John Aldridge about to forge a career which would see him grace the World Cup stage. The signing that excited Nigel most at that time, though, was the great Dave Gwyther.
“When I was young, I would never miss watching Caerleon play. I’m not sure if it was a testimonial game over there against a Newport XI for Len Hill, who was a real hero of mine, but Dave Gwyther was there with Swansea. I can still remember going up to him and getting his autograph. When he signed for County, I took my book into training to show him. What a fantastic player and man!”
Nigel started the season strongly and scored the first goal of the promotion campaign – an effort which he rates among his very best.
“I still have a photo of that first goal against Port Vale, when I went around the keeper and slid it in. That was a turning point for me. Other favourites of mine were at Reading against Steve Death, which is always a treasure, and against Exeter in the Cup when I chipped the keeper from 30 odd yards.
“The winner against Cardiff in the Welsh Cup that season was another good one. When I went to Cardiff, their keeper Andy Dibble always moaned about that one saying it took a deflection off Jimmy Mullen. I used to say: ‘It still beat you, though, Dibbs!’ I scored a very good one as well for Cardiff from a very long way out. Coming back to Newport with Cardiff and scoring wasn’t so good to be honest.”
Although County almost contrived to throw away promotion by losing at lowly Rochdale, Nigel was in positive mood for the final game of the season at already promoted Walsall.
“We fancied ourselves up there. They were already up and were the big-time Charlies. We took them apart. Then we won the Welsh Cup by beating Shrewsbury home and away – and they were in the Second Division at the time. We beat them 3-0 at Gay Meadow and I always give them stick up here now about that. Of course Gay Meadow has been flattened now, like Somerton Park. It always upsets me going over Somerton Bridge, seeing houses where our ground was.”
To underline his importance as the heartbeat of that triumphant County side, Nigel, along with the other local youngster and still close friend Steve Lowndes, was the only ever-present and weighed in with a very respectable 12 goals from midfield. His ‘assists’ were countless. Quite rightly, his performances were recognised and the season topped off by him being named Player of the Year. In such illustrious company and in such a successful side, that was quite an accomplishment.
“Being Player of the Year was absolutely tremendous for me.”
The 1980-81 season in the Third Division was to see unfamiliar grounds visited by the County faithful.
“Our first game was at Burnley. We drew 1-1 but noticed the step-up in stenadard. John Relish told me after the game: “They were a bit worried about you – their manager kept shouting: ‘Get hold of that little b*****d in midfield.’
As exciting as trips were to places like Turf Moor, they paled in comparison to the European venture courtesy of the previous season’s Welsh Cup exploits.
“Playing in Europe was absolutely fantastic. My main memory was going into East Germany and the police with their guns and uniforms looking just like in the old films. I didn’t fancy our chances against Carl Zeiss Jena but then again we were a side who would dig in and we also had goals throughout.
“It was always the case that if we had chances in the game then we might just put a couple away – and Tommy did just that. It was bitterly disappointing to lose in the home leg but still people talk about it and it’s great to be associated with that – especially for two local boys like me and Lowndsie.”
After the unsuccessful big-money signings of Alan Waddle and Jeff Johnson, Len Ashurst was sacked during the 1981-82 season, paving the way for the return of Colin Addison.
Having kept County up with a late-season run, Addison then put together a side who played supremely entertaining football in the 1982-83 season, only to blow certain promotion to the Second Division.
After success at Cardiff and Wolves and ten Welsh caps, Nigel found himself back at ‘AFC’ during the Gloucester exile and return to Spytty. A further 129 appearances saw Nigel have a brief stint as caretaker manager before the ill-fated reign of Chris Price.
“I was at Worcester but things weren’t going well and ‘Relo’ phoned. It was great to come back with lads I knew like ‘Lowndsie’ – it felt like coming home. I really enjoyed my second spell and was bitterly disappointed I didn’t get the job but I can see the point of view of the board. I think I upset a couple of people.
“I was a bit too big for my boots at the time. I’d love to have another go and I always keep an eye on results. If people talk to me about my CV, I tell them about playing in Europe and for Wales, although I only got ten caps as I didn’t get on with Yorath after turning down a move to Swansea. I made my full debut against Brazil. I couldn’t get near them – they were super!”
Not bad for a home-grown boy who thought he wouldn’t make the grade!
* Nigel Vaughan made 118 appearances for Wolves (with 13 goals) after being signed in 1987. He left in 1990.