We are greatly indebted to Newport historian Andrew Taylor for granting us permission to use in full his excellent published article on the late County and Wolves keeper Mark Kendall.
We, of course, penned our own tribute to the man he calls The Clown Prince of Somerton – all at Molineux will relate to that title! – after his very sad passing in 2008. But so packed is Andrew’s piece with interesting anecdotes and snippets from well beyond the West Midlands that we felt it was perfect for posting on this site…..
Having sat next to goalkeeper Mark Kendall on the team bus on a number of occasions, I can personally vouch that he was the larger than life character that he appeared to be from the terraces. Always ready with the unorthodox, Mark was one of that eccentric breed of keepers who would enthral and amuse in equal measure and occasionally frustrate – but who was always hugely popular. I caught up with Mark in December, 2006.
Mark had fulfilled a boyhood ambition when joining County in 1980-81, which no doubt softened the blow of leaving a glamour-packed Spurs side including the likes of Glenn Hoddle and the 1978 Argentinean World Cup winning legends Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricky Villa.
“Because of the hooligan element, my parents said I couldn’t watch Cardiff when I was a kid, but they did let me go to County,” he said. “This was in the late 1960s. With the speedway track around the pitch, the corners were covered with coconut matting and I thought that was great! I can remember seeing it for the first time and thinking: ‘You can’t do that!’
“I started as a left-half for my school team but our keeper broke his leg falling off a roundabout, so I ended up playing in goals in an under-11 tournament. When I was 13, the former County player Harold Joy, who was the Spurs scout in our area, saw me in a tournament.
“People were saying that a scout had been watching and liked me but my dad said, ‘Those people don’t exist around here son!’ It was right, though, and Harold became a major influence in my life. He used to take me to Fleur-de-Lys to work on my fitness and also I used to use an old set of weights twice a week at home. Then, at Easter, he took me to London and I found that I was fitter than most of the Apprentices there.”
Mark was by now a Welsh schools cap and signed as an apprentice at Spurs in March, 1975. “You’d see people like Martin Chivers and Alan Gilzean on the telly and there they were! It was an amazing experience for a young boy from Blackwood!”
If Mark thought his horizons were spreading by moving to the big city at such a tender age, this was about to get so much more interesting. “I went on as sub for Wales Youth at Maine Road against England in the Little World Cup, replacing County’s Mike Dowler, who had taken a kick in the face from Chelsea’s Tommy Langley. Tony Pulis also played. We came back from behind to win 3-2. The following year, I played in all the reserve games and the next season, 1978-79, I made my first-team debut.
“Ardiles and Villa made their debut in August and I made mine in November. I would never have thought as a kid that I’d play with the likes of them. They were superb, although I think they knew a bit more English than they let on! I played 29 games at places like Old Trafford – the kind of thing people dream of as kids.
“Martin Peters scored a late goal against me on my debut and Liam Brady got one against me when we lost by five against Arsenal. That was included on a Match of the Day goals compilation video as being their no 1. There was nothing I could have done about that strike. No-one would have saved it.
“I kept my place until April but the following season went on loan to Chesterfield and my nine games there was probably my best spell. I saved two penalties, including one from Mark Smith at Sheffield Wednesday who had scored something like 12 out of 12 and was going for some sort of record.
“Richard Whiteley, the ‘Countdown’ Presenter, was working on Yorkshire TV’s ‘Calendar News’ then and he did a feature showing how he (Smith)alternated the side that he hit his penalty. I made a note of that and, sure enough, in the game, one was awarded and, thanks to that programme, I went the right way and saved it.
“I got on fantastically with their supporters and am proud that I am in a book about their most popular players, even though I was only there for a short time on loan. I agreed terms with them to sign permanently but Joe Jordan ‘did’ the Spurs keeper Milija Aleksic and I got called back.
“Chesterfield signed John Turner, so I never got the chance to go back. I remember playing there for County though in 1981-82 – we lost 1-0 – and their fans were singing my name which was incredible and I had a great game. I was in the side for two games and was then back in the reserves. To be honest, I think that until they brought in someone of Ray Clemence’s stature, anyone trying to take over from Pat Jennings was on a loser.
“I played the first five games of the 1980-81 season, including losing at Arsenal again on the telly, with another goal by Brady. Then I was dropped and could see no way of getting into the first team on a regular basis. Mike Lewis was their commercial manager, having previously done that job at County, and we used to call ourselves the ‘Tottenham Branch of the Newport County Supporters Club.’
“Harold Joy was back working for County and I knew through him that they were interested in signing me but Spurs’ manager Keith Burkinshaw kept telling me that there was no interest. As I say, I knew full well that County were interested, so I kept on at him.
“Gaynor was having a baby and wanted to come home, County were in Europe, which was a great attraction, and I really didn’t want to be playing in the reserves, so I came on loan initially, playing my first game at Haverfordwest in the Welsh League. We lost 1-0 in front of six men and a dog, whereas my previous game had been in front of 50,000 at Highbury! Sometimes, though, you gotta do what you gotta do!”
Len Ashurst and Jimmy Goodfellow were soon to make an impression upon Mark with their professionalism. “At Tottenham, you were left to your own devices if you weren’t in the first team but, down at Newport, you were told to come back in the afternoon for more work. We’d go into the little gym by the offices and they put me on a programme of weights, which put 20 yards on my kicking!
“For some reason, I always used to get a lot of stick about my weight. We were visiting friends in Telford the other week and watching some old home videos when my missus said: ‘Who’s that skinny bloke over there?’ and it was me. Truth is that I was always under 13st although, at Spurs one day, I weighed in at 14st 2lbs, so they put me on a diet.
“That seemed to stick and Len got a bee in his bonnet about it, although I was never one of the players who wasn’t fit. Anyway, Len and Jimmy decided to put me on a diet as well when we went to Aberystwyth for our pre-season training.
“We turned up in the Halls of Residence – everybody else eating as they do – and they brought out a ham salad with lettuce and tomatoes and all the rest and Mr Goodfellow decided to take the ham from my plate. ‘Have you got a problem?’ I said. ‘No, you have,’ he replied. So I then said: ‘Ok, set me a target – and they told me to lose a couple of pounds over pre-season.
“Myself and ‘Vaughnie’ then decided to take a stroll into town and go to the ice-cream parlour. I ended up with a ‘99’ with two flakes in it and lots of nuts and chocolate and was just about to eat it when…..who draws up in the car but Mr Goodfellow and Mr Ashurst? The next night, I went down and bought a pastie and chips – and who turns up again but Mr Goodfellow and Mr Ashurst? Before they could see me, I put it on the side of a parked car and stood back – and the car drove off! Looking back now, though, I had 18 years of playing pro football, so I couldn’t have been that bad, could I?”
Mark’s debut came at the beginning of October at Brentford on a day tinged with the worst possible sort of sadness. “We won 1-0 with a goal by ‘Lowndsie’ but it was a poignant day as my mum died. When I got to the hospital after the game, she had passed away. I played at home against Reading on the Tuesday as my dad said that I might as well because there was nothing we could do now. I kept another clean sheet as we drew 0-0 but it was ever so difficult.
“Despite that, I really enjoyed that initial month from a football point of view and the club paid £45,000 for me. I was an only child, so Dad was on his own. Harold was there and I was never going to be the regular first-choice keeper at Tottenham, so it all tied in well and County were the right club at the right time.
“We had some problems, though, selling our house in London and Lee was born in the January. On top of Mum’s death, it was a difficult settling-down period for everyone.”
A major attraction for Mark had been the opportunity to join County’s European adventure. Sadly, this was not to work out as intended. “My main disappointment was that I didn’t get the chance to play in Europe,” he added. “I wasn’t eligible for the early games but to not play against Carl Zeiss Jena was a big blow.
“It was still nice to be a part of the club at that time, though – to be a part of a club, ‘my’ club – that was on the up and taking part in games we would never have thought we would be involved in. They paid a lot of money for me but picked Gary Plumley against Carl Zeiss and that said a lot about the commitment they showed to the players that got them there. Although I desperately wanted to play, that loyalty was basically what made the club what it was at that time.”
Colin Addison and Bobby Smith replaced Ashurst and Goodfellow, and Mark was in an excellent position to contrast their styles. “One played off the cuff and the other, Len, was very organised. Problem with our style under Len was that if it didn’t come off, then we struggled. With ‘Addo,’ he was never going to be a particularly good manager but, as a coach, he was unbelievable and was drilling into us to play football all the time. He had all the skill in the world and then you would get Bob (Smith) who just basically worked on fitness and, to be honest, thought he was a better player than he was.
“In 1982-83, we had a bunch of players that for much of the season played over and above themselves. We played some great stuff and then threw it away. We only needed something like three points from the last seven games (to win promotion from the Third Division) but we were too scared of the position we were in.
“We were over-trained and were being given dossiers on players we were coming up against and it all became too much. They should have taken the gas off, not put the pressure on. We couldn’t handle it. When we beat Cardiff on the Easter Monday, we were on our way – or we should have been. That really was a big disappointment.
“What a team we had, though! ‘Stroudy’ (Kenny Stroud) was the Bobby Moore of the lower leagues and then you had Aldridge and Tynan up front – and Dave Gwyther. Could you have gotten better goal-scorers? I saw Aldridge make his debut as a sub and with his first touch, he knocked it off and spun around, and I thought, ‘Who is he?’ Mind you, I would never have thought he would become a Liverpool player.
“There was not a better centre-half than Keith Oakes at that level and look at ‘Vaughnie’ and ‘Lowndsie.’ Then you had people like ‘Relo’ (John Relish). The story was that Dave Bennett at Cardiff wouldn’t play against him if he could help it. I could go on…..”
It was a less glorious period, though, that brought Mark into contact with a former England international who briefly lit up Somerton Park. “Bob Latchford was pure class. When you needed someone to come in and do a job, he was just excellent. You could ping a ball at him and he would kill it dead. We all liked ‘Stani’ (Gordon Staniforth) because he would buzz around all day but, for the 20 or so games he played, Bob was tremendous. When he was at Everton, they called him ‘Bone Idle Bob’ but he worked his socks off for us. We could never really replace Tynan and Aldridge, though. Who could?”
In the 1982-83 FA Cup third-round tie at home to Everton, County came so close to a giant killing. Minutes from the end, an Everton equaliser saw Mark come in for some criticism and he laughed when I used Dave Gwyther’s description of him going down for the long-range effort from Kevin Sheedy ‘in instalments.’
“What people may not know is that ‘Addo’ didn’t pick me for that game,” he said. “He picked ‘Plum’ (Gary Plumley). I left the team meeting knowing though that ‘Plum’ had already been cup-tied playing for Hereford. He had to call me back! When that goal went in, I heard someone shout: ‘For Christ’s sake, Mark – he was that close to Paddy’s Bar he could have ordered a gin and tonic.’ I put my hand up to that one.”
It was all downhill with the break-up of that 1982-83 squad, although Mark stayed for a few more seasons. “I saw players leave but didn’t appreciate at the time fully what was going on.
“It was awkward, really. I remember Match Weekly used to give players marks for their performances and, at the end of the season, I came out on top and thought it may help me get a move. But, with my current contract, I had been there for seven years and thought if I signed for another three, I could get a testimonial.
“I mentioned it to ‘Relo’ but he was not sure if we would still be in the League by then, so obviously he could see the way it was going. I signed the contract when Jimmy Mullen took over and I could see the testimonial but didn’t see what was going to happen.
“Financially, things must have been awful. David Giles was a good singer and the club would buy us a bottle and a turkey for Christmas. But, this year, they didn’t do it – so ‘Gilo’ got up and sang the full Band Aid song, changing the words to things like ‘Feed the Team.’ We all joined in and the directors didn’t know where to look.
“Don’t get me wrong. I was quite happy playing there, although we were playing with nowhere near the same consistency. The club apparently thought they had two players they could sell – me and Steve Berry. Up to Christmas, I had probably been our best player and was named the ‘Rediffusion’ best player in the League – but I felt that they were trying to manoeuvre me out.
“We played Bristol Rovers at Twerton Park and I saved a pen. Mullen said that he had threatened to drop me and how well he’d done to get me to perform like that. He ignored me and then got me to play in the Welsh League against Blaenavon Blues and said he wanted to see me in the office on the Monday.
“When I got there, he’d already had the forms typed up for me to go to Wolves on loan. I asked: ‘What if I don’t want to go?’ They were seventh from the bottom of Division Four at the time and he said: ‘Go there and get some games and then come back’ and that it would do me good. When I went up to Wolves, their manager Graham Turner said: ‘You have a month to see if we like you and you like us’ and it turned out that he’d already agreed a fee (£25,000).
“It was underhand but doesn’t tarnish my overall time at the club. As it turned out, we won back-to-back promotions and the Sherpa Van Trophy at Wembley.
“Three years later, I joined Swansea and at last got my chance to play in Europe. There was a rule at the time that meant we had to play seven Welsh players in European games and there was only me and Russell Coughlin as experienced pros – the rest were YTS kids.
“We played Monaco, managed by Arsene Wenger, and they had the likes of Manu Petit, Youri Djorkaeff and George Weah. They put eight past me but it was an amazing experience. I wore their keeper’s jersey in a match for Newport AFC when I rejoined. I had a horrendous time at The Vetch and they offered to pay up my contract.
“I’d started looking outside the game and had applied to join the police. John Relish then asked me to come back to Newport to play a few games for AFC, until joining up with the police in January, 1993, although our home games were in Gloucester because of trouble with the Welsh FA.
“I enjoyed that and was also doing a bit of building work but it was awkward and I hadn’t played much football for the previous two years. I tell you what: I take my hat off to part-time players as it’s not easy to work and play. You don’t realise how lucky you are as a full-time pro.
“I had some great times at County, though. I’ll always remember at Doncaster when one of their players got injured. Two first-aid guys looking like Benny Hill with caps and glasses, put him on a stretcher and then picked him up facing opposite directions to each other. Their feet were spinning around and they dropped him. It was so funny – the guy was in agony!
“We had some supporters who did a sponsored walk to Oxford and so many fans were throwing money at me from behind the goal that I went and collected it for their bucket and found £2.37 in small coins Youri – and a couple of oranges and an apple!
“Great memories – I used to enjoy the travelling, with fish and chips on the bus and stopping off at dodgy ‘caffs.’ At Tottenham, we’d have stewards on the bus serving but, at the County, mucking in like this meant we had a great camaraderie.”
* This article is from Andrew Taylor’s book ‘Look back in Amber: Memories of Newport County AFC,’ which is out of stock but heading for a possible re-print next year.