If it weren’t for David Hando, Manchester United’s FA Cup opponents this weekend, Newport County, would not exist. After the team went bankrupt in 1989, Hando, a teacher, fought for six years to get his team back into the Football League. His son Julian said that without his father’s efforts, Newport County would have ceased to exist.
Newport County was a founding member of the English Football League Third Division in 1920. However, after the team’s bankruptcy, the Welsh FA wanted the new club to play in the Welsh league system. If Newport AFC had complied, they wouldn’t be hosting Manchester United this weekend or enjoying their 11th season back in the Football League.
David Hando’s mission was to get Newport back to where they had been before – in the Football League. But this required not just success on the field, but also in courtrooms. The Welsh FA told the new club that if they wanted to play in England, they would need to play in England.
Newport County faced additional challenges as the Newport council did not want them to play at their old Somerton Park ground due to unpaid rent from the old club. In 1989, Newport were forced to play home games in Moreton-in-Marsh in England, about 80 miles away from their hometown.
David Hando fought against these obstacles with a quiet resilience. While Manchester United began their dominance of English football, Hando was buying balls, flags, and paying for the players’ coach to keep his new club going.
The club eventually took the Football Association of Wales (FAW) to the High Court. Lawyer Charlie Hopkins, who helped David and Newport with the case, said that playing home games in England wasn’t sustainable and that if they had continued as they were, they would have gone out of business within a couple of years.
After a three-week hearing, Newport County won their case against the FAW. The court agreed that the Welsh FA imposing an exile was an “unlawful and unreasonable restraint of trade”. Following their court win, the new club was renamed Newport County AFC.
Newport County returned to the Football League in 2013 and have since hosted FA Cup games against Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, and Leicester City. This Sunday, they will continue their David and Goliath story with a visit from Manchester United. However, this will be the first big game that David Hando, who passed away last January, will not attend. His son Laurence said that his father would have been proud to see the prestige the club and city are gaining from hosting one of the world’s biggest football clubs.