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FA Cup: 'Newport v Man Utd not possible without my dad'

Newport County team
Newport County AFC won promotion to the Football League in 2013, 25 years after the old club were relegated

If it wasn't for one man, Manchester United's FA Cup opponents this weekend simply would not exist.

When Newport County went bust in 1989, David Hando began a battle to get his team back in the Football League, where they had been for almost 70 years.

But forming a new club was the start of it as the teacher led a six-year fight against the establishment and injustice that ended in the High Court.

"Without dad driving it, Newport County would have just died," said son Julian.

Why did Newport go to High Court?

The old County were founder members of the English Football League Third Division in 1920.

But as they were in Wales, the Welsh FA wanted the new club David helped build to play in the Welsh league system.

If Newport AFC did what football's authorities wanted, then they wouldn't be hosting Manchester United - one of the world's biggest clubs - in front of a sell-out crowd on Sunday in front of Match of The Day cameras, let alone be enjoying their 11th season back in the Football League.

David Hando outside the High Court
Newport joined with fellow exiled clubs Caernarfon and Colwyn Bay by taking the Welsh FA to court in 1995 to compete in the English league but play home games in Wales

"Newport County was David's life and his mission when they folded was simple, to get Newport back to where the old club had been and that was in the Football League," said Mary, David's wife of almost 65 years.

But that was not going to be just about winning on the football field, but in the courtrooms too.

If they wanted to play in England, the Welsh FA told the new phoenix club they would need to play in England.

Newport council also did not want Newport AFC to play at their old Somerton Park ground as it initially considered the new company to be a continuation of the old one and said the old club owed unpaid rent.

"They were already starting from scratch getting players, a manager, a kit, a name and then they then had to ring clubs in England to see who had space to let them play at their ground," said dad-of-three David's middle son Laurence.

Did Newport play home games in England?

So in 1989, Newport were exiled to play home Federated Homes League Premier Division games in Moreton-in-Marsh in the Cotswolds in England - in a different country and about 80 miles (130km) away from the town they were representing.

Laurence, Mary and Julian Hando
Mary and David's family travelled all over the UK watching his beloved Newport and now sons Laurence and Julian are also die-hard fans

That was something Mr Hando, a determined deputy headmaster, felt was unfair and that was when his real challenge began for a man who "politely didn't take no for an answer".

"The club was running hand to mouth and had so many obstacles, but dad had a quiet resilience that justice would eventually prevail," added Julian.

So while Manchester United started their dominance of English football which led to two Champions League wins, Hando was buying balls, flags, paying for the players' coach just to keep his new club going.

"Playing home games in England wasn't sustainable," said lawyer Charlie Hopkins who helped David and Newport take the Football Association of Wales (FAW) to the High Court.

"The board had no choice and nothing to lose. If we'd have continued the way we were, we'd have gone out of business within a couple of years.

"However if we'd lost the legal action against the FAW, we'd have ended up with a massive bill, which was more than £500,000, and go bankrupt - so it was a case of if you're going down, it's all guns blazing."

From Europe to non-league

The old Ironsides had even played in Europe after winning the Welsh Cup, famously reaching the Cup Winners' Cup quarter-final in 1981 - only seven years before relegation from the Football League and eight years before being wound-up with £330,000 of debts.

The new club started four divisions below the Football League and workaholic David spent every evening writing letters to fans sponsors and basically anyone that could give anything to help the legal fight - with secretary Mary helping.

"I typed letters, bought stamps and did what I could as I knew the club and town meant a lot to him," she said.

"He loved Newport and didn't want the town to be deprived of its football club."

Newport led the High Court action against the FAW in a historic legal move, as lifelong County fan Charlie explained: "As far as I'm aware we were the first club in the world to take its own football association to court.

"Football associations, Uefa and Fifa are all private companies as are clubs like Newport.

David Hando
David Hando was recognised in the Queen's New Year's Honours List in 2015 with a British Empire Medal for services to football and the community of Newport

"So it was effectively one private company imposing restrictions on another that would have actually seen us go out of business and that's not reasonable.

"We'd tried to negotiate with the FAW and and got nowhere. It was court or bust."

Why did Newport win High Court case?

After a three-week hearing and in court number 56 in the Royal Courts of Justice, new County arguably got their greatest result of all as Mr Justice Blackburn agreed the Welsh FA imposing an exile was an "unlawful and unreasonable restraint of trade".

"I remember watching the TV news and saw the expression on his face when they won," recalled Mary. "It was such great relief as they'd struggled so hard."

David had helped buy the trademark of the old club's name when it went bust and soon after their court win, the new club was renamed Newport County AFC as a nod to both incarnations - and nicknamed The Exiles as an acknowledgment to their turbulent history.

"Had we not taken that action, we would not be in the Football League, we would not be in the FA Cup and instead of welcoming Manchester United on Sunday, we'd be playing Welsh cup games against the likes of Machynlleth," said Hopkins.

"With all respect, there's no comparison."

County returned to the Football League in 2013 and have hosted FA Cup glamour ties against Premier League champions Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and famously beat Leicester City five years ago.

On Sunday, the David and Goliath story continues with Manchester United's visit but this is the first big game David will not attend.

The Newport County president and grandfather of six died aged 84 last January.

"He'd be proud seeing the prestige the club and city is getting, having arguably the biggest football club in the world coming," added Laurence.

"The name of Newport, he beloved hometown, will be going to homes all around the world and many wouldn't have heard of us before. He'd love that."

Newport's relationship with the Welsh FA has improved too with the club preparing for their big game at the FAW's training base and Wales hosting home internationals at their Rodney Parade ground.

Newport fans
Newport has hosted Premier League clubs like Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham and Brentford in cup competitions since returning to the Football League

"We're talking about ancient history," Welsh FA chief executive Noel Mooney said referring to the FAW legal battle with Newport.

"Welsh clubs playing in the English system is an anomaly but the fact Newport County are playing Manchester United is great for Welsh football as it'll inspire youngsters to play the game.

"The more that play the game, the bigger the potential pool the Welsh national team has to benefit from."