Newport County are one of the newest additions to League Two, having dramatically won an all Welsh Conference Playoff Final last season against Wrexham. Not that the Football League is something that is alien to fans of County. The Exiles were relegated from what is now League Two 25 years ago, after 60 years of league football, before folding in 1989 with debts of £330,000. And it’s been a long journey back for Newport, who took their club nickname from the struggles with the FA of Wales during the early 90’s.
As the FAW set up the Welsh Premier League, the reformed Newport County were placed on the bottom rung of the English football ladder with a desire to gain back their place in the Football League. However, the FA of Wales wanted the club to participate in the fledgling league, but when Newport County turned it down, the FAW declared that Newport were unable to play in Wales. The club were forced out of their home country and had to play home games in Moreton-in-Marsh in Gloucestershire.
Newport took legal action against the FA of Wales, and the case went to the High Court. The Exiles wanted to protect their right to play in Wales while under the English football league system, and could point to several other clubs doing just that. The club won a high court verdict which allowed them to have a permanent home in Newport. The move home proved successful as Newport were promoted to the Southern Premier League Division.
The club then embarked on their journey up the league pyramid, and made the first round proper of the FA cup in 2001, where they lost to Blackpool in a replay. In 2004, the Conference system was reorganised, and Newport were placed in the Conference South. Holding their own for several seasons in the division, Dean Holdsworth was placed in charge in 2008, winning the title in the 2009-2010 season with a record 103 points to gain promotion to the Conference Premier.
Dean Holdsworth left the club midway through their first season back in the Conference Premier, the very league that had been in when the club folded some twenty years earlier. Anthony Hudson was named their manager and the Exiles finished a very respectable 9th place finish. The following season, after a poor start, Hudson was sacked on 28th September 2011 with the club second bottom of the Conference.
Justin Edinburgh, affectionately known by Exiles fans as Mr. Ed was placed in charge and saved the clubs Conference Premier Status by finishing in 19th. They also visited Wembley Stadium for the first time in the FA Trophy final, where they lost to York City 2-0.
Following survival, two key things happened to Newport County. In May 2012, it was announced that Newport County would move to Rodney Parade, the city’s Rugby stadium. Then in August, it was announced that Les Scadding, a EuroMillions lottery winner, was to become the club chairman.
With such positive things happening off the pitch, Newport County performed on the pitch too, finishing third in the Conference Premier under Justin Edinburgh. After a 2–0 aggregate win over Grimsby Town in the two-legged play-off semi-final, Newport met Wrexham in a tense all Welsh affair at Wembley. Newport County won the match 2-0 to reclaim their league status.
County have started the season extremely positively, and find themselves in 9th place after 10 games, just outside the playoffs in League 2. They can also boast cup victories over Brighton & Hove Albion (league cup) and Crawley Town (Johnstone’s Paint Trophy), both teams from higher divisions. The Exiles are performing well, and will be buoyed by the fact that of the 10 previous Conference play-off winners, only Hereford United have so far fallen back out of the Football League. Manager Justin Edinburgh has also signed a two-and-a-half year contract extension to commit himself to the club until 2016, despite interest from other clubs – all the signs are positive that Newport County are in the Football League to stay.
We caught up with Exiles fan Jim Drewett, moderator at www.the-exiles.co.uk about Newport County and their return to the football league. Jim gives us the lowdown on Newport and what will be an introduction to a lot of Football League fans who cannot remember a time that the Exiles were part of the 72.
What was your first match?
My Dad took me to watch County v Torquay in the mid 70s I think it was 1-1 but didnt get the bug till the early 80s
Unbeaten in three and ninth in the league after 10 games – are Newport exceeding expectations?
Not really. We have a new found confidence which Mr Ed (Justin Edinburgh) has brought to the club. I like a lot of County fans think we will be in the top 7 this season.
As the newest addition to the 72, a lot of fans might not have been to Rodney Parade. Can you describe it to us?
RP is a rugby ground. As you know its quite an old ground but has a new stand which sits the away fans as well. The main terrace where we stand is not perhaps the best for viewing due to the structure of the pillars holding the roof, but overall fans are impressed by the move and its only a couple of minutes walk from the town centre and has many drinking establishments. Very handy!!
Who are your main rivals?
In this division I would say Brizzle Rovers but all us older die hard County fans still hold Kardiff city up there. See I cant bring myself to even say their name
Favourite current player?
This would have to be David Pipe the man is 100% every game and a born leader.
Favourite past player?
Mark Kendall RIP the guy was a top goal keeper but also a great character and a big heart.
Did you sign anyone pre-season? How are they getting on?
Worley, Zebroski, Chapman, Stephens, Jackson, Burge, Jones and Naylor.
Worley has been solid at the back. Zeb is a terrifying player to play against I wouldnt want to mark him you know you have been in a battle. Chapman for me so far has not reached the performances he produced for us when we had him on loan 2011-12. Jackson looks a decent squad player but hopefully more to come. Burge not seen much been injured. Billy Jones looks a good move scored a beauty against Morecambe. Naylor scored two own goals in the same game but I believe they weren’t his fault and looks a good utility player that can play in defence and midfield.
Did you lose any players after promotion?
No one I could hand on heart say we have missed. The usual end of season releases but we kept the core of last season’s squad.
Do Goldie Lookin Chain still turn up? Any other famous supporters?
To be honest I have never seen any of them over the Port but I’m told they do go. Probably our most famous fan is our Chairman Les Scadding he has had a lot of press coverage.
Justin Edinburgh has taken to management well – will he go on to manage a bigger club?
Mr Ed has been a breath of fresh air to the club along with his 2nd in command Jimmy Dack As Mr Ed says hes still learning but I have no doubt he will be a championship manager hopefully with us!! But he has signed a new deal.
How satisfying was a 4-1 win in your opening match? Drink much?
Fantastic win and start for us but unfortunately I was working nights so no shandys for me. Straight to work from the game as I work in Port Talbot.
Follow a 4-1 win with a 3-1 win over Brighton in the league cup, you must have been in wonderland???
Fantastic win again but I had to be content with radio coverage due to work!
We love a decent away following – what’s your been like this year so far? Do many follow the team away?
We took nearly a 1000 to Exeter, 1200ish to WBA (league cup second round) and 500 to Brighton. We will travel in numbers.
On the flip side, so far, who have been the best visitors?
Brizzle has been the best turn out. Torquay brought 400ish but, fairplay, I believe the Morecambe 80ish made the most noise so far and a friendly lot too.
Any matches you are looking forward to this season in particular?
Brizzle away always big games in the 80’s and we will take 1500 easy there if they let us.
What is Newport’s style? Lump it to the big man or passing?
Mr Ed can change style to suit but we can play some lovely football and when Jolley and O’Connor are fit they will tear defences a new one. Be warned!!