References to lottery tickets are a well worn trope in the world of those who support those clubs that habitually live below the games breadline. On the whole, those that have come up trumps with those multi-million to one odds have tended to steer clear of football, but one club has bagged itself a Euromillions winner, and even this is just another moment of note in a most extraordinary start to the season for Blue Square Bet Premier club Newport County. Not only have Newport managed to persuade £45m lottery winner Les Scadding to join the board of directors of their club as its new chairman, but if the team, managed by the former Tottenham Hotspur defender Justin Edinburgh, might not even need their newest boardroom recruit to put his hand in his pocket in order to strengthen the team.
It has been a remarkable few months for this club. During the summer, it left the unsatisfactory Spytty Park – also known as the Newport Stadium – for a new home, sharing the Rodney Parade rugby ground with Newport RFC and Newport Gwent Dragons. The club had spent much of the summer struggling to make the mathematics of its wage bill add up, and expectations for the clubs progress on the pitch this season were not especially high. This season has, however, seen Newport start with a run of sensationally good form which has seen them win each of their opening five league matches, culminating with a 2-0 win against Hereford United on Tuesday night in a match watched at Rodney Parade by a remarkable crowd of 4,365 people. It wasn’t entirely plain sailing – Hereford missed a first half penalty with the score still goalless and Edinburgh was sent to the stands with ten minutes left to play – but this win leaves the club three points clear at the top of the table from Macclesfield Town before August has even finished.
All of this seems a long way removed from the clubs financially troubled past. It’s now almost twenty-five years since Newport County were relegated from the Fourth Division of the Football League, a hollow shell of a club playing in front of pitifully small crowds at the dilapidated Somerton Park. The club folded in mid-season, two-thirds of the way through the 1988/89 Football Conference season, but this was a club that refused to pass quietly into the history books. A new club, Newport AFC, was founded in 1989 but this club found itself almost immediately in conflict with the Football Association of Wales. As one of ‘The Irate Eight’, Newports refusal to join the League of Wales meant two years in exile playing at Moreton-in-the-Marsh in Gloucestershire in the Hellenic League before common sense prevailed and the club was granted permission to play in Wales but remain a part of the English league system n 1994. The club changed its name – changed its name back, many would say – to Newport County in 1999 and the club won its way into the Blue Square Bet Premier in 2010. After a solid mid-table performance in its first season there, however, last season saw the club finish in nineteenth place in the table, although they did have the consolation of reaching the FA Trophy Final at Wembley, where they lost to York City.
This summer, however, saw the clubs biggest change in the last decade and a half, with its decision to leave the Newport Stadium for Rodney Parade. Former chairman Chris Blight had described the Spytty Park pitch “not fit for purpose” and, whilst Rodney Parade may not necessarily be perfect for the club – a fact that seems to have been recognised in the inclusion of a break clause allowing it to leave and return to the council-owned Spytty Park at the end of this season should things not work out – it’s town centre location is superb and there is a definite feeling that it is, although not perfect itself, a further step in the right direction for the club, and this may have been reflected in extremely impressive attendances for their first three home league matches of the season. Over 2,500 people turned up for their first home league match against Nuneaton, and this was followed by over 3,000 turning out for their second home match against Lincoln City.
Against such a background, the resignation of the former club chairman Chris Blight in July. Blight hinted at the time of his resignation that he had received abusive messages from some supporters in saying that, “Recent events within our club have brought issues into the arena of our local media and fan forums – some favourable, and some to the contrary” but the club could not afford to stand still on the matter of his resignation and there was at the time of his resignation considerable gratitude amongst the clubs support for the time and effort that he expended on its well-being. The arrival of Scadding at the club, though, whilst the headlines were always going to be written on their subject of his good fortune three years ago, is unlikely to mean an open cheque book for the club. There are few easier ways to lose £45m very quickly that to throw it at a football club. Scadding, it is to be hoped, will have more sense than to do that.
Under the managership of Justin Edinburgh, however, the team has not shown many signs of needing a great deal of extra money being spent on it so far. Edinburgh, who played three hundred games for Southend United, Tottenham Hotspur and Portsmouth, is forty-two years old, but he is already in his tenth season as a manager in the non-league game, having already spent time at Billericay Town, Fisher Athletic, Grays Athletic and Rushden & Diamonds before accepting the Newport job in October of last year. Edinburgh has already won the Blue Square Bet Premiers Manager of the Month award for August and, whilst it may be a little early to be assuming that he will be lifting the league title come the end of this season, it is difficult to fault his start to this season, especially when we consider the disappointing time of things that the club had last season.
There is, of course, a long way to go this season, but with crowds up, a new ground which seems to have met with the approval of the clubs supporters and a team at the top of the table, Newport County are making progress that is befitting for the one hundredth anniversary of the formation of the original club to bear the name. Higher crowds should boost revenue into the club, and this should help to insulate the club against the sort of financial difficulties that seem to manifest themselves at the level of the game in which the club finds itself competing at present. If there is a golden glow coming from Gwent at the moment, it isn’t just coming from the amber shirts that the players wear. Whisper it quietly, because there have been false dawns before, but Newport County are starting to look like a club on the up.
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