This Saturday we welcome Newport County to Sixfields for the first time after the Exiles made their triumphant return to the league for the first time since a reincarnation of sorts in 1989. After the demise of the original Newport County in February of that year, around 400 supporters reformed the club in time for the 1989-90 season in which they began a new life in the Hellenic League, four levels below the Football League. I spoke to County fan Andy Lawrence about the rise of the new look Exiles and their transition to life back in the league.
“It’s very hard to put into words just how much it means to everyone involved with the club,” he said, “It’s been a roller coaster to say the least. To think 25 years of fighting all came down to 90 mins of football against our rivals Wrexham was unbelievable, but sometimes these stories write themselves and I think it was a case of “fate” to do it in the manner we did. When I was a little boy my dad would tell me stories of the famous European nights and beating west ham 2-1, and I remember thinking ….Would we ever get back to where we belong ? Sadly there are a few County fans that have passed away in recent years and didn’t get to witness the achievements we have made.”
Andy names league titles, promotions and, of course, last season’s Playoff Final as personal highlights during that time:
“There have been some great highlights over the years, but I think the last 4-5 years have been the most memorable. Firstly, winning the Conference south with 103 points and breaking nearly every record in the book. We only lost 3 games that season so as you can imagine it was a good year to be a County fan. Secondly obviously has to be last season. The previous season was a struggle and we just about survived relegation, so the heroics of last season were unexpected in many ways. We didn’t drop out of the top 5 all season and I genuinely believe that our horrendous fixture pile up cost us the title, but who wants to win it the boring way? So we got promoted the “hard way” which over the years I have renamed the “County way”, seeing off Grimsby town 2-0 over the two legs and finally silencing the doubters at Wembley beating Wrexham 2-0 in the Play Off final.”
The man leading the charge back into the league is a well-known figure in these parts. Justin Edinburgh cut his managerial teeth down the road at Rushden and Diamonds between 2009 and 2011 and took the now defunct outfit to the Conference playoffs in 2010 before losing his job when the club folded in 2011. But by October of that year the former Tottenham defender was back in management and hasn’t looked back since.
“Justin is terrific,” says Andy, “The best manager I have ever seen at County. What he has achieved over the last 18 months has been nothing short of a miracle, and you get the feeling he’s not done yet in order of how far he can take us! Tactically he is a genius and I always have confidence in his decisions and signings.”
“Adam Chapman has been the “catch” of the summer. We had him on loan a few seasons ago and I think his decision to join us permanently was down to Justin and how good a manager he is. His passing is his strong point, and he’s the sort of player that can make the pass to change the game. Harry Worley is another who has joined this season and I was over the moon as soon as I found out. He’s a strong, solid centre back who’s dominant in the air and he’s light on his feet too, which is a bonus.”
So with a litter of good summer signings and the momentum from last season, how far can the Exiles go this time around?
“I think we will probably finish around 10th this season, I always have this feeling that perhaps we can upset the odds and perhaps sneak the play offs but I’m going to keep my feet on the ground for now and say 10th.”
And, of course, a prediction for Saturday’s game?
“I’ve looked at this game as one where we find out just how good we are. The win against Accrington was brilliant but they are relegation candidates so we can’t read too much into that. This is going to be a very tough game for both us, so I’m going to say we will draw 1-1.”
Big thanks to Andy for his thoughts. You can follow him on Twitter @gingelawrence
Newport County links
Official Website: http://www.newport-county.co.uk/
South Wales Argus Pages: http://www.southwalesargus.co.uk/sport/football/newportcounty/