Friday, February 16, 2007

Newport's place in the Universe

One of the more realistic aspects of FIFA 06 on Playstation are the crowd chants and team banners waved by the virtual crowd. Except that in Cardiff City's case, the two most prominent flags, which travel all over the virtual world following City's friendlies even in China, were apparently made by two groups that might surprise a few people.

"Llanishen Blues" are at least a known entity. There has always been a strong following from that area of Cardiff, and I travelled with them myself on a few occasions. But I don't remember a 15ft wide "Llanishen Blues" banner being unfurled at games. I do however, recall a Union Jack, with "Cardiff City" sitting incongruously on the red cross.

The other flag in PS2 displays the legend "Newport Blues". How this must stick in the throat of everyone from the "New Seattle" (c.Spin magazine 1996). There were certainly very few Newport Blues in the old days. And even in recent years, I don't know how many Cardiff fans travel from Newport.

Cardiff have always had a one way relationship with Newport County. In the 80s, Nweport scores announced at Ninian were always cheered or at least approved. The Cardiff people do patronisation very well.

But Newport County on the other hand have their own history. They believed themselves to be the equal of Cardiff, and have understandably resented the local dominance of the Capital.

In their glory days, Newport were a credit to Wales. We all remember the classic team of Tynan, Aldridge and Gwyther. The 1980/81 WCWC run led to a European Quarter Final. Unthinkable for todays Welsh Premier clubs.But in those days, Newport's status was equal to Wrexham, and not far behind Swansea. When I went to watch Cardiff at Somerton Park in 1983, there was an official attendance of 16,000.

The decline of the club due mainly to lack of local support sent the club bust, only to reform as a fan's co-operative in the English Pyramid. A nasty legal battle with the FAW ensued and nearly sent the club down again. Newport won their case and stayed in the English Pyramid. A Pyrrhic victory said some.

Some of the old school still aren't happy. And they elicit sympathy. You can see a selection of authentic NCFC tattoos at various stadia round the country. The old loyalists wander the grounds like lost souls, deprived of their team. To these people, Newport County died in 1989. They reject the new club which goes on without them. A sad situation, when both factions so obviously need each other.

Currently, Newport County play in the Conference South, only a couple of Divisions from their stated aim, the Football League. But that's a pipe dream. County will do fantastically well to reach the National Conference, but that's where it will end. Aldershot are a club in a similar phoenix-like state, but Newport can't begin to match their enthusiasm or support.

Whilst I understand Newport's reluctance to enter the Welsh pyramid. I don't support it from a National viewpoint. But look at it through their eyes. They have recently had big FA Cup games against Blackpool and Swansea which were live on Sky, and matched any interest shown in the Welsh Premierships forays into Europe, TNS's franchised games v Liverpool and Man City notwithstanding.

Newport fear the Bangor scenario. They are similar clubs in many ways, and nobody can argue that Bangor have not been in decline since the start of the Welsh Premiership. Whilst Newport can currently rely on crowds of up to 1,000, this would soon drop to 500, and then 300 in the Welsh pyramid. No wonder they want to stay.

But Newport can never be successful in England. The rise of small clubs based in the wealthy South East is noticable. Look at Rushden, Wycombe, Reading. All clubs built on new money which just doesn't exist in the Newport area.

One of the things that interests me about Newport is the "Welshness" of their support. Newport is not a particularly Welsh area. Situated on the English borders, there is a common apathy towards Wales and the Welsh language from the townspeople (not a City - don't be silly). But Newport County fans parade their Welsh identity when following club and country. I believe that this is due to their club's presence in the English Leagues. When you get called a sheepshagger every week, you tend to behave like one.

The Welsh Premiership is unsustainable without Merthyr and Newport. The admission of those two clubs alone would improve the League by 50%. There would be a lot more interesting games, and even teams like Bangor would would be rejuvenated by their entry. There is a lack of self-esteem suffered by clubs in the League which would be helped by the unclusion of the two biggest semi-pro sides in Wales.

But Newport would rather compare themselves to Cardiff, Swansea and Wrexham. Whilst those three clubs remain in the English system, there can be no suggestion of aquiescence. And for that obstinate stance, you can only give them respect.

Up the County!

1 comment:

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