I used to get along to Rodney Parade Newport to watch rugby matches fairly regularly back in the 80’s and 90’s, but, with my attendance of matches featuring “Wales national sport” having fallen away to virtually nil over the past fifteen years or so, I’d thought I’d seen my last ever game there until this summer’s announcement that Newport County would be leaving the mud heap and wind tunnel that was Spytty Park to ground share with the Gwent Dragons and Newport rugby clubs.
With County having made a good start to their Conference season with fifteen points to show from their first seven matches and no City games (at youth as well as first team level) to watch over the weekend, yesterday seemed the ideal opportunity to watch my first Newport game of the season, while also paying my first visit to Rodney Parade in what must be nearly twenty years.
My first impression on going through the entrance gates at County’s new home was that not much had changed – you still had to walk past the clubhouse that overlooked the area of grass which had been used to host the Welsh Open tennis tournament (which used to be held just after Wimbledon) that I went to watch with a group of schoolfriends after we had completed (and, in my case, made a right mess of!) our A levels back in 1974, but as I got closer to the football/rugby ground it became clearer that there had been very big alterations made to one side of the stadium at least. The ramshackle old wooden terracing with the metal roof where the television cameras were situated had been demolished to be replaced about a year ago by an impressive new structure called the Bisley Stand which would certainly gain Football League approval if County were to go up, but, if this was the impressive side to their change of venue, the frustrating part was that they have embraced modern football in that actually getting in to watch the game has become far more of a complicated process than it used to.
One of the appealing things about going to watch matches at Spytty Park was that it was a bit like entering a time warp in some respects because, just as you used to be able to do at Ninian Park for the first thirty five years or so I supported City, you were able to turn up at the ground. hand over your cash to a turnstile operator and wander in just as the match was kicking off. Unfortunately, those days are long gone for Cardiff City fans now and they’ve disappeared from this season for County supporters as well because you now have to queue up at the ticket office first to get the bar coded piece of card without which you won’t get through the turnstile.
So it was that I missed the first ten minutes of yesterday’s match. Based on what I saw for the next thirty five minutes mind, I probably didn’t miss too much – County dominated for about ten of them during which their target man Jefferson Louis hit the post, but the rest of the first half saw Stockport, a young team made up mainly of players signed from lower league clubs, shade things as home keeper Pidgeley was forced into some good saves.
On the train journey to the game I’d be accused of being a “Jonah” to the Welsh football team after I”d seen my third defeat on Friday night in the last four internationals I’d watched – I’d denied that by pointing out that I’d seen Wales beat Montenegro in a qualifying game as well as big friendly wins over Scotland and Norway in recent years, but as I watched County(who had scored eight times in winning their three previous home matches this season) labour away in the early stages of the second half, I couldn’t help thinking that this description could be applied to my recent relationship with Newport. After a spell where County just couldn’t stop winning when I first started watching them again three seasons ago after a long absence, my recent visits to Newport have seen the team struggle to get any goal attempts on target let alone score – they’d picked up one point and no goals in the three matches I watched them play last season and, until yesterday’s match entered it’s final quarter, there was little sign of them ending that goal drought against Stockport.
To their credit though, County stepped up the pressure a great deal in the last twenty minutes and, with Stockport getting their chances on the break as well as their opponents threw players forward (they hit the crossbar themselves in the dying minutes), the entertainment levels increased. Stockport’s teenage keeper Ormson (who has had trials with Spurs) was increasingly called into action and Aaron O’Connor, who was averaging a goal a game this season until yesterday, got the ball in the net only to be denied by an offside flag. There was also a big shout for a penalty as the match went into added time and from my view (admittedly at the other end of the pitch), it certainly looked like a visiting defender was climbing all over County striker Danny Crow, but nothing was given and so my Newport goal drought now stands at four games and counting – the bad news for County is that I’ll probably be back for the next home game with Southport in a fortnight!
On a day when other sides at the top dropped points, Country’s draw only saw them drop one place to fourth, but it’s just one point out a possible nine now for them. On this evidence, while they never looked as poor a team as the one I saw last season, they also didn’t suggest that they were capable of maintaining their current lofty position. Maybe yesterday was a bad day for them, it’s a completely new team after all and I suppose it was inevitable that things would level out after such a fine start – hopefully they can cash in on a couple of matches which, on paper at least, don’t look too testing in the next two weeks.
* courtesy of http://www.newport-county.co.uk/