Thursday, July 18, 2024

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Football Away Days: Newport County and Rodney Parade

The Dodger Pub NewportTime for the latest in our series of football away days, and on this occasion the new experience involved a short trip to South Wales and some League Two football at Rodney Parade. The game we chose was a clash with the, at the time, bottom of the table Rochdale AFC, whilst Newport County were hovering around the lower mid-table region. With a lot riding on the game, our own stakes were raised when the date of the fixture ended up clashing with another RMT strike across the train networks (solidarity brothers!), but thankfully we suffered little inconvenience when grabbing a coach instead.

Our drop-off came beside the River Usk which was a stone’s throw away from the Newport City footbridge, that itself led directly led to Rodney Parade on the other side of the river. Ironically it transpired that the train strike had led to our most straightforward journey yet to a football away day. With a good hour or so to kill before the 3pm kick-off, we went in search of a local pub following a bit of direction from an elderly fan and eventually found 'The Dodger'.

Once we knew the way it was barely five minutes from the football ground and despite looking like a rugby pub from the outside, when inside we were immediately surrounded by a large number of bustling home fans and their distinctive amber/gold shirts. Interestingly, at the time I noticed an oil painting of a boxer behind the bar but couldn't make out who it was. Then the very next day I noticed a story about newly uncovered photos of David Pearce in his pomp and learnt some more about the area.

A couple of quick Guinness' later and we were on our way back to Rodney Parade, the home of Newport County for the last ten years and a place that is traditionally steeped in rugby history. As for 'The Exiles', well that nickname alludes to what has at times been a traumatic history for the club. After a period of success in the early eighties, including a run to the 1981 European Cup Winners Cup quarter-finals, the second half of the decade saw a downturn that led to successive relegations in 1987 and 1988 which led to Newport dropping out of the football league and then tragically going out of business the next season.

Less than six months later the club was reborn in the eighth tier of English football, although they had to deal with a bit of a nomadic existence. Several years were spent with different venues acting as home, with a season at London Road in Moreton-in-Marsh followed by two seasons back at their original ground in Newport (Somerton Park) and then two seasons at Meadow Park in Gloucester. Finally, in 1994, the club were able to settle at the newly constructed Newport Stadium, where they stayed until the move to Rodney Parade.

Rather poetically, that first season in their new home (2012/13) saw Newport County reach the play-off final for the Conference Premier (National League these days). There they met Welsh rivals Wrexham and triumphed 2-0 at Wembley, securing a return to the Football League after twenty-five long years, and it's where they've solidified themselves for the past nine seasons.
Rodney Parade in the Sun
Between March 2017 and the start of October 2021 the club were managed by the popular Michael Flynn, who was a part of the Newport County team that beat Wrexham back in 2013. His tenure saw two near misses for promotion to League One, with 1-0 extra-time losses in the 2019 and 2021 play-off finals (to Tranmere Rovers and Morecambe respectively), and his sudden resignation left a big void to fill. James Rowberry was the man who took the reins on October 19th 2021, stepping into his first managerial role.

Last season saw the Exiles finish in 11th spot in League Two, meaning that Rowberry had a solid enough platform to build on for the current campaign, with maybe one eye on a promotion challenge. In reality, on the day of our visit, Newport County were looking at the wrong kind of battle as they sat in 17th spot. As kick-off fast approached we grabbed another pint at the ground and I sourced my obligatory matchday programme, which was the thinnest I've ever seen. That being said, at least Newport are one of the football league clubs that haven't dispensed with this tradition. We then settled in our front row seats, near the halfway line, being threatened with a sun tan by the unexpectedly glorious weather, in anticipation of what was to come.

The wait didn't last long, as only five minutes in a goal came for... the away side, and just like that all of the bristling eagerness in the home crowd got sucked out of the stadium! It was textbook training ground stuff as Rochdale took a thrown-in from the left hand side and worked it back to Liam Kelly. His in swinging cross was met by a glancing backwards header from James Ball, whose leap beat the attempted punch by the keeper, who was nowhere near it. Newport also had three defenders in the near vicinity to the Rochdale midfielder, but they were all left standing by the simple routine.

The rest of the first half was only marginally better for the hosts as Rochdale should have been ahead by more. They conjured a handful of decent chances, a long range effort had to be tipped around the post to avoid Ball getting his second and a Toumani Diagouraga header from a corner was almost scrambled in. Their best outlet though was the twenty-two year old Abraham Odoh, a 5 foot and 5 inches attacking midfielder/winger who spent as much time as possible marauding forward at a furious pace, as if the word nippy was invented for him.

Newport County foodAt half-time we checked out the food situation and having survived on my porridge from eight hours before, I went all in! A cheeseburger was accompanied by a portion of chips with curry sauce, and I had defeated the hunger. The meat in the bun was pretty decent whilst the fried starch and spices were OK but a little underwhelming, all in all it did a job.

The second half was a much tighter affair, with Newport trying to piece a move together that would lead to that golden opportunity, but it never quite came. There was more endeavour, but like the opening period the attempts that came were mostly speculative or well defended. The closest we got to an equaliser was when Mickey Demetriou flashed a header into the side netting. Rochdale were relatively happy to defend rather than repeat their daring of the opening forty-five minutes, although as time wore on towards (what would then be) just a second league win of the season, they got a little bit more nervous in their approach.

With full-time coming Newport naturally became more desperate and consequently overcomplicated their football and frustrated the crowd. The final whistle heralded a loud cheer from the travelling fans, who had been in good voice throughout, and Rochdale had secured a crucial away win. We'd enjoyed our day and liked the setup of the compact Rodney Parade, it was just a shame that The Exiles hadn't been able to give us more to shout about. However, there was to be a sting in the tail of our away day, just two days later the loss to Rochdale led to James Rowberry being sacked just shy of his first anniversary as manager.

Newport County lost their next game after our visit but then appointed Graham Coughlan as the new boss, and they've subsequently won one and drawn one. The former Plymouth Argyle vice-captain had a successful tenure at Bristol Rovers in his first managerial post, but he abruptly left the club to take over at Mansfield in a move that saw him win only four matches out of twenty-seven before his sacking a couple of years ago. We'll wait and see which way his influence takes the team from South Wales.




Click this link to read about our other football away day adventures


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