TT No.154: Mike Latham - Sunday 28 April 2013: Newport County 1-0 Grimsby Town (aggregate 2-0);           Blue Square Premier Play-offs Semi-final second leg: Att: 6,615; Admn: £15; Programme: £3; FGIF Match Rating: 4*


I’ve always had a soft spot for Newport County having watched them quite a lot over a three-year spell thirty years or so ago when I lived in Bristol. I remember going to the epic Cup Winners’ Cup quarter-final tie against Carl Zeiss Jena at the old Somerton Park. County had drawn 2-2 away from home but lost the second leg by a single goal before a crowd estimated at 18,000. The scoring deeds of John Aldridge who I’d seen playing for South Liverpool and Tommy Tynan were the stuff of legend.


Somerton Park was a decrepit old ground but it oozed character and was a friendly place to visit. I remember a midweek game against Fulham, when a couple of Londoners were among the home supporters, as there was no segregation in those days. One was roundly told off for using some foul language in the presence of ladies, he apologised profusely and the pair not only stayed in their position for the rest of the game but made some new friends among the home support. Things were different in those days.


Gradually Newport County’s fortunes declined and when I last visited Somerton Park they were approaching their lowest ebb. Bolton won 1-0 at Newport in Nov 1987 before a crowd of just over 1,500 and the return game at Burnden was one of the most one-sided I’d ever seen. Wanderers beat a makeshift County outfit 6-0, but it could have easily been sixteen. But the County side never gave up trying and their efforts were marked by a standing ovation at the end of the game from the Wanderers fans. County went into the Conference but quickly folded- and a reminder of those dark days, and an insight into the events surrounding them was in one of the programme articles on former County player Will Foley.


Thirty years on here were County trying to regain their Football League place after an incredible revival from those dark days of the late 1980s and then a spell in exile playing home games in Gloucestershire at Moreton-in-Marsh in the Hellenic League. The County fans have played an integral role in the club’s resurgence and they were out in force, with a really friendly, family atmosphere around the place.


The ‘marriage’ between rugby and soccer doesn’t always mix, but I was really impressed with Rodney Parade, a neat, compact stadium close to the city centre. I’d bought a terrace ticket over the ‘phone during the week and was glad I had as the ‘sold out’ signs were on display in the ticket office windows. I parked in a city centre multi-storey for £1 and walked over the footbridge across the river to the ground. I was away in no time after the final whistle. What an amazing revival has also taken place in regenerating Newport city centre in these last 30 years, it was unrecognisable from my days walking from the station to Somerton Park and back.


The ground has been covered on here before so I won’t add much detail. Suffice to say there’s a classic old stand on side, with terrace in front and a modern, though shallow cantilever stand on the other. The two ends are open standing but with good sightlines. It’s a massive improvement on the Newport Stadium, Spytty Park where County played up to this season and a world away from Somerton Park.


Played on a dry surface with a strong wind the game was a typically nervous play-off affair. I thought Grimsby were the better side in the first half but Christian Jolley’s smart low drive into the bottom corner built on County’s lead from the first leg.  In the second half County played some good football and ran out comfortable winners with the visitors rarely threatening.


This was Phil Tanner’s last match as programme editor- what a pity because the programme was a superb production with some really interesting articles, a real labour of love.  It was one of my best trips out of the season- a great day. Sadly due to the regulations covering photography at this level of football I left my camera at home and so this is a rare Traveller’s Tale from me without photographic embellishment.


contributed on 28/04/13