Football: Fall and rise of princes of wails

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The Independent Online
MATCHDAY mornings were a magic day for me as a kid. On waking I'd leap out of bed and test the stretchability of my 100 per cent polyester nightwear by releasing a stinging shot on an imaginary ball in the style of Tommy Tynan, the greatest striker this country has ever seen.

Every League club has their striker hero, and from the late 1970s to 1983 Tommy was the King of Somerton Park and Newport County. That was when Newport were lower League; 10 years down the line the words "non- League" now appear before my team's name - although this change of circumstance, and of name, was a full decade of misery away at this stage.

I clearly remember my first game and on that day grandly announcing to my grandfather (like my father, a lifelong County fan) that I was going to Newport County Stadium, only for them to exchange guffaws. This was my first inkling that all was not what I thought it may be.

I was not disappointed when I got there. We held Grimsby Town 1-1 that magic day and I was in awe at being in the middle of a group of grown men while being allowed to hear them swear and pretend to understand their jokes about the centre-half with the big arse.

These first few years of life as a County fan were spent in a blind state of innocence, made easier by promotion from the old Fourth Division in my second season (1979/80) on top of winning the Welsh Cup.

Football life was one big adventure and as a consequence of our Cup victory we had a European adventure to enjoy. Following the disposal of the custodians of the Irish and Norwegian cups we were drawn against the East German side Carl-Zeiss Jena. In East Germany our brave lads got a draw and we were confident for the second leg. But they beat us 1-0.

We murdered them that night and everyone lost count of the number of goalline clearances they made. Only the absence of a Russian linesman stopped us getting the goal that would have taken us to the Stadium of Light and a semi-final with Benfica. At the final whistle my chubby cheeks burned with tears of disbelief, my time of innocence at an end.

Not long afterwards, our fortunes took a turn for the worse and, to cut a long, sad story short, we had to resort to not only selling our best players to survive, as had always been the case, but also our worst players. We sold the ground, the tea urn, the reserve team kit and club cat, all in a bid to boost the club's coffers. All to no avail.

In the final years we went through more demotions than a sergeant caught in bed with the colonel's wife.

But from the ashes of the County came a new team. The imaginatively named Newport AFC came and stole my heart. Through several years of promotion, relegation, being exiled to England by the Welsh FA and having Somerton Park demolished they have come through with flying colours. Well, drifting colours anyway.

Premiership supporters would not recognise this other world. In our league, away fans can be counted on one hand and the only queues are for the burger van when the onions have cooked. But we've got back our pride and our ambition, we're alive and can show worried supporters of the likes of Doncaster and Brighton that life can go on after humiliation and despair.