Fan's Eye View: Orange agents in exile: Newport AFC

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The Independent Online
I WAS filling in a questionnaire in a half-decent football magazine. 'Have you had to move to a seat and if so, do you prefer it?' Bloody hell] How about 'has your team had to move 50 miles from its home because of football politics and if so, don't you just hate it?' Tick. It's business as usual for supporters of Newport AFC this year.

You might think Southport and Co have a hard road back to League status. 'Certainly,' mutters Uncle Mort in Halifax. But their problems are nothing to those of Newport, who have twice been exiled because their ambitions exceed those the Football Association of Wales has on its behalf.

The club was formed by enthusiasts in the summer of 1989, Newport County having expired in humiliating circumstances shortly after losing their League place. The sole aim was to restore League football to Gwent as soon as possible. The Hellenic League offered a place, but the FAW had other ideas. For the next eight months the residents of the Cotswolds would have noticed an even greater than usual number of cars with orange badges on their roads as 400 supporters headed 80 miles for a ground-share at Moreton-in-Marsh.

The Exiles, managed by the former County great, John Relish, won the Hellenic League at a canter. You thought Barcelona broke new ground by insisting on changing into their home shirts before receiving a major trophy? Wrong. Two years before, they had had a spy at Hounslow when we completed a double by taking the league cup four months late in a bizarrely delayed replay.

The FAW, realising that its stance was making them look a bit silly, allowed the club back home for their first season in the Beazer Homes League. Supporters' sweat renovated Somerton Park and we sat back to watch the team cruise through the next stage. It didn't happen. It dawned too late that there were now no easy games and every team we played would have a core of hardened Brummie mercenaries. Bottom at Christmas, but seventh at the end of the season, we looked forward to the club fulfilling its huge potential second time around. Home gates were Conference-level, around 1,000, but would probably have been twice that if the sort of encouragement Aldershot now enjoy had been forthcoming from the off.

Early next season, the ghastly spectre of football politics started to stalk the club and has held it back ever since. The FAW decided to launch a league covering Wales - not a genuine national championship, as the top clubs were still welcome to play in England - and withdrew permission for eight senior sides to play in the English non-League pyramid from the end of 1991-92. The uncertainty undermined confidence and Newport did well to finish in mid-table. Merthyr won an appeal, three clubs slunk back into the ghetto of domestic Welsh football, and Newport and three others went into exile - my heroes at Meadow Park, Gloucester, 50 miles from Somerton.

Has the club I support missed the boat by spurning the chance of a place in the European Cup? I'd say no. The hype says Welsh clubs now have something Premiership sides dream of, right up there with the big fish, but the reality is a place among the plankton. This year's adventure for Cwmbran was over before September was 24 hours old.

Back in Newport, Somerton Park has been demolished and just down the road the council-built, Conference-standard Spytty Park stands empty, awaiting the Exiles' eventual return.

One Konica member is chasing a Welsh place in Europe with nine players from Merseyside while a club from Shropshire, holding FAW membership but moribund for the last five years, have just been admitted to a senior North Wales league. Newport continue to bus an all-Welsh squad over the border every week. Football may be a funny old game, but in the weirdness stakes, football politics leaves it standing.

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