Simon Hart: Justin Edinburgh offers second chances at born-again Newport

Life Beyond the Premier League

To the outsider, South Wales is a place associated with the old stereotypes of rugby, coal mines and male voice choirs yet it is developing a nice line in football fairy stories too, and not just for the presence of Swansea City in today's Europa League play-off draw. The rebirth of Newport County AFC is arguably an even more romantic tale – one involving exile from Wales, five promotions, a lottery-winning chairman and, now, a spectacular return to the Football League after 25 years.

If beating Accrington Stanley 4-1 in their opening League Two fixture last Saturday was not pleasing enough, Justin Edinburgh's side then went and won 3-1 at Brighton in the Capital One Cup on Tuesday – a victory wrapped up by a goal from a player who 12 months ago was working as a postman, Conor Washington, and which has earned them a second-round trip to West Bromwich Albion.

Newport's club president David Hando was one of 500 travelling fans at the Amex Stadium, and was there at Rodney Parade last Saturday too when, as he explains: "We had to turn people away." It is a far cry from the day in February 1989 when Hando saw Enfield turn up for a Conference fixture at Newport's old Somerton Park home only to find the gates locked. That came nine months after relegation from the old Fourth Division; the winding-up order that followed concluded the ruinous tenure of a controversial American owner, Jerry Sherman, who left debts of £300,000.

It is thanks, in large part, to the efforts of Hando and a group of like-minded fans that Newport has a League team today. They set up a phoenix club called Newport AFC (renamed Newport County AFC in 1999) with Hando serving as vice-president. The road back was long: the new team had to start again in the Hellenic League, playing their first season in the Gloucestershire town of Moreton-in-Marsh. After two seasons back at Somerton Park, a second, two-year spell in exile at Gloucester City began in 1992 after the Football Association of Wales responded to their refusal to join the League of Wales by refusing to sanction their participation in the English game – an argument County won in the High Court.

"We didn't expect the barriers to be put in our way, like having to go into exile twice," says Hando. "It has taken a long time but the pace has accelerated recently, with the appointment of Justin Edinburgh and move to Rodney Parade."

Although Dean Holdsworth had led County into the Conference in 2010, they sat bottom when Edinburgh, the former Tottenham Hotspur full-back, replaced Anthony Hudson in October 2011. Nineteen months later, they were celebrating a Wembley play-off triumph over Wrexham – a success which, for Edinburgh, topped his FA Cup and League Cup final wins with Tottenham. "There is no doubt that was the pinnacle of my footballing career," he says, adding: "Tuesday went a long way to rivalling it."

Edinburgh had managed four non-League teams previously – Billericay Town, Fisher Athletic, Grays Athletic and Rushden & Diamonds – yet always had a "burning desire" to climb higher. "When I started at Billericay, that was my main aim. It took me a bit longer than I expected," he says. The 43-year-old has the benefit of a wealthy chairman in Les Scadding, winner of £45.5m on the EuroMillions lottery, who took over in August last year, just as Newport were beginning a 10-year tenancy at Newport Rugby Club's Rodney Parade stadium. That agreement allowed the club to focus on squad building, with Scadding's wealth enabling Edinburgh to sign AFC Wimbledon striker Christian Jolley, who scored 15 goals last term.

That said, Edinburgh dismisses their "moneybags" tag. "I've probably brought in 25-30 players in 20 months and three of them I've purchased," he says. "I managed to keep 15 of last year's squad so continuity is the key."

Edinburgh has forged a formidable spirit despite his willingness to gamble on players with a reputation – captain David Pipe and midfielder Adam Chapman have both served prison terms while striker Chris Zebroski left two previous clubs for disciplinary reasons.

"A lot of them have had a second opportunity," adds the manager of a club whose own second chance has finally arrived.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
health
News
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
News
The spider makes its break for freedom
VIDEO
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United player ratings
Arts and Entertainment
books
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot