Newport County v Luton Town
Tuesday, December 11th 2011, 7.45pm
Blue Square Premier League
By Paul Willott
This was a fixture I had been anticipating for nearly 20 years, ever since I listened to my uncle regale us with a tale of travelling to watch this fixture down the then recently built M4 circa 1964. At said time, Newport County were still in the non-league wilderness, and with the Hatters in the second tier of the professional game, so such a fixture seemed a long way off in the dim and distant future.
The years rolled along, and Newport County eventually won their way back to the Conference, and with Luton finding themselves unceremoniously deposited there after a 30 point deduction, this became a fixture I highlighted.
There was the added bonus too that the club had moved lodgings to the more centrally located Rodney Parade, so I was looking forwarded to seeing this club's latest home following its nomadic and not entirely happy history since it fell out of the league in the late 1980s.
The day in question dawned bright but very frosty, and with warnings of freezing fog and temperatures barely rising above zero across vast swathes of the UK, I did question my sanity in even making the trip, but all the early indicators were that the match was still going ahead. Hence I started to head west along the M4 mid-afternoon, and as the temperatures dropped below freezing in wiltshire I must admit I started to believe I was wasting diesel, but I pressed ahead.
Once being relieved of the £6 entry tax into Wales I soon left the M4 and headed along the A48, passing the Newport Stadium, the clubs last lodgings en route. I guess I also passed the clubs spiritual home somewhere to my right, as I saw "Somerton" signed off to the right along the A48. Once at the junction with the A4042, I turned right, and started to keep my eyes peeled for a ground to my right from the A4042.
I soon recognised the 2 sets of 4 fllodlights, and encountered my only real problem of the night. Having located the ground, getting to it proved a little tricky as it is not immediately apparent where to exit said A4042 with a view to getting across the river to the stadium. I nearly ended up back at the M4 before I could turn around and have another go!
In the event it was 3rd time lucky, and I was across the river and I found a place to ditch the car right next to the ground on Rodney Road. This I must add was perhaps comparatively easy being as firstly, I was early and secondly, many I suspect decided to give it a miss for weather and mid-week reasons. In the event of crowds any significantly bigger than the 2,200 that turned up that night, parking would become a real headache. If it wasn't a midweek match, trains would be a real option too, as the railway station is nearby, and well connected.
The ground itself gives an interesting feel on first inspection; rather than a case of positives or negatives, I would say its more positives and quirkiness as the the ground clearly isn't "used" to football . . . . at least not yet. That said, there are two good covered stands alongside the pitch. The more modern one, the Bisley stand is partly given to away support. The seating is a most striking in appearance being multi-coloured and reminding me of the moquette on old london double deck buses.
Opposite is the "Hazell" stand, with a terraced paddock in front of the seated area, complete with a quaint almost seaside promenade railing type of frontage across the seated area. Interestingly, the seats were either unwanted by the home support or closed off , as the considerably noisy Newport fans congregated on that terraced area.. Although there is an open terrace behind one of the goals, few fans seemed inclined to use it, and the double deck executive box affair behind the other goal was only used by a solitary camereman.
It did indeed seem quirky to have the vast majority of all fans alongside the pitch, and almost no stmosphere behind either goal , but the aforementioned home support on the Hazell Stand paddock more than made up for that. The pitch itself when viewed from ground level clearly undulates quite considerably, and this may be an area the club looks at improving on. Once seated, another tell-tale sign of the real origins behind the ground are the rugby lines that no-one appeared to have bothered to properly erase before the evenings match ; That said, I suspect we were all grateful that we even had a match on at all given the viciously sub-zero temperatures.
Most of the stewarding was very friendly and had a wealth of knowledge on the oval balled game, and the much needed pasties of the meat and potato variety at £3 a throw were devoured a plenty by myself, complete with a coffee at £1 a cup.
The game itself was a goal-fest with the home side running out 5-2 winners returning to the top of the table in the process and no-one from a Luton perspective could really complain as Newport were the better side in all departments, complete with a physical presence that could well prove telling in the final run-in.
Although the result was disappointing from a Luton perspective, i thoroughly enjoyed my evening not only was it a bonus to even get a match played in such cold temperatures, and all credit to the ground staff at Newport for that. It was also warming from a football purists point of view to see Newport doing well. Those who remember their sudden drop from 3rd tier to 5th tier of the english game in two seasons in the 80's, followed by being clearly adrift in the conference before being wound up, will I'm sure like me not begrudge the club its hard won return to the league should they get there..
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