Wembley Dreams

6,403 – what a weird number.  We all have to remember all sorts of numbers in our lives, passwords, log ins, overdraft limits, telephone numbers but if there is one number that I will always remember it’s 6,403 the attendance figure of the first football match I went to – Newport County v Huddersfield Town (3-2 to the Port).  5 games (for me) later it was 18,000 as the mighty Port played in the Quarter Final of the European Cup Winners Cup against the East German cup holders Carl Zeiss Zena (see my programme below).  The Port had drawn 2-2 over in East Germany but despite dominating the most one sided game in history we got hit on the break and lost the home leg 1-0 and to be honest that’s as good as it got.  30 odd years later I’m reminded of Jasper Carrotts’s famous quip about watching Birimingham City – “you lose some you draw some”.  In fact I don’t remember us drawing many apart from a couple of seasons later when we stormed to the top of the old division 3 table (now division 1) beating those that can’t be named from down the road 1-0 in front of 16,500 with Tommy Tynan and John Aldridge leading the line on Easter Monday.  The future was bright the future was amber but history then cast it’s dark cloud as the only time we had previously been promoted from the 3rd division was in 1939 and WW2 broke out, so fearing a repeat we did the best thing for the country and capitulated, culminating with a last day defeat away at Huddersfield Town which sent them up and us heading toward the vortex of doom.

As all our players were sold and we began our descent into oblivion we managed to pass on a bit of that bad luck onto our departing players.  Aldridge had a great career via Oxford and then onto Liverpool but managed to miss the penalty in the 1988 cup final against Wimbledon.  While travelling home and away all over the UK watching the Port I also clocked up over 20 years of Wales home games missing I think 4 with a few European trips thrown in for good measure.  In 1993/4 Wales played Romania at Cardiff Arms Park with the winner off to America for the World Cup Finals.  At 1-1 a penalty was awarded to Wales and the Romanians were crumbling.  Paul Bodin hit the best penalty I’ve ever seen apart from the fact that he hit it so well and so hard it hit the perfect apex of post and crossbar – we lost the game 2-1.  Bodin was an ex Newport player – you get the drift.  The game of course was put into the shade by the tragedy of a fan killed by a flare fired into the crowd 2 blocks from where I was.

By this point Newport had been relegated out of Division 3 and Division 4 (100 games attended across both seasons not many draws) into the Conference where we went bankrupt, auctioned off everything and started again a long way from the football league.  At the same time the Football Association of Wales in their infinite wisdom banned us from playing in Wales as they wanted us to join their new fangled Welsh League and our ground was sold for housing.  When you can’t sink any lower however and your back is against the wall it’s best to come out fighting so we get up and running again sharing a ground firstly with Moreton in the Marsh and then Gloucester City, we sue the Welsh FA for restraint of trade at the High Court and win and finally end up back playing games in Newport.  Slowly but surely we inch our way back through the divisions and now find ourselves 1 promotion away from regaining our place in the Football League.

Of course running parallel to all this was me growing up, forging relationships, marriage and all that goes with that, moving away from the Port and after various cities now finding myself living and settled up in Yorkshire which makes getting to games much harder now, but I feel I’ve paid my dues over the years so I go as and when I can.  When I first started watching we had a small back garden with a hedge at the back and one of the those washing lines that you could fold up and down that span round which acted as my perfect defender.  I would spend hours in the back garden jinking past the washing line onto my right foot before firing a “goal” into the hedge.  A goal only counted if it went into one of the corners that were a perfect football sized hole in each corner of the hedge made from my constant shooting.  As I dribbled past the washing line I had only dreams of being one player – Kevin Moore an elusive, erratic, ebullient and effervescent winger for the Port, a player that still remains my favourite ever player.  Kevin launched us onto one of our best runs winning a penalty against Orient that put us into the third round of the FA Cup and up against the great Everton side of the mid 80’s who we took to a replay.  Of course at that stage I thought the only way was up for us and imagined (like every young fan everywhere in the country) that one day I’d see my team run out at Wembley.  It would surely only be a matter of time ?

Kevin on the charge and in our fantastically classic 80’s addidas number.

Of course that time never came but watching so much defeat helps to harden you to the knocks that come through life and over the years, contrary to those contorted in apoplectic rage, I watch games in a sense of zen calmness and magnanimity (although I still get worked up in my own way!).  Most of my mates were not interested and my family certainly wasn’t so I developed a certain stoicism, watching most of the games in my own solitary world.  In fact I often feel that my own existence and that of the Port is wrapped up in some weird mirror image that closely resembles Kipling’s If:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

However on Saturday all those dreams I had as a young lad will return as Newport County play York City at Wembley in the FA Trophy.  To many perhaps a meaningless bauble but in the 100th season since the club’s establishment our first visit.  I’m really glad that we are playing York as I live up here now and they are also a team that has fallen on hard times but is on the rise again and will return the following week with a chance to make it back into the Football League and I for one wish them well for that game.  On Saturday though no matter what I will certainly be treating triumph and disaster the same but may well shed a tear as the teams run out and one of my lifelong dreams is fulfilled.