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Newport of Call, Old Story
By: Chris Smith
NEWPORT away was a chance to catch up with Cwmbran Mariner, nattily dressed in the Crows' colours of black and white stripes, and ready to enjoy a good day out with the likely exception of 90 minutes sometime in mid afternoon.
Goolemariner, GyinScuntland and I had headed down at the unearthly hour of seven in the morning at the behest of our Scuntland companion. He'd actually wanted to leave at six and I strongly suspect this was so he could fulfil an ambition to do a Wetherspoons breakfast (and do the other two of that chain later in the day) in the jewel of Monmouthshire as was.
Scuntland's next bright idea was to get us a MaccieD's coffee outside of that other tourist destination, Rotherham, which most of us ended up wearing on a not so smooth road journey and depressingly predictable given I was wearing the most faded jeans I have.
Normally we'd be talking about the game ahead but I don't think I was the only one in the car thinking about how we were going to avoid travelling all the way to South Wales only to end up satisfying Glynn's fantasy of dining in JD's to chalk another one off his list. The sad ******* even has them all programmed into his satnav. As it was, hunger took over not far from the M1 and we turned into the strangely named metropolis of Ashby de la Zouch. Zouch is presumably an old Danish word for chav given the appearance of those who cast curious glances at us.
Glynn asked a local whether there was a café nearby and was met with that stunned silence that told you that yet again you had managed to select the one person to whom any query was met with "does not compute, does not compute". You could almost hear the cogs moving. Eventually, as we were almost bursting with tension (and in my case the remains of my coffee and a large Diet Coke), the response was no. Then, as we were about to go around the corner, just as I expected, was the sign that said Café.
Well, it was, almost. This community hub did do a line in breakfasts and very nice, ta. We made our excuses and left. Ashby isn't the liveliest of towns and these places foster the sort of paranoia you imagine the surviving humans in Invasion of the Body Snatchers felt.
Things were then fairly uneventful, a bit like the subsequent game I suppose (when you rule out the circus acts), until we got close to the Welsh border. For me, this is around Birmingham way. The temptation to start putting on what you think is the best accent going is difficult to resist before realising that trying it on in Wales itself will result in a rapid visit to the local A and E. Mind you, may as well use the NHS whilst it still exists.
Talking of visits to the A and E, we had idly thought about going to the Wyndham Arms in Merthyr Tydfil, featured in TV's Britain's Toughest Pubs (or something like that) and known to the locals as "the best ******* pub in ******* Wales". I doubt these self promoting places are as bad as they are made out to be but there is a strange fascination in a place that invites the Welsh to **** themselves as well as all the other inhabitants of the British Isles. The distance involved and the fact that Merthyr was the inspiration behind Conan Doyle's "The Lost World" meant this particular project was postponed.
As we crossed the border itself, I speculated on the dual language road signs. For example, when we saw the sign for Newport, is that the Welsh translation beginning with C or is it an instruction to the English and a private joke amongst the locals?
Enough of this. Having endured a tour of flyovers and roundabouts in Newport's city centre, we finally managed to put the car in a multi-storey. This wasn't planned but the turn off we eventually picked didn't give us any other option. Whilst the other lads went to sort out their hotel, I made my way to Ye Olde Muringer House, which my brother had identified as the best boozer in the city (and cheap with it as a Sam Smiths house). This will be the haunt for next season if I can rustle up the enthusiasm, although this is looking doubtful in light of events that were to unfold. I've already scratched Barrow away.
As ever, when everyone is having a good time, the match beckons and clouds start to scud over what had previously been bright blue skies.
Newport's ground is a tip of the highest order and £14 was an insult for the dubious pleasure of admittance. I never went to the old Somerton Park, but if it was worse than this, well words fail me for once. An unimpressive athletics stadium greeted us with two covered side stands and flat standing areas at our end with a structure of open temporary seating a la Gillingham. Bizarrely, the catering was also a temporary structure, a small marquee which would have looked more at home in a village fete. This is where any positive vibes about visiting new grounds were finally extinguished. I know Newport have done well to progress in recent years, but to pay so much for these facilities hurts.
We actually thought of going over to see whether there was a competition to guess the number of beans in a jar or the weight of a cake as an alternative to the usual half time draw. It turns out we weren't too far off the mark with an array of tasty cakes for sale which I thought it'd be rude not to try.
I had secretly hoped that there'd be one of those fortune tellers at the back of the stall so I could see what the result was going to be and sneak out the ground before anyone saw I'd been there if the seer gave us the thumbs down.
On a more positive note, there was no tombola and the programme was a very good read.
The first half was uneventful as far as Town moves went with Kenny Arthur pulling off a smart save that did not hint at the disasters to come. Frankly, it had that end of season feel but the smallest away support I have seen at a Town Saturday game for many years deserved some reward for their travels. About three Town fans vainly tried to respond to the Newport children to our left when the best response is to ignore the taunting as Millwall fans do by folding their arms and refusing to acknowledge the existence of their protagonists.
Having decided to avail ourselves of what passed for comfort in the second half, we had pole position for the comedy of errors that passed for Newport's two goals after Town had taken the lead and then spurned the chance to double it. It took less than a minute for us to be punished for our profligacy. I saw someone at Frickley last night who saw the horror show on SC4 on Monday night. That all of Wales could have seen the programme is embarrassing.
It was all too much for Gary and I only felt the anguish when I realised just how much money I'd done watching our heartless side turn in another non-performance. It struck me that our team couldn't trap a wasp in a jam jar when it comes down to it. At one point during the second half in our surreal surroundings, I actually worried I might wake up surrounded by a pile of empties and discarded medicine jars and find out I was still on the p***. Watching this lot is assuming that nightmarish quality.
The last surreal moment was at the bus stop outside where a home fan was earnestly discussing "our" prospects before we had to disabuse him of the notion we were locals.
Our return to the Muringer (a cracking place and very friendly) was sadly an opportunity for Glynn to take the shots that'll now be on Facebook for eternity and make me wish for a nuclear holocaust in more negative moments. Seriously though, a good day out spoiled by our showing up at a game where the team didn't bother to.
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