IN THE KNOW
Neil Fissler reports all the latest hot gossip from the transfer market
AQUARTER of a century after they last played League football, Newport County are back in the top 92 with a manager whose name can now be written alongside the likes of John Aldridge, Tommy Tynan, Len Ashurst and Colin Addison in the annals of the south Wales club.
Not that Justin Edinburgh needs any introduction to the Football League. After all, he spent ten years in the Premiership with Tottenham Hotspur as a feisty full-back.
It has taken him the same period of time, however, to find his way back through the game’s grass-roots, serving a managerial apprenticeship to get to a level where next season he will take his team to his other former playing clubs, Southend United and Portsmouth, in League Two.
Last Sunday’s Blue Square Bet Premier play-off final win over Welsh rivals Wrexham at Wembley sealed the 43-yearold’s journey from Billericay Town, in the Ryman Premier Division, through Fisher Athletic, Grays and Rushden & Diamonds to the fourth tier of English football.
Over a pint in his local Chelmsford pub, Edinburgh says: “It’s probably taken me longer than I’d envisaged but I’ll be going back to two of my old clubs on a level playing field at last.
“I’ve had to put up with plenty of trials and tribulations along the way, from clubs imploding financially to tragically losing players like Dale Roberts, who took his own life at Rushden & Diamonds.
“I went through every emotion possible there, seeing how it affected his team-mates’ everyday lives. Nothing can prepare you for that. I had to be a counsellor and have counselling myself, but I know I can deal with most things now as a manager.”
Edinburgh was out of work through no fault of his own – neither sacked nor having resigned from the defunct Nene Park club – when Newport came calling in early October 2011.
They were second-frombottom 13 games into a season in which they had financially backed rookie manager Anthony Hudson to bring League status back to the Exiles.
Edinburgh steered them to safety and a trip to Wembley in the FA Trophy final before rebuilding the squad.
Only former Wales international David Pipe, ex-Barnet and AFC Wimbledon defender Ismail Yakubu and local youngster Andrew Hughes remain from those he inherited, while experienced local boys Tony James and Byron Anthony arrived to bolster a backline organised by exChelsea and Millwall keeper Lenny Pidgeley.
Another recruit, Euromillions lottery winner Les Scadding as chairman, enabled Edinburgh’s budget to be increased as a potentially lucrative season – in which they fell out of the top four at the end of only one matchday – went on. But they were by no means big spenders.
The budget paled into insignificance alongside that enjoyed by recent promotion winners Crawley Town and Fleetwood, and even the likes of Mansfield Town, Forest Green Rovers and Luton in the current Conference set-up.
The £25,000 spent on AFC Wimbledon forward Christian Jolley in January was more than paid back by his 16th goal in 25 starts at Wembley last Sunday, landing Newport around £700,000 in guaranteed central funding as a Football League club.
“To finish 19th one season and then get promotion the next is an amazing achievement by the players,” says Edinburgh.
“We’ve got a lot of players with League experience but at a good age, and different people have driven us on at different times. Aaron O’Connor scored 17 by November. Max Porter was great in midfield before he got a season-ending injury.
“The back three of Yaks, Jamo and Byron have been unbelievable towards the end, with the wing-backs – Pipey and Andy Sandell – either side of them.
“Danny Crow has had his lowest scoring haul since he left Peterborough, but when he’s played we’ve only lost twice.Then Christian has come in and been a revelation.
“It’s been a collective effort from a really tight group that I believe can only get better.We have got a lot out of contract, but I’m pretty confident we’ll secure all of them, then look to add five players who are moving up rather than on their way down to add that bit of hunger.”
It is not only Edinburgh that has had a hunger to reach the League again. Newport went bust partway through the 198889 Conference season, after being relegated from Division Four the previous campaign.
They were reformed, initially as Newport AFC, following a meeting of 400 fans but were forced to play in Gloucestershire because the Welsh FA refused to allow them to compete in the English Pyramid from Wales.
They won the Hellenic League and have slowly progressed as Newport County AFC, regaining League status in their first season since moving to groundshare with Newport Gwent Dragons rugby club at Rodney Parade, where 6,500 watched the playoff semi-final win over Grimsby.
“Like Wimbledon before them, and Chester and Darlington now, they lost their existence but decided to reform and it’s amazing what can be done,” says Edinburgh.
“It makes me unbelievably proud to achieve what we have, because from going into Biller- icay ten years, I now understand what goes on. So many people give up their free time to volunteer and put their own money in.
“Mike Everett, the secretary, has been there from day one and he took money out of his own account to pay players’ wages. To see someone like that crying on Sunday makes you understand.
“After the semi-final second leg, we went into Newport with the players, the staff, the chairman and some of the directors.
“We went into the local pubs near Rodney Parade. It isn’t somewhere I’d take my wife on a Saturday night, but my friends and family came with me and our feet were sticking to the carpet at times.
“But to see the joy on the fans’ faces…and what it would mean again if we did accomplish what we did at Wembley…it incentivises you.”
And although he has achieved his aim of being a Football League manager, Edinburgh intends to keep on rising.
“I want to go to the next level personally, and it’s not unusual for teams to be successful in the next level up,” he adds. “How many teams have we seen do back to back promotions?
“It opens up.There are seven teams that go for promotion, rather than five in the Conference.”
GLOVE AFFAIR: Newport’s Wembley hero Christian Jolley