18 March ~ "This swift business / I must uneasy make, least too light winning / Make the prize light." You won't hear fans of Newport County quoting Shakespeare too often. But as their club raced to the Blue Square South title – with almost seven weeks of the season still to play – Prospero's aside from The Tempest seemed rather apposite. While the bookies had paid out on the club's title bets as early as February, the scenes of emotion among the 4,221 who celebrated Monday's title-clinching win over Havant & Waterlooville suggested that County fans have learned to take nothing for granted.
Given how tumultuous their club's last 20 years have been, that's understandable. Jerry Sherman, who oversaw the club's closure in 1989, is now in prison for fraud. Costly battles with the Welsh FA and two periods of exile in England have similarly cast the club's future into doubt. Two years ago, a County side bloated by ex-Football League 30somethings fell short of the Blue Square South play-offs for the second successive season. Manager Peter Beadle was replaced by Dean Holdsworth, who had turned out for the club on occasion in 2007. Holdsworth's first season in charge was unremarkable. Finances were limited and though there was a stream of new signings, most were lamentable.
Not surprisingly, Holdsworth struggled to find a winning combination. Striker Craig Reid, who arrived in December 2008, quickly stood out as a very good player in a mediocre team. Newport fans expected him to move to a Conference side at season's end but he signed an extension to his contract instead. In the wake of Team Bath's demise influential centre-half Gary Warren joined County, followed by an influx of other quality signings, perhaps released by their clubs over recession fears. By pre-season Newport had assembled a Conference South side of "fantasy league" proportions.
Of course, good players don't come cheaply, not even in the sixth tier of English football. Quite how the board, led by a trusted local businessman with the unfortunate name of Chris Blight, have apparently orchestrated a means of paying wages, reducing debt and finding funds for signings at key moments in the season is intriguing. Attendance has helped – this season's average is more than twice the break-even figure of 750. And so, it seems, has the manager. More than one recent newcomer has announced his arrival with the words: "I've come here because of Dean Holdsworth."
What next year will bring is unclear. If Holdsworth, who had survived calls for his head last season, stays and adds to the squad, County could finish in the top ten. If he leaves, the team may disintegrate. A wider concern is how Newport manage the transition to a full-time playing staff, especially if results start to go badly. Losing your club once is tragic, losing it twice might be seen as careless.
For Newport's fans, many of whom were in tears following Monday's game, promotion from the Blue Square South is seen as the start of something – a job half-done, a dream half-fulfilled. As David Hando, chairman of the original club in 1989, said: "The dream for me never ended." Jon Davies