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Doing the Rounds

20 August 2013

Russell Kempson takes in Round 1 of the 2013/14 Capital One Cup with Newport County

Les Scadding is sweating. Not surprising, really, considering he is wearing a suit, collar and tie in the searing heat of the midday sun. Standing in a goalmouth on one of the many football pitches at the tree-lined Cardiff University Sports Fields at Llanrumney, as the seagulls caw manically overhead, he strikes an incongruous figure. His bald pate positively dazzles.

But Scadding - the Newport County chairman - likes to do things properly. Hence his smart attire as he poses for publicity shots with the Blue Square Bet Premier Play-Off trophy that Newport won last season, when they defeated Wrexham 2-0 in the final at Wembley. A trophy that confirmed their return to The Football League after a 25-year exile.

It is two days before Newport kick-off at home against Accrington Stanley in Sky Bet League 2. It is five days before they take on Brighton & Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium in the First Round of the Capital One Cup. After a grim quarter of a decade trawling the non-league circuit, the South Wales club are back in the big-time.

Scadding, 62, has been at the helm at Rodney Parade for only a year. He is English, born and bred in Bristol and a Bristol City fan in his younger days. Yet he shares the same enormous pride of the Newport fans, for a job well done - if painstakingly so - since their exit from the League in 1988 and subsequent, albeit brief, extinction in 1989.

In the cool of the clubhouse at Newport's training ground on the outskirts of Cardiff, his sunglasses now perched on his head, Les reflects on the recent journey. And how, four years ago, his life dramatically changed when he won the EuroMillions lottery, to the tune of £45,570,835.50. Not forgetting his other lucky-dip winning line of £7.60.

"Wembley was unbelievable," Scadding said. "My feet didn't touch the ground for most of the day. What a great buzz, it was just fabulous. And if we can hit the ground running this season, I reckon we've got a very good chance of making the Play-Offs again. I really do.

"Comparing Wembley to my lottery win; one was just disbelief, the other ecstacy. With the lottery, it was a case of 'when am I going to wake up? Is someone going to take this away from me?' For a while, it didn't register. With Wembley, it was all happening in front of me. It was real. Maybe there's someone up above looking after me. I hope so."

Scadding, a former petrol-tanker driver, is now looking after Newport. Yet he is ever keen to put his huge good fortune in perspective, that he is no money-no-object sugar daddy, that the club has to stand on its own two feet. Since he took over from Chris Blight, the former chairman, his financial contribution has been generous but considered. And will always be so.

"After the win, the most important thing to me was my family. I can proudly say that they are all now millionaires and that quite a big chunk was gifted to close friends as well. I've given away well over half of it and to charitable causes, too. I don't talk about that because I don't have to. I've done it for me, for my reasons.

"No, I don't need to go cap in hand to anyone, but I still need to be careful. I've got other things to do, I've got my own life to lead, so I can't be all 'Newport County, can I have some money?' Yes, I've helped out a bit, with the odd cheque here and there, and that's just like a lot of people have done. But I'm not here just to pour money down the drain. I just won't do that.

"I've been honest with the fans. I've never tried to hide anything; I've always been up front with them. I'll always talk to them and never ignore them. If I go into a pub and half a dozen fans come over, I'll have a chat and a pint with them. I hope that they've accepted me, I really do."



Scadding is not flash. OK, he has a lovely home in Usk, 10 miles from Newport. And a restaurant and a villa in Barbados, with Wayne Rooney and Ian Woosnam as his neighbours at the Royal Westmoreland Golf Club complex. And his fleet of top-of-the-range cars, including an Aston Martin, a Rolls-Royce and his new Range Rover Autobiography. "That's a lovely car," he said.

What would you expect from anyone after a £45.5m windfall?

But he chats openly, earnestly and humorously, without any airs or graces, and clearly has a genuine affection for his adopted homeland, where he moved to 13 years ago following the break-up of his first marriage. He's experienced other hard times, too; among them, a second failed marriage and a cancer scare.

"I've had the all-clear from my last two check-ups. Touch wood, at the moment, I've come through the other side. When I found out initially, that was one of the worst moments I've ever had. I've had a real up-and-down sort of life. One day, I could write a good book on it."

One of the best chapters, undoubtedly, would be the moment that his numbers came up. If not quite from rags to riches in an instant, still a rather large boost to his bank balance. 

"At the time, I was just doing a bit of this and a bit of that. I didn't have much money in my account. It was a pitiful sight. And then everything just took off. It was amazing."

Scadding, sunglasses back on, sets off on another round of media interviews outside. On a balcony, in the shade, Tony Pring reflects on the club's 25-year odyssey. Les may have arrived only lately but Tony, the supporters' representative on the board, has endured the long haul.

It has been a nomadic existence for the re-formed club, which has included spells at Moreton-in-Marsh in Gloucestershire, back at Somerton Park, on to Gloucester City, then Spytty Park, Newport, now Rodney Parade, sharing with the Newport RFC and Newport Gwent Dragons rugby union sides.



Pring recalled: "The first game my dad took me to was when I was two years old. Apparently, when he married my mother, she burnt all his pre-War match programmes because she said he thought more of them than he did of her. 

“You're just born into it, really. It was in the family. Our home overlooked Somerton Park; from my front bedroom, I could see the floodlights. It was only a five-minute walk to the ground.

"When I started going to away games, in my mid-teens, it was always on the train. You could use the old Persil tickets for cheap rail travel. I think the dearest I ever paid was about £7 for a return to Hull. That's how it was then. Our run in the 1980/81 European Cup-Winners' Cup was definitely one of the highlights.

"I went with dad to the first leg of the quarter-final against Carl Zeiss Jena in East Germany, when we drew 2-2. At the time, we were nobodies. It was massive for us. We went back there for a pre-season friendly a few weeks ago. We drew 2-2 again and it was very emotional. About 230 of us went over. We just wanted to be there and we were treated like kings.

"Every memory is good because you grew up following a lower league club. You never had great expectations. You didn't know anything different. It was normal, just natural. Europe, obviously, was special and when something like that comes along it's just unbelievable."

Pring, 48, wears his heart on his sleeve. More specifically, a Newport-branded shirt and a wristband. His devotion to the cause did not falter even in 1988 when the club left the League. 

"That day was one of the lows. My mum worked at the club as office manager and I was on the ground staff so it was tough for all the family.

"When we started in the Conference, we just went down and down. There was no way back. Since then, it's been a bit mad, a bit crazy, but at least we've been winning leagues and cups, albeit small cups. And now look what's happened to us, look where we are. Its just dreams."

A bit mad, a bit crazy, included travelling to an away match at Bishop’s Stortford, by air. "Four of us, just for a laugh, wanted to say that we'd flown to a game. So we got on a plane at Bristol first thing in the morning, got off at Dublin for breakfast and a Guinness, then flew on to Stansted. That's how crazy you get. But we came back by coach."

Pring, owner of an intruder alarm company, appreciates the efforts of many in the Phoenix-like rise from the ashes. Justin Edinburgh, the manager, rescued the team from possible relegation from the Conference and took them to the FA Trophy final last year, in which they lost 2-0 to York City.
 
And back at Wembley in May in the Conference Play-Off final, bingo. Back in the League. "I've never seen so many grown men cry, including myself. When our second goal went in, that was it. There were floods of tears everywhere."



"With Les taking over, it's been such a boost for us. It's the security he brings and the feel-good factor. I've heard people say that he's not a local boy, that he's from Bristol, but he loves the club; he's so passionate about it. Let's hope that he's here for some time yet."

Edinburgh and Scadding take time to be photographed holding the Capital One Cup. Could Newport emulate the stunning exploits of shock finalists Bradford City last season? Well, after they had announced their return to the fast lane with a 4-1 league hammering of Accrington Stanley on the Saturday, all roads led to Brighton for knock-out action on the South Coast on the Tuesday.

Around 500 Newport fans had made the three-hour trek to the state-of-the-art Amex Stadium, light years away from the tiny grounds that they had had to visit during their non-league hiatus. Next to the University of Brighton campus and matchday-busy Falmer Station, it is a monument to the progression of the English football pyramid.

Mind you, Championship club Brighton - like Newport - had had to ‘live out of their suitcases’ for 14 years after leaving the Goldstone Ground in 1997. Only in 2011 was the construction of the Amex completed and ready to receive them. "I'd love to get our own place one day," Scadding had revealed the week before. "That would be perfect."



Hungry for an Anglo-Welsh upset, the Newport hordes arrive. Men and many women, the young and the old - some of whom will have followed the club through all their darkest days. The colour of amber fills the South Stand, with a sprinkling of the red of the victorious British & Irish Lions rugby heroes, and the noise is raucous. Pring can barely sit - nor his fellow fans, either - as they repeatedly belt out the club name to the tune of The Beatles' ‘Hey Jude’.

Around the same time last year, Newport were playing at Braintree Town in front of a crowd of 611. "Were we?" Pring says. "I just can't remember." Tonight, the attendance is 8,409. And even when Brighton go ahead, the Amber Army is only momentarily silenced. When Newport equalise nine minutes from the end through Danny Crow, they go ballistic.

Extra time brings further joy, with goals from Crow and Conor Washington. As they are scored at the far end of the stadium, in the dim distance, it takes a millisecond for each strike to register. Newport triumph 3-1, chants of ‘We're going to Wem-ber-lee’ ring out in the South Stand, with huge hugs all round, the players walk over to applaud the faithful and, shortly, the late-night slog back to South Wales will begin. "Amazing, unbelievable," Pring, clearly in a daze, gasps.



And what of the future? What do Newport County want from the next five years? With football in South Wales at an all-time high, could they go on to match the Premier League exploits of Swansea City and Cardiff City? At first, sensibly, stability would appear to be the watchword.

"Fans talk about us making the Play-Offs this season but I'd be happy with mid-table," Pring said. "After that, I'd like to see us up another division and I'd like to see us self-sustainable. Not just relying on Les or other big cash injections. Football can become a nightmare if you're reliant on one person.

"It's been one hell of a journey but, to be honest, it's been great fun."

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