Having arrived in Newport on my own after a short journey over the River Severn from Bristol, and after paying £6.60 to enter Wales(!), the time was now 12:15, just under three hours until the FA Cup 3rd Round tie between Newport County and Blackburn Rovers was due to kick off.
I headed to the ground to pick up my pre-booked tickets. It’d save time later, I thought. It’ll give us more time to find a pub and watch the Wycombe-Villa game on telly without having to bother about ticket queues, I thought. As my companion Mark arrived via train (we travelled separately as I’d spent the previous night in Brizzle with friends), the rain was beating down. We quickly headed for The Carpenter’s Arms, a pub just a 10-minute walk over the River Usk from the ground. Cheap, good ale, shelter from the rain and they had the match on. So far, so good, if a little damp.
As we watched the game in Newport’s oldest pub, supping pints of Double Dragon (£2.75 a pint. Can’t go wrong), I overheard the bartender joking with a group of Blackburn fans who had wandered in. He smiled as he told them that the game was off, and jokingly hinted that Merthyr Tydfil might have a game on if they fancied that. His grin led me to believe it was just banter; a wind up that is perhaps traditional when English fans make a mammoth trek down to his town. I thought no more of it.
A policeman then came in. He too headed over to the away contingent, presumably for a chat to see if they were behaving. They were by the way, impeccably. At about 2.30, just as the four of us – we were bolstered by an old friend from Oz along with his Geordie mate from Bristol on this trip – were about to head over the murky waters of the Usk to Rodney Parade, a conversation was struck with a local gent.
He had obviously clocked our English accents, being so disparate from the rhythmic Newport brogue, and was asking my Oz-based friend whether we’d get refunds or not. Confused, Ozzie Kaj, laughed it off. He has a knack of laughing his way out of awkward conversations. As he went on about journey times and wasted money, again, much to Kaj’s bemusement, the penny suddenly dropped. Fearing the worst I leaned in on the awkward conversation and asked “Excuse me, but has the game been called off?”
“What? You didn’t know?!, he spouted in disbelief. “It was called off half an hour ago due to the weather. You mean to tell me you’ve been sitting here thinking it was on?!”. “Yes. Yes we have”, I replied, sheepishly. Laughter then erupted from his table. Thick English gits, he and his fellow drinkers must’ve thought. Looking back the signs were there; I should’ve clicked on. The “Game’s off” joke was not a risible wind up at all. The policeman was obviously in conversation with the Rovers fans about contingency travel plans etc etc. I felt like a right dick.
So, what to do in Newport when the game you’ve travelled 160 miles to see is postponed? Well, for my mates, drink the cheap ale and sit and chat and watch Soccer Saturday in Newport’s oldest pub. For muggings here, as the driver, full fat Coke please.
The Blackburn fans also decided to stick around, maybe because their coach had buggered off and wasn’t returning until 5 o’clock. So they took over the pool table, which upset Mark greatly.
Since then, now former Exiles manager John Sheridan (he’s since left to re-join Oldham Athletic as their manager, much to the annoyance of the Newport board) said that the Newport ground staff should have done more prior to the deluge in order to get the game on. But to be fair, it bucketed down all afternoon. Had the game started, there’s a good chance it wouldn’t have reached its conclusion.
The tie has now been rescheduled for Monday, January 19, with a 7:15 kick off. Strange, as both teams are in action on Saturday. It may have something to do with Welsh channel S4C showing it live. After all, Newport are now the only remaining Welsh side in the competition as Swansea and Cardiff were both beaten by League Two clubs.
The unusually early kick off time actually does us a favour. It allows me to leave work a little early to get to the match, and, with hopefully traffic conditions on my side, I’ll be back in Derbyshire well before midnight, which is my usual slumber hour anyway. Plus the existing tickets are still valid. So another trip to the soggy town could be on the cards.
Awaiting the winner is Oxford United, who put out Premier League strugglers Swansea last Sunday. After making three trips to Brackley already on our Cup Quest, we will more than likely head to Oxford bypassing Brackley on the same route, as Oxford is a mere 25 miles south of Brackley.
But who will we follow to Oxford? We’ll find out next Monday. Weather permitting of course.
The match day tickets, picked up just after noon, two hours before the decision to postpone the game.
The ticket office at Rodney Parade.
The entrance to Rodney Parade, which closed at 2pm.