Newport County AFC fans are often told they are a 30-year-old club with a history stretching back over a century.
It’s an adage designed to encapsulate the County story, one of a humble town football club whose fans picked up the pieces after a disastrous financial collapse in the late 1980s all but erased them from existence.
Hundreds of committed fans, led by a team of 12 key individuals, founded a new club completely financed and run by supporters.
Thirty years later, and after a long battle through the ranks brought league football back to Newport, the side have found themselves the unlikely underdog stars of the FA Cup - two seasons in a row.
On Saturday night a sell-out crowd will watch Newport County AFC take on Manchester City at Rodney Parade in the fifth round, nearly 70 years to the day since the last time the side made it that far in the competition.
There’s a feeling in Newport that 30 years of hard work and struggle have been leading up to this moment.
Lifelong supporter Jeff Challingsworth will be among the crowd on Saturday.
“In my lifetime, we have never got to the FA Cup third round for two consecutive years,” the 65-year-old said.
“All of a sudden we are through to two fourth rounds - replays - now we are through to the fifth round.
“This is absolute magic. Stuff like this doesn’t happen to Newport County. It is like a fairytale.”
Like many other supporters, Newport County AFC has become integral to Jeff’s day to day life.
He’s the secretary of the supporter’s club, spends six days a week working in the ticket office, and rarely misses a league fixture.
Jeff recently spent his 65th birthday happily working in the ticket office.
He’s far from alone. On match days the entire stadium from the ticket office, catering tents, programme booths, and bars is staffed by volunteers.
The gulf of wealth between Newport and and their fifth round rivals is brought into sharp focus when you consider Manchester City’s record £60m signing Riyad Mahrez cost about 2,000 times more than County’s record £30,000 signing in goalkeeper Joe Day.
“To a club like ours volunteers are the lifeblood, and without them we just couldn’t function,” Jeff said.
“It’s one big team but we are more like a family really.
“I think we have come through so much adversity it has bonded us together.
“The hurdles we have had to face seems to have banded us together.”
Jeff is among that core of supporters who have experienced every high and low the Ironsides saw from the 1970s onwards.
"It gets in your blood,” Jeff said. “Once you get some of it, you can’t get enough of it.
“We saw some highlights, but those successes were few and far between. And once we got to the 1980s, the wheels just came off.”
Newport County formed in 1912 and had a turbulent existence, frequently experiencing financial problems and spending several periods flirting with relegation.
But there were some highlights of achievement, including another fifth round FA Cup performance in the late 1940s and, in their best season, making it to the quarter finals of the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1981.
But by the latter half of the 1980s the club were facing considerable financial difficulties.
In February 1989, Newport County wound up its operations with hundreds of thousands of pounds of debt left outstanding.
A group of supporters, devastated at the loss of their club, banded together to raise lifeline funds.
Just months later a new club, Newport AFC, was born.
The group was led by David Hando, later the club’s chairman and now their honorary president.
“We formed Newport County AFC with the aim of getting into the Football League Pyramid, not knowing how long it would take of course,” David said.
The infant club were immediately faced with challenges from both the council and the Football Association of Wales.
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David claims that Newport County Borough Council, as it was then known, wouldn’t allow the new club use of Newport County’s home of Somerton Park. He said they claimed they were Newport County in disguise trying to sneak back into the ground.
Their reluctance was compounded by the fact the old club had been evicted for non-payment of rent and rates.
Meanwhile, the Football Association of Wales claimed Newport AFC had no connection with the former Newport County and denied them sanction to play in Wales in the Football League pyramid.
“They couldn’t both be right, and in fact, neither of them were," David said.
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To overcome these early difficulties, the club was forced to move to Gloucestershire to take part in the English football league and shared a ground with Moreton Town.
The team, and its band of loyal supporters, had to travel 85 miles from Newport for home games that season, earning them the nickname the Exiles.
That year became known as “the magical mystery tour of the Cotswolds”, with many fans recalling journeys to home games that were further away than many of their away fixtures.
But it took just a single season for the infant club to be promoted to the Beazer Homes League.
David said the FAW were no longer able to deny them sanction in the Welsh League and Newport County Borough Council were too embarrassed to stop them using Somerton Park, so Newport AFC were able to return home.
But another period of enforced exile soon followed when the FAW formed the League of Wales, and Newport AFC declined the offer to join, their sights still fixed on joining the Football League.
The FAW again denied the team sanction, and Newport AFC decamped to Gloucester for a second time.
A High Court battle followed, with Newport AFC taking legal action against the FAW for restraint of trade.
After a landmark ruling, the club were allowed to return to Newport for the 1994/95 football season.
David said: “We argued that our players were paid and therefore were professional.
“You can argue that they were part-time professional, but you couldn’t argue that they weren’t professional.”
He added: “The judge accepted that and we won the case and we came back to Newport in triumph a second time.”
Newport AFC returned to Newport and set up its new home ground at Spytty Park, as Somerton Park had been demolished to make way for a housing estate.
Their foundations securely in place, and with a new name in Newport County AFC, the Exiles doggedly pursued their goal of returning League football to Newport.
Some fans admit to believing the goal to be a pipe dream, but the opportunity finally presented itself on the County’s centenary season in 2012/13.
The team finished third in the Conference Premier league, earning themselves a place in the play-offs for the first time.
Fans were treated to a final at Wembley Stadium against Wrexham, finishing up 2-0 and returning to the Football League after a 25-year absence.
Thereafter they shared the Football League-standard ground at Rodney Parade with Newport Rugby Club and the Dragons.
The fans had achieved their mission of restoring League football to Newport. None of them knew how long it would take, but two periods of enforced exile and three visits to the High Court meant it was 25 years.
The team was awarded with the Freedom of the City in August 2013, and David Hando, by then honorary president of Newport County AFC, was recognised with an MBE in the Queen’s 2015 New Year’s Honours List.
“It’s something that everyone can be associated with,” David said of the team.
“When we were collecting money for the court case we had a fair play fund and most of the people contributing to that were women who had probably never been to a football game.
"But they objected to their husbands and their sons and their fathers being excluded from it and it’s part of a pride in the town or the city now.”
Promotion came as a welcome shock to many fans.
Chris Richards had been attending County games since he was a young boy in the 1990s.
“It didn’t kick in until a couple of hours afterwards,” Chris, now 30, said.
“I remember thinking oh my god we are going to be on Fifa 2014 next year. I think that was probably what hit me more than getting promotion.
"I was only in my 20s at that point but a lot of the people around me remembered losing the club in 1989 and probably felt like we were back where we belong.”
Chris was one of a new generation of County supporters who grew up with the club during their time at Spytty Park from the mid-1990s until their eventual promotion.
For Chris, attending Spytty Park was a family habit that carried on in his teenage years and onwards.
“I went over with my mother the season when we first came back to Newport,” he said.
“My mother only used to go with her grandfather and for some reason I think one week we decided to go and watch it, intending it to be a one-off sort of thing.
“And here we are 23 years later and my mother hasn’t missed one home and away game in 12 seasons - which includes your kind of Hartlepool on a Tuesday night kind of stuff.
“I don’t think it cost her her marriage, but it was always quite weird growing up because my mum would be the one wanting to go and watch the football and my dad was more interested in the soaps.”
The value of having league football back in their town, and the pride in being there for the fight, is at the forefront of many committed County fans’ minds.
“It is immeasurable,” Chris said. “For me, on a personal level, I’m really proud to be from Newport.
“While I have never really had any times when I have disliked living here, we’re not the biggest or best city in Britain.
“But it is nice to know that people know of us for drawing big sides in the Cup and things like that."
The summer transfer window before their high profile return to League Two brought midfielder Michael Flynn back to his boyhood club for the third time.
Having grown up in Pill, Flynn rose through the youth ranks at the Exiles, making 20 appearances in midfield before a move to League of Wales side Barry Town.
In those days, Flynn played for the County while also working as a postman, and says the move to Barry Town was largely motivated by the promise of a full-time wage.
His tenure as manager started as a caretaker role during their fraught 2016/17 season.
When Flynn took on the position in March following the departure of Graham Westley, Newport County AFC were 11 points behind with 12 games to go.
Under his leadership, the young manager achieved the impossible, delivering seven victories in 11 games.
It all came down to the season’s final game at home to Notts County, with Newport pulling a 2-1 victory out of the bag.
“Everybody thought we were going to get relegated and, thankfully, we managed to do the unthinkable and managed to stay up in the last minute,” Mike said.
“Saving Newport County from relegation meant everything. It was great for myself, my family, my staff, the players and, most of all, the fans of this football club.
“They have been through so much. They were out the league for 25 years - so to keep them in the league was huge.”
Flynn’s reward for his remarkable run of form was a two-year management deal, much to the delight of fans.
But the best was yet to come.
In his first full season in charge, Newport County AFC made headlines when they beat Leeds United in the FA Cup.
A fourth round replay with Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley cemented Newport in everybody’s mind as the favourite underdog story of the competition.
Speaking at Rodney Parade in the week leading up to the fifth round tie, the 38-year-old was clear the team had already done more than enough to earn his pride.
“It’s a great honour for me to manage Newport County AFC but to lead them into big nights and big occasions like this is the next level,” he said.
“It’s a once maybe in a lifetime thing. I say that but we have had two, three, four or five of those occasions in the last couple of years.
“Going against Manchester City, who are the best team in the Premier League with the best manager in the world at the minute, it’s a huge occasion.”
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is likely to be facing a bigger squad rotation conundrum than Flynn, with a busy Premier League, Champions League and Carabao Cup schedule on the horizon.
Guardiola fielded plenty of fringe players against lower league sides in the FA Cup so far this season, and may be keen to preserve key players such as Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne should they pick up an injury.
“You just a have a look in the gulf and the size of the clubs,” Flynn said.
“The size of the revenues and everything, they are so much bigger than us and if we do beat Man City on Saturday it will be the biggest FA Cup shock in history I feel.
“But there’s no pressure on this game at all - none whatsoever.
“What will be, will be. We will go out there. There’s no disgrace in losing heavily, there’s no disgrace in losing tightly, and there’s no fear in whether we can cause an upset because we have proved we can do that before.
“These are the games you want to enjoy. You want to be in these occasions and as a football manager, a player, a fan, embrace it because it doesn’t come along too often.”
Cup success over the past two seasons has reportedly already earned Newport County in excess of £2m, revenue that will help secure the club’s future for the next few years.
“The income we have earned from this season’s FA Cup and last season’s FA Cup is huge,” Flynn said.
“It’s so important to clubs like us, the finances, and it allows us to forward plan and think about things we can do in the future.”
He added: “The supporters who travelled to Moreton-in-Marsh when the club went bust and playing as the Exiles - you can never forget those people. And they will never be forgotten.
“There’s so many people that who are not with us now who have helped along the way.
“The fans who raised money to save the club and stop it going down the pan again, it’s huge.
“The fans are the lifeline of this club. Not any player or any manager, it’s all about the fans."
In a busy mid-week press event at Rodney Parade, operational chairman of the club Gavin Foxall stood at the side of the pitch at the Bisley Stand end of the ground chatting with journalists from the national media.
When the FA Cup trophy, which had been taken on a tour of south Wales that morning, was unveiled on the sideline, he reluctantly agreed to sit for a picture.
For Foxall, he sees his role and that of the directors as caretakers of a club whose backbone is its community.
“We always recognise collectively what has gone on before, whether that’s 25 years ago or indeed 10 years ago,” he said.
“We are custodians of the club at this moment in time and our job is to make sure we progress and build on what others have done before that."
He added: “Playing Manchester City - it’s fairytale, dreamland stuff.
“Those volunteers, and everyone involved, they should absolutely enjoy the occasion. It’s got to be about that.
“There’s no pressure on us to a certain extent.
“Who knows what 90 minutes of football will bring? You never know.”
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