The third largest city in Wales, Newport is set in the country’s rugby heartland, halfway between Cardiff and the border with England. Its football heritage, however, is linked further afield, to the Black Country, and Wolverhampton.
A factory team was formed at the Lysaght ironworks, a major local employer that brought most of its machinery, and many of its employees, over from Wolverhampton when it set up here in the late 1890s.
This team later became Newport County, playing in the amber and black of Wolverhampton Wanderers, founder members of the Football League in 1888.
Like in Wolverhampton, despite decades of ups and downs, football here runs deep. So deep, in fact, that when County hit the skids in 1989, eight years after a legendary European tie with GDR giants Carl Zeiss Jena, supporters gathered in large numbers at the Lysaght Institute to revive the club.
Twenty-five years after The Ironsides were relegated from the Football League, the reformed Newport County rejoined The 92 in 2013. Their move to the rugby ground of Rodney Parade, opened in 1877, now makes it the second oldest sports stadium across the current four divisions.
Rodney Parade was originally leased to multisport Newport Athletic Club by Crimean War hero Lord Tredegar in the 1870s. It soon became best known as a rugby venue, staging six full internationals. Newport County, meanwhile, started out at Somerton Park on Cromwell Road, also on the east bank of the Usk, close to today’s Lysaghts Park.
Lysaghts, in fact, saved the day in 1919 when Somerton Park was nearly sold up for development. County then spent another 70 years there before the club’s collapse. Somerton Park staged the first leg of 1980 Welsh Cup Final, the run in the European Cup-Winners’ Cup – and horrendous campaign of 1987-88, witnessed by crowds of 1,000-plus and ending in relegation out of the League.
With the revival came a new nickname, ‘The Exiles’, reflecting Newport’s subsequently nomadic existence, forced out to Moreton-in-Marsh in Gloucestershire, temporarily returning to Somerton Park before its demolition, then moving to Gloucester City and… Newport Stadium. Opened in 1994, this council-owned venue centrepieces a complex known as Newport International Sports Village, on the south-eastern outskirts of town. Here, amid a velodrome, tennis centre and fishing lake, County played until 2012 and the groundshare arrangement at the rugby ground of Rodney Parade, a short walk from Newport’s train station.
Newport Stadium is today used by Newport City, the former Llanwern steelworks team in the third tier of the Welsh League.
County have always been the most prominent club in Newport, except for a short period in the 1940s and early 1950s. On the west bank of the Usk, today’s residential estate The Turnstiles was the site of Rexville, home of Lovell’s Athletic. Another works team, representing the local sweet factory and the area of Shaftesbury, Lovell’s enjoyed a run in the FA Cup – losing to Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Third Round – and won the Welsh Cup. The club failed to gain access to the Football League, slipped out of the Southern League and folded in 1969.
The nearest airport to Newport is Cardiff 47km (29 miles) away, used mainly by Flybe to link with major cities in Ireland, Scotland and western Europe. There’s no direct public transport service with Newport – the T9 bus runs every 20-30min to Cardiff Customhouse Street (£5 on board, journey time 40min), by Cardiff Central rail station. From there, a regular train takes 15min to Newport (£5). Overall journey time is just over 1hr.
Newport-based ABC Taxis (01633 666 666) offer airport transfers, £40 for Cardiff, £55 for Bristol.
From London Paddington, a regular direct train to Newport takes 1hr 45min, cheapest online single tickets £20-£40. Direct from Birmingham New Street, it’s 1hr 35min, cheapest online singles around £25. Direct from Manchester Piccadilly, 3hrs, cheapest online singles also around £25. A direct National Express bus from London Victoria to Newport takes 3hrs and costs around £6-£8 online.
Newport train station is close to the walkable city centre, a short walk over the river to Rodney Parade. The bus station is right in town, the same distance from the stadium.
Local transport is run by Newport Bus, single journey £1.70, City Day ticket £3.50, pay exact fare to driver.
On Chepstow Road close to Rodney Parade, the Gateway Hotel comprises 21 simple, en-suite rooms, plus an in-house restaurant. Free, off-street parking is also offered. Alongside at No.34, the Newport Hotel is a little more sketchy. Also close, the Victoria Hotel is a simple, affordable B&B gradually improving its rooms – 16 of the 27 are en-suite.
Near the train station, handy for the stadium and the city centre, the Travelodge Newport Central does what Travelodges do. Close by, with a little more character and 150 years of history, the Queen’s Hotel has been converted into a Wetherspoons pub, while still offering accommodation of 29 guest rooms including eight singles.
In the same vicinity, a Premier Inn has been slated to fill a large building where a Yates Wine Lodge once stood, though a completion date has been put back several times.
On the slope of Stow Hill, by the city centre, the Night Lodge has 21 budget-rate rooms with basic amenities.
For higher-quality accommodation, you’ll be stuck out on the M4 motorway, such as at the Celtic Manor Resort in the Coldra Woods, with its golf course, high-end spa and restaurants.
A cluster of pubs and bars sits at the top of Cambrian Road and the High Street close to the train station.
Pick of the bunch, the excellent Slipping Jimmy’s offers live music, sought-after ales and quality grilled food, amid a display of old 45s and posters from old cowboy films. It’s also independent, in a city where Wetherspoons and Cardiff-based JW Bassett pubs hold sway. In the JW Bassett stable, the Pen and Wig and the Carpenters Arms have character in spades, plus live Sky and BT sports. The Pen and Wig can also provide a Sunday carvery. The Carpenters, dating back to the early 1400s, has table tennis and pool. Next door, there’s live music and Trooper ale at McCann’s.
Next door to Slipping Jimmy’s, Ye Olde Murenger House (52-53 High Street) can claim a history dating back to the 1530s, although the current pub here, in the Sam Smith’s clan, only dates back 200 years.
As unchanged as the city’s main market opposite, the wonderful Cross Keys pub (9 Market Street) is a homely shrine to Newport’s football and rugby clubs, done out with framed shirts and caricatures of key figures from local sporting history.
For big-screen sports, there’s The Courtyard at the top of Cambrian Road, also a late-opening nightspot with drinks deals and eager bouncers. Perhaps a more convivial spot to watch the game is The Lamb, run by two rugby-obsessed locals who restored this fine pub back to its mid-19th century glory. Decent food, too.
Finally, the Drago Lounge faces the footbridge over the Usk, a tasteful and inventive bar/restaurant in a family-friendly mini-chain conceived in Bristol.