EIGHTH in the FIFA rankings, the most expensive player on the planet, qualification (almost) for next summer’s European Championships – Welsh football is booming.
Well, try telling that to Newport County. Twenty-four hours before Gareth Bale and co had to settle for a draw against Israel in Cardiff, the Exiles were slinking out of Rodney Parade having performed with all the sparkle of flat lager.
Beaten 3-0 by York, Terry Butcher’s boys sank to the foot of League Two with a miserable tally of one point from six games.
Lottery winner Les Scadding, the man whose Euromillions masterminded promotion from the Conference in 2013, has withdrawn his backing.
Tired of covering monthly losses in the region of £40,000, the former truck driver has now handed responsibility for keeping County running to the Supporters’ Trust.
They in turn have until the end of September to raise the £225,000 required to repay creditors and complete their takeover. A healthy playing budget of £1.4m has been slashed to barely £900,000.
To put that into context, it’s what Bale earns for three weeks’ work at Real Madrid. What Grimsby spent in the Conference last year. And what Accrington Stanley’s then-manager John Coleman described as the lowest in League Two – way back in 2009.
It’s why manager Justin Edinburgh jumped ship for Gillingham in February. Why his assistant, Jimmy Dack – who was offered the role – chose unemployment over a job in the Football League.
It’s why stars like Max Porter and Lee Minshull dropped into Non-League where they could still command £1,000 a week. In total, some 16 players scrambled for the exits, forcing Butcher to rebuild from scratch.
“It is like a snake shedding its skin,” said the former England skipper. “Now we will see what comes out on the other side – a cobra, an anaconda or a grass snake.”
Sadly, early indications suggest something more akin to an earthworm. Skint and injury-hit, any lingering scraps of pre-season optimism have now been trodden brutally into the Severnside sludge.
Usually, clubs in crisis have a pantomime villain – a Ken Richardson, a Peter Ridsdale or a Spencer Trethewy.
The Exiles know all about that. In 1986, American chancer Jerry Sherman took advantage of their desperation by offering fabulous wealth and a spanking new stadium. Nobody realised he came with a string of failed business and fraud convictions longer than the Severn Crossing. The club went bust and have spent 25 gruelling years crawling back.
This time, however, there is no bad guy. No mismanagement, no eye-popping debts. Just a small club struggling to compete in a sport where wages rise by the week – a grim knock-on effect of the billions pouring into the Premiership.
The Trust have 16 days to raise the remaining £120,000. If successful, they have pledged to “get away” from a culture of relying on individuals to cover losses.
It’s an admirable aim, but would it solve anything?
Yes, Swansea rose from the depths of Division Four on the back of fan ownership, but they had a large, slumbering fan-base.
Even in the glory days at Somerton Park, the Exiles rarely scraped above 6,000. These days, their average attendance is half that of landlords Newport Gwent Dragons and not even a hundredth of the town’s population.
Meanwhile, wages continue to rise. Agents take chunkier cuts. Non-League sides with aspirational owners roar past.
Until that changes, it is difficult to see how any club of Newport’s means – however well run – can aspire to anything more than struggle without someone picking up the tab.
I really hope they prove me wrong.