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Returning From Exile

Started on 2 February 2023 by Feliks
Latest Reply on 3 February 2023 by Feliks
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1 yearEdited

Returning From Exile

When Hugo Montgomery took over Newport County in June 2022, few would have thought the small South Welsh club would be gearing up for it's second ever season in England's second tier just five years later.

Even more far-fetched would be the notion that Montgomery's transfer policy of only signing and retaining Welsh players would not only keep Newport County competitive, but propel the club up two divisions and make it a hub for young Welsh talent.

The Exiles are a club with a proud history, having been reformed in 1989 after the original entity went bankrupt. They have previously spent just one season in England's second flight - 80 years ago in 1946/47 they competed in the old Second Division after the Football League had spent seven years in recess due to World War Two.

Now they take on the EFL Championship, a much different beast from the old Second Division. The constant inflation of TV revenue and wages, even those trickling down from the Premier League, makes it a daunting task to stay in England's second flight without significant investment, and Newport's fan-owned model will struggle to provide much in the way of funds to improve the squad.

But this is no impossible challenge for Montgomery and his staff, who have won two promotions in five seasons on a shoestring budget, won the League One title with the 15th highest wage bill in the league, and find diamonds in the rough on a yearly basis to help the club punch well above its weight. Newport County has had to successfully return from exile once before, and they can do it again.
Feliks's avatar Group Feliks
1 yearEdited

Newport County AFC

Newport County Association Football Club is a professional football club in the city of Newport, South Wales. The team compete in the EFL Championship, the second tier of the English football league system. The club's usual home colours are amber shirts and black shorts.

Formed in 1912, the club began life in the Southern League before being invited to become founder members of the Football League Third Division in 1920. They failed re-election in 1931, but were elected back into the Football League the next year. They struggled for the next few seasons, but went on to be crowned Third Division South champions in 1938–39. World War II meant they had to wait until the 1946–47 season to take their place in the Second Division, though they were relegated at the end of the campaign. They were relegated out of the Third Division in 1962. In the 1979–80 season, under manager Len Ashurst, they secured promotion out of the Fourth Division and won the Welsh Cup for the first time. They reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup Winner's Cup the next year. In the 1980s they suffered financial difficulties with a double relegation costing them their Football League place in 1988 and the club went out of business in February 1989.

The club reformed but were initially unable to play at their home ground at Somerton Park, so picked up the nickname of the "Exiles". They immediately won the Hellenic League in 1989–90 and were promoted out of the Southern League Midland Division in 1994–95. While playing at Newport Stadium, they were relegated from the Premier Division in 1997, before winning promotion out of the Midland Division again in 1998–99. Placed in the Conference South in 2004, they went on to be crowned champions in 2009–10 and after moving to Rodney Parade in 2012, they returned to the Football League following a 25-year absence after winning the Conference National play-off final in 2013 under manager Justin Edinburgh.

In 2022, the club appointed Hugo Montgomery as manager, who has led them to two promotions in five seasons with the club returning to second tier football for the first time in 80 years. The club has also developed a policy of only signing Welsh players during Montgomery's tenure.

Fact File
Full name Newport County Association Football Club
Nickname The Exiles, The Ironsides, The Port
Founded 1912 (founded)
1989 (reformed)
Ground Rodney Parade, Newport
Capacity 9,722
Owner Newport County AFC Supporters Trust
Chairman Paul Davis
Manager Hugo Montgomery
League EFL Championship
2026-27 EFL League One, 1st of 24 (promoted)
Trophy Cabinet
EFL League One Welsh Cup English Third Division South National League South
1 1 1 1
2026-27 1979-80 1938-39 2009-10
League History
Season Division Pos. Pl W D L GF GA GD Pts Notes
2022-23 League Two 3rd 46 23 15 8 92 64 28 84 Promoted
2023-24 League One 4th 46 25 9 12 80 63 17 84 Lost in playoff final
2024-25 League One 16th 46 15 14 17 65 61 4 59
2025-26 League One 18th 46 13 9 24 64 85 -21 48
2026-27 League One 1st 46 25 10 11 91 48 43 85 Promoted

Name Rodney Parade
Location Newport, South Wales
Capacity 9,722
Opened 1877
Owned by Welsh Rugby Union
Tenants Dragons RFC, Newport County AFC
Owner Newport County AFC Supporters Trust
Chairman Paul Davis
Managing Director Ruben Dittmer
Manager Hugo Montgomery
Assistant Manager Andrew Whittington
Head of Youth Development Aaron James
Chief Scout Sean Williams
Head Physio Ryan Harrison
No. Pos. Nat. Player No. Pos. Nat. Player
1 GK WAL Tom King 16 MF WAL Kevin Chapman
2 DF WAL Aaron Lewis 18 DF WAL Will Andiyapan
3 DF WAL Owen Beck 19 MF WAL Josh Sheehan (captain)
5 DF WAL Joe Woodiwiss 21 FW WAL Lewis Collins
6 DF WAL Jack Madelin 25 DF WAL Lloyd Ellis
7 MF WAL Jordan Davies 26 GK WAL Lewis Thomas
8 MF WAL Lee Evans (vice captain) 29 MF WAL Kieron Evans
9 FW WAL Joe Taylor 42 FW WAL Owen Jones
10 FW WAL Paul Mullin 44 DF WAL Ryan Ward
12 FW WAL Bradley Burchell 51 MF WAL Rob Davies
14 MF WAL Charlie Savage

The Montgomery Files: The Journey So Far

When I applied for my first managerial role, I was 20 years old and halfway through a psychology degree at Bangor University. I was a Football Manager addict and Cardiff academy reject, and when the university's men's coaching gig opened up, I applied as a joke.

Three years later I was a UEFA-accredited coach with two national uni titles under my belt, and I joined Cardiff City's youth set-up as an academy coach. The years at Cardiff were good, working with some of the best youngsters in Wales, working my way up to assistant manager of the Under-21 team. I even got some coaching experience with the Welsh national youth sides, and it was probably this time that sparked my desire to work exclusively with the young talent of my adopte homeland. When the Newport County job became available in the summer of 2022, I didn't apply as a joke.

A 27 year old manager who didn't play any professional football and with no senior managerial experience is always going to raise eyebrows in the Football League, and Newport County's fans own the club, so I had to make a good impression from the get-go. I made a pretty ballsy move by immediately selling four English players and promoting Welsh youngsters from the academy set-up, like Joe Woodiwiss and Lewys Twamley. They'd both be pretty prominent in our highly successful league campaign; we finished third in League One that first season and I'd immediately taken the club to their highest level of football in 35 years. To say I had the fans on my side at this point would be an understatement.

And in the second season, I made it clear how far I'd be willing to go to make Newport County a Welsh-only team. All non-Welsh players were sold or loaned away, and I brought back old regulars Josh Sheehan and Tom King along with some of the more accomplished Welsh players in recent Football League history, like Lloyd Isgrove and Jonny Williams. We rode the wave of momentum in that second season, pushing and fighting for promotion the whole way. We finished fourth in the league thanks to the heroics of ex-Peterborough United forward Joe Taylor (one of my best signings to date) and booked a trip to Wembley for the playoff final. A devastating 1-0 loss to Oxford United saw us remain in League One for the following season.

I knew we couldn't keep punching above our weight for too much longer, so at the dawn of the 2024-25 campaign, I released a number of experienced players and turned to our youth set-up for players to step up. Our form suffered as a result, and we slid down to 16th in the league, with our young defence being particularly leaky. It wasn't all doom and gloom - we signed Owen Jones from Cymru Premier side Barry Town, one of the best young talents in Wales, and we saw the emergence of Joe Woodiwiss and Jack Madelin as a centre back pairing we could rely on for many years to come. Our wage budget at this time was still very small, and it made me wonder if we could really push for promotion when our financial backing was in the bottom four or five in the league.

In 2025-26 we continued to improve the squad in terms of young talent, but my usual 4-3-3 system was getting caught out more frequently and our defense bore the brunt of that exploitation far more often. While the previous season had us sitting around mid-table for the majority of the time, our third season in League One saw us genuinely fighting relegation for large periods and my credit with the fanbase dwindled with each successive loss. We only won one game from February through to the end of the season and survived on the final day. I tore out plenty of hair trying different formations and tactics throughout the season, which might've hindered us more than helped us by the end of it. It was clear I needed a different approach, and I didn't take any leave over the summer to try and get us back in a winning position.

Last season I abandoned the 4-3-3 for a more forward-oriented 4-2-3-1, trimmed down the size of the youth squads, and made three key signings including new goalkeeper Lewis Thomas, Cardiff attacking midfielder Kieron Evans and Wrexham striker Paul Mullin, who I decided to remould into a left winger. The new tactical set-up paid dividends and we led the league for most of the season, except for a small downturn of form towards the end. In an absolutely hectic final day, we leapfrogged three teams to win the title thanks to a 2-1 win over our old foes Oxford United, and won the club's first piece of silverware in ten years. We'd also be playing in the second tier of football for the first since 1947.

Newport County players back on the track

The Port's senior squad has returned from summer leave and have hit the training track at Newport Stadium ahead of the club's first Championship campaign since 1947.

Hugo Montgomery and his backroom staff took the players through their paces today, with an emphasis on fitness and defensive structures to prepare for the team's most difficult challenge yet.

The atmosphere at the club remains high following last month's title celebrations and a chaotic final day of the League One season. A number of players including Lewys Twamley, Morgan Clarke and Danny Jones have been given extended leave ahead of their contract expiry in a fortnight's time.

'Fan-owned model will present challenges but not insurmountable" - Montgomery

Newport County manager Hugo Montgomery spoke to the press for the first time this campaign, with the club in the throes of pre-season training and preparing for July 1st, an important day in the club's transfer strategy.

The Exiles' fan-owned and fan-funded model saw the club punch well above its weight in League One, winning the league with the 17th highest wage bill in the division. But unsurprisingly Montgomery fielded questions about it's sustainability in the Championship, where the team will play against recently-relegated PL teams and other well-established sides who may have a wage bill five to ten times higher.

"I've never had an issue with the funding before, we've been able to retain a balanced squad and I've made a number of purchases in the last few years, Joe Taylor from Peterborough and Jack Madelin from Shrewsbury being two that have developed tremendously in our time here. We do have to be fairly crafty when it comes to free transfers and focus on youth at times, but I'm not in a situation where I feel we're ruled out of improving the squad on the basis that there's no financial support."

"It's undoubtedly going be a challenge to try and build a team capable of surviving this league, but it's not some insurmountable task, we punched above our weight in League One and we can do it again in the Championship."

Montgomery has spent around £800,000 on player signings in his five-year tenure, including the aforementioned Taylor (£300,000) and Madelin (£64,000), Lewis Thomas (£120,000) and Paul Mullin (£75,000). But he's also added plenty of valuable players on free transfers, like club captain Josh Sheehan, young starlet Owen Jones and Welsh youth international Charlie Savage. It's believed the club will be able to provide a generous increase on last year's wage bill, but this could still amount to the smallest in the Championship for the upcoming season.

Player Profile: Jack Madelin

Jack Madelin has become an integral member of the Newport County aside across four-and-a-half seasons and two promotions, ever since joining from Shrewsbury Town in January 2023.

Madelin was a transfer target for the club six months earlier, but joined Shrewsbury Town in the division above, before becoming available to sign in the winter window. He's barely skipped a beat since then, now having over 200 appearances for the Port at the age of 25, including all games bar one in last season's triumphant League One campaign.

He more than makes up for a below-average frame as a centre back by being deceptively good in the air, quick enough to provide cover for his fellow defenders and seldom error-prone in a backline that has often been under siege in recent years. Madelin can also play well at right back if the need arises.

His partnership with Joe Woodiwiss in the heart of defence will likely be renewed for a fourth season and has led to a lasting friendship off the pitch as well. The pair are now entering the primes of their careers and an opportunity to play in the Championship should see them in the conversation for a Wales call-up in the not-too-distant future.

Twamley, Clarke, Jones among released list at Newport County

Newport academy graduates Lewys Twamley and Danny Jones are among a number of Newport County players who have now been released by the club following the expiration of their contracts.

24 year old Twamley had made his debut at the club under Hugo Montgomery and made a career-high 40 appearances last season in League One, but has been viewed as surplus for requirements for the Championship campaign. He departs after a number of loan spells around England amidst 91 senior appearancs for Newport County and 11 goals playing predominantly as a right winger.

Danny Jones is also on his way out after failing to capitalise on early hype about his abilities when he debuted at the age of 17. After just six goals in 31 appearances, Jones has failed to secure a new deal at a club already boasting three of the best Welsh strikers in the Football League in Joe Taylor, Owen Evans and Paul Mullin.

Also departing is right back Morgan Clarke, backup goalkeeper Ben Haines and promising attacking midfielder Max Edwards-Stryjewski, who fell behind the likes of Bradley Burchell and Kevin Chapman in the squad hierarchy after failing to impress in his limited gametime.

Newport County has already secured the signatures of talented young trio Iwan Barnard, Lloyd Ellis and Dale Beardsmore earlier in June and will now look to the transfer market to try and find value picks for their relegation battle in the Championship this season. Ex-Cardiff midfielder Rubin Colwill and ex-Luton defender Tom Lockyer are believed to be high priority targets for Montgomery's side.

Pre-Season Fixtures Locked In

Newport County's pre-season fixtures have been confirmed, including a home double-header against Premier League heavyweights Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.

The Port's fans will be able to witness elite football at Rodney Parade in mid-July, with Manchester United playing on the 14th of July as part of David Robson's transfer deal last year and Tottenham Hotspur playing on the following Wednesday as part of the continued strategic partnership between our two clubs.

The pre-season will kick off with our annual pre-season camp in South Wales, taking on Penybont, Mumbles and Undy away from home. After hosting the two Premier League clubs, we will travel across the border to Gloucestershire to face Forest Green Rovers before hosting Wrexham a week before our season opener against Reading.

Isaak Davies joins Newport County

Forward Isaak Davies has joined Newport County after being placed on the transfer list at Cardiff City, for a fee of around £40,000.

The 25 year old played just once for the Bluebirds last season after being frozen out of the side by former manager Mark Bonner in favour of new recruit Jacob Brown. Davies is a Cardiff academy graduate with 60 games of experience in the EFL Championship.

He joins a Newport County side overflowing with attacking talent, including League One top scorers Joe Taylor and Owen Jones as well as cult hero Paul Mullin, and will reunite with former teammate Kieron Evans at Rodney Parade.

Davies has signed a three-year deal worth around £600,000.

Player Profile: Owen Jones

Owen Jones already had a growing reputation within Welsh footballing circles when he moved across to Newport County shortly after his eighteenth birthday.

The Barry Town striker had already represented Wales at under-18, under-19 and under-21 level and his 10 goals in the Cymru Premier was enough to be crowned the league's top scorer in the 2024-25 season despite leaving the club in January.

Since then, Jones has battled with Joe Taylor for a starting role in the Newport County side, scoring 41 league goals in the last two seasons and winning back-to-back Welsh Young Player of the Year awards in 2025 and 2026. Aged just 19, he received a call-up for the Wales preliminary squad at the 2026 World Cup and then firmly displaced Taylor in the starting line-up last season with a 25-goal campaign that saw him take out the League One Golden Boot award and named in the division's Team of the Year.

Renowned as a pure poacher, Jones' accuracy in front of goal sees him make the most of the slightest of chances, and his seemingly nonchalant attitude is belied by an impressive work rate that sees him cover more ground on the pitch than most strikers at this level. Fast becoming a fan favourite, Jones will be asked once again to step up to a new level, but aged just 20, remains one of the hottest prospects in all of Welsh football.

Talented youngsters leave Newport County due to 'financial decision'

Huw Jones and Leo Carter have left Newport County for a combined fee of £380,000 as the club looks to fund a squad capable of remaining in the Championship.

Both players were seen as potential first-team players in the coming years, but as Hugo Montgomery explained to reporters at the club on Tuesday, the club has had to mortgage some long-term gain for immediate success in the transfer market.

"Huw and Leo were nothing short of impressive in their time here, but we had to make a decision based on our finances, and based on the players we are trying to target to remain in the division. There are sell-on clauses involved and these are certainly not firesales; I certainly hope to see them both at the club some day but for now I wish them all the best."

Huw Jones, a 19 year old athletic goalkeeper, joins Luton Town for £250,000 a year after he was signed from Cardiff Met Uni on a free transfer, while ex-Manchester United academy prospect Leo Carter joins Preston North End for around £130,000.

Rubin Colwill and Callum Jones added to Newport County squad

Newport County seldom miss a beat when free transfers flood the market at the start of July, and today the club announced they had locked down the signings of Rubin Colwill and Callum Jones in a move which massively improves the midfield depth at Rodney Parade.

The Exiles continue to capitalise on Christian Ilzer's shake-up at Cardiff City by snapping up Rubin Colwill, whose contract was not extended despite making over 150 appearances for the club since graduating from their academy. Newport often relied on the likes of Bradley Burchell and Kevin Chapman in attacking midfield last season, and although both rarely put a foot wrong, questions marks remained over how they'd be able to adapt to the Championship. Colwill will have more experience at this level than any other Newport County player.

Callum Jones also returns to the club after his Leyton Orient contract was surprisingly terminated after a strong 2026-27 League One campaign. The 26 year old made 32 appearances for the Port on loan four years ago and played a full Championship campaign with Leyton Orient in 2024-25. He'll join a strong central midfield rotation alongside Josh Sheehan, Lee Evans and Charlie Savage.

Lee Evans: "I've seen how far we've come"

It's been fourteen years now since Newport County broke a 25-year drought that includes bankruptcy and reformation to climb back into the Football League, and to some fans it may seem like a distant memory.

Vice-captain Lee Evans is the only player at the club who participated in that thrilling 2012-13 campaign under the late great Justin Edinburgh, and fourteen years on he's uniquely placed to see the difference between now and then.

"The standards here now are incredible, back then the National League was still most semi-professional football and we had been making our way up from the eighth, ninth level of the pyramid to get back into the Football League. It was an awesome side but coming back to the club a couple of years ago you could tell that there was a marked improvement in the professionalism, the players, there's an atmosphere of success at the club now more than ever."

Evans left Newport County after that promotion campaign to join a Wolves team that had just been relegated into League One, giving him an opportunity to play first team football at a club expected to bounce straight back to the Championship. He carved out a long career at that level with a number of clubs including Ipswich Town, Swansea City and Bristol City before he was brought back to the club in 2024/25 for a tidy sum of £58,000.

"My first two seasons back, I was one of the few experienced players brought in, and a number of younger players were blooded, which at the time I was apprehensive about because we did struggle for a couple of seasons, even came close to relegation. I think I had to appreciate even more then how we bounced back last season, just a subtle shift in the tactic, a subtle shift in my role as well."

Now 33 years old, Evans moved to a deeper midfield role last season alongside the dynamic Charlie Savage, having lost some of his physical presence. His playmaking abilities saw him finish fourth in the club's Player of the Year voting and he will continue to be a much-needed presence in the dressing room going forward.

"I think I'm one of the only players at the club who was born in Newport, grew up in Newport and then played for Newport County growing up as well. I've definitely seen the club go through a lot of phases, and I'm really proud to see how far it's come."

Newport County grab priceless win over Spurs

A 79th minute winner by Owen Jones secured Newport County a historic 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur in their annual pre-season friendly at Rodney Parade.

The Spurs team, boasting first team regulars including Dejan Kulusevski, Rodrigo Bentancur and Pascal Struijk, dominated most of the proceedings but were unable to find a way past the solid backline of Woodiwiss and Jack Madelin and were denied by backup goalkeeper Tom King on a number of occasions.

Despite having just 32% of possession, it was Newport County who broke the deadlock in the 79th minute, after Charlie Savage's well-placed pass gave Owen Jones just enough space to squeeze a shot away from the corner of the 18 yard box, past Spurs keeper Alvaro Montero.

The result follows a spirited 4-3 defeat to Manchester United last week. Crowds of over 9,000 have packed into Rodney Parade for both games in a much needed revenue raiser for the club about to tackle their first season in the Championship since 1947.

Davies and Chapman join Northampton on loan

Promising youngsters Rob Davies and Kevin Chapman have left the club on loan in a bid to give them more playing experience before stepping up to Championship level.

Davies, 19, joined from Cardiff Met Uni in January and made 14 appearances for the Port in the backend of their league title race, including 3 starts. The Welsh Under-21 representative will be a regular for Northampton Town in League Two.

Kevin Chapman remains one of our most exciting academy graduates, now with 30 first team appearances under his belt. He's traditionally split his time between first team action and loans, and will make a step up to regular first team football at League Two level after previously playing at Hereford and Ebbsfleet United.

In other news, the club has finalised the signing of a trio of promising Welsh players released from Category 1 academies, including ex-Manchester United striker Rhys Pugh, ex-Man City defender Dean Jones and ex-Spurs midfielder Athenkosi Mabaso.

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