The beginnings of Newport County are clearly documented since the club was founded for the specific purpose of providing this rugby stronghold with professional football. County were formed in 1912. There had been a professional soccer club in the town a few years previously. The club, known simply as Newport FC competed in the old Western League but support and financial backing had been so poor that the team went out of existence around 1907. Newport County were established during an informal gathering in the lounge of the Tredegar Arms Hotel in Cambrian Road and immediately gained access to the Second Division of the Southern League for the 1912/13 season.
A Bert Moss, who was building houses at that time in the Somerton area, dealt with the problem of a suitable ground. He had his eye on a few acres of land off Cromwell Road, which formed part of the old Somerton estate. Hundreds of loads of rubbish and earth was tipped and banked around the pitch. The only covered accommodation consisted of a wooden hut at the side and it was reserved for the press. The newly acquired premises at Somerton Park remained Newport County’s home during their league days.
Since amber and black were connected with Newport through the rugby side, County decided to adopt these colours in quartered shirts. It was an appropriate choice in more ways than one. Amber is the town’s livery colour. Most of the club’s potential support came from the men of John Lysaght’s steelworks, the majority of whom had Wolverhampton connections, and the Molineux club played in similar colours.
As part of the build-up to Newport County’s second season, a local newspaper ran a competition to find a nickname. The response was staggering. A couple of hundred ‘Wasps’ were sent in, nearly as many ‘Cromwellians’ and scores of others. Eventually the name ‘Ironsides’ was chosen, which seemed particularly appropriate since there was this strong connection with the ironworkers of the aforementioned steelworks. Incidentally, the ‘Cromwellians’ suggestion may well have been inspired by ‘The Ironsides’, Cromwell’s army. Anyway, it were the ‘Ironsides’ who travelled to Cardiff by train for the kick-off of their second campaign. County couldn’t afford special transport to Ninian Park so the players ran to the ground in their new kit of amber and black stripes with white shorts. So much for romancing the old days.
League football came to Newport in 1919 when Stalybridge Celtic, a geographical oddity in the Southern League, announced their resignation and County were elected in their place. For reasons obscured by clouds, the ‘Ironsides’ begun the season wearing claret and blue striped shirts but by mid-October had changed to the more familiar amber and black stripes, in which colours they were to play for the next sixteen years. County switched to red and white stripes in 1935. The first match-programme for the 1938/39 season stated that the club would revert to their original colours of amber and black. Alas, the outfit with three black chest bands was not ready for the first home match so County appeared in all black much to the chagrin of the match-officials. Shortly after the War County changed to distinctive plain amber shirts and black chest bands alternatively until the end of their League days.
The first team pictures from after the War show County players proudly wearing a badge. It’s the shield of the town’s coat of arms, consisting of a reversed red chevron on a gold shield, ensigned by a cherub. The shield is that of the De Staffords, Earls and Dukes of Buckingham, lords of the Manor of Newport in the 14th and 15th centuries. The reversed chevron marks the difference between the borough arms and those of the family. It is not known whether the cherub in the crest was intended to have any significance when it was adopted, but is believed to be merely decorative.
The full arms were used on stationary and the office buildings. They are unusual for two reasons. Firstly, it places the aforementioned cherub above the shield; secondly, one of the supporters is a winged sea lion – Newport was the first authority to use this rare heraldic device. In 1929 Newport obtained a grant to use the armorial bearings, which, in fact, it had already been using for some time – certainly since 1835. In 1957 it was decided to petition the Earl Marshal for the supporters, which all boroughs are entitled to possess. A year later the College of Arms granted this request and a winged sea dragon and a winged sea lion were brought into use. These supporters represent strength on land, sea and in the air. The motto ‘Terra Marique’ was adopted at the same time and means ‘By land and sea’.
Newport County went out of business in 1989 and from their nucleus Newport AFC arose. The badge was changed accordingly. It shows the Newport Transporter bridge, a famous local landmark, set against an amber background with the appropriate addition ‘The Exiles’, a tag obtained as a result of the need to play their inaugural season in the north Gloucestershire town of Moreton in Marsh at which venue they won the Hellenic League & Cup double, winning promotion to the Southern League. In 1999 the club changed its name to Newport County AFC and took on the coat of arms of the borough, also used by their forebears.