Sunday, 27 July 2014

Newport County 1 v 0 Carl Zeiss Jena

Saturday 26th July 2014
Pre-season Friendly
Spytty Park, Newport
Admission: £15.00
Programme: £3.00
Attendance: 2065
Match Rating: 2

When it was announced that Carl Zeiss Jena were coming to the UK to play this summer, I was never going to miss out on the opportunity to watch the local club I supported whilst living in Germany back in the nineties. An added bonus, I hoped, was that this would be my first football match at Newport County's Rodney Parade stadium, having previously watched rugby there. Sadly, it was announced just nine days before matchday that the pitch would not be ready for this game and so the match was moved to the club's former stadium a couple of miles out of town at an athletics venue, which I had visited three years ago.

Spytty Park, or Newport Stadium, within the grandly titled Newport International Sports Village, hasn't changed noticeably since Newport County used it full-time prior to last season, although spectators are now no longer allowed close behind the goalline, so it is an even more spectator unfriendly stadium than it used to be. Temporary catering facilities were available today in enclosed areas at opposite ends of the ground. For their friendly matches, Newport are charging an extortionate £15 to stand or £17 to sit, although credit to the club for allowing Jena fans free entry. The programme, however, was a really superb effort, all the more so for a friendly match, and I'll be surprised if I encounter a better one all season. Consisting of 64 pages with a retro front cover to replicate the edition for the match when the two teams met in the European Cup Winners Cup in 1981, it was a thoroughly interesting read about the fixture, reports and memories from the European ties, in depth information about the visitors and other club news.

Today's friendly was arranged following a friendship that has developed following the meeting of the two clubs in the European Cup Winners Cup Quarter Final 33 years ago. Jena's current manager, Lothar Kurbjeweit, scored the only goal in the second leg at Somerton Park to seal the East Germans' passage into the semi-final with a 3-2 aggregate scoreline, and Jena would go on to reach the final. The two teams also played a friendly in Germany last summer, with the match ending in a 2-2 draw, just like the game in 1981, and so it would be interesting to see if Jena would replicate their 0-1 second leg victory in Newport today. The clubs do look fairly evenly matched these days, both plying their trade in the fourth tier in their respective countries. Newport finished their first season back in the Football League in 14th place in the 24 team League Two, whilst Jena finished in third place in the 16 team Regionalliga Nordost (regional north-east league).

This fixture certainly caught the imagination of the Jena fans, as they came over to Newport in their droves. After seemingly taking over the city centre before the game, they made up well over half the attendance at the match, with an estimated total of 1,300. This certainly made for a friendly and lively atmosphere around the ground, but sadly - perhaps predictably for a pre season friendly played in hot conditions - the game was rather dull and slow paced, with chances at a premium, particularly in the first half. A goalless scoreline at half time was a perfect reflection on the first half.

Into the second half and Newport did manage to create some more chances, while Jena didn't get a sniff, showing a chronic lack of creativity in the attacking third. On 65 minutes, Newport took the lead. A free kick was awarded, and after some scuffling, which included Robbie Wilmott pushing an opponent to the ground following a cynical foul, was brought under control,  Darren Jones headed the floated ball into the net. Newport thought they had doubled their lead four minutes later, but a far post header was ruled out for offside. Jena did try to mount some attacks as the game neared its conclusion, but they never convinced that they would score, and Newport claimed the narrow victory. However, it was one of those days when what happened on the pitch seemed to count for little, as fans headed to Rodney Parade for a club fan day, where the drink continued to flow and fans from both clubs mingled in very high spirits.

Whilst briefly at the club day back at Rodney Parade, I managed to take a few photos of the stadium, to see for the first time "in the flesh" the redevelopments since my rugby visit in early 2011. The main Hazells stand, where I saw the game from, is seemingly unchanged, however along the opposite side now is a modern all-seater stand, behind one of the goals is uncovered seating, whilst behind the other goal is uncovered terracing. It looks a smart ground now, with a bit of whatever one fancies - old stand, new stand, terracing - catered for.

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