Picture: Wild celebrations for manager Michael Flynn and his players at the end of Saturday's match against Notts County. Image copyright: Huw Evans/South Wales Argus
I NEVER, ever want to go through that again.
That was the thought reverberating around my head long after the final whistle had sounded at Rodney Parade on Saturday night.
Newport County AFC had just completed the great escape – perhaps the greatest escape – and secured Football League status with an 89th-minute winning goal against Notts County.
It was nerve-shredding, chest-tightening, heart-in-mouth stuff.
A sell-out crowd went through every emotion possible in 95 minutes that, at times, seemed to go on forever.
Safe as County were winning and Hartlepool losing against Doncaster, still safe despite equalisers for Notts County and Pools, and then relegated as Hartlepool took the lead.
And then ecstasy. Total, unbridled, joy. Tears, screams, hugs, chants. An explosion of emotion that you can only understand if you have been in the situation. And, even then, it barely makes sense.
Consider the misery County fans endured for almost all of the season.
The club got through three managers for the second season in a row.
And when the hapless, ego-driven, used car salesman that is Graham Westley was deservedly sacked, County were eleven points adrift at the bottom of the table with just 12 games to play.
Dead and buried, it seemed. 25 years of blood, sweat and toil to regain Football League status gone in just four short seasons back in the big time.
But cometh the hour…
Michael Flynn, Newport born and bred and a former County player and captain, was handed the manager’s job until the end of the season.
And he worked a footballing miracle.
By the time defender Mark O’Brien’s late, late winner had secured victory against Notts County and condemned poor Hartlepool to relegation, Flynn had somehow conjured seven wins and a draw from those 12 remaining matches.
It was enough to keep us up with two points to spare.
But Saturday – apart from the obvious delight at the end – was a horrible, horrible experience. I have never felt tension like it, even while watching County and my other team, Liverpool, in cup finals and promotion deciders.
And I never, ever want to go through that again.
Nor should anybody associated with the club.
In the cold light of day, finishing as the third-worst team in the Football League for two seasons in a row is nothing to celebrate.
Perennial struggle is no way to build any kind of stability because eventually your luck will run out. Just ask Sunderland.
So the challenge for County and its Supporters Trust owners and directors is to build a sustainable club for the future.
It will not be easy. There are question marks over the future of Rodney Parade as a sporting venue, at least until the result of tomorrow night’s Newport RFC shareholders’ vote is known. There is little or no investment in the club other than from supporters and sponsors or the odd transfer windfall.
But what there is, in abundance, is fight.
That was proved beyond doubt over the last 12 matches.
Now is the time to build on that, to take advantage of the feelgood factor surrounding football in Newport, and to find innovative ways to encourage the sell-out crowd on Saturday to come back for me next season.
Football with a future was the slogan associated with Newport AFC when it rose from the ashes of the collapsed Newport County in 1989.
That future is now. Next season is perhaps the most crucial in the reformed club’s history.
Consolidation will be progress. Another relegation battle will not.
Enjoy the summer County fans. And let’s have a season to enjoy not endure when the big kick-off comes around again in August.