Tony Brown has been through a lot since he rescued Newport from oblivion and spent millions on a galaxy of Southern Hemisphere imports. No Englishman will ever invest as heavily in Welsh rugby and none will ever do so for more altruistic reasons.
Brown saved the famous old club because he had a factory in Newport and wished to give the city something back for its contribution to his office equipment business.
He gave them, among others, a trio of Springboks headed by Gary Teichmann followed by the best part of £10m to make ends meet over a period of six years. Old habits die hard and Brown is back, albeit in a lower-profile role as a non-executive director – “just keeping an eye on things from a distance”.
He may not have intended it but his use of the word eye in the singular is strictly in the interests of accuracy. “I had a brain tumour six years ago,” he says, matter-of-factly. “As a result, I’m one-eyed. And I have a lump of metal in my head. I potter about as best I can.
“My recollection is not as good as it used to be but I do remember the good days when we won the Cup and finished second in the League under Ian ‘Mac’ (former Springbok coach Ian McIntosh). Wow!
“They were magical days with great men like Gary Teichmann, Percy Montgomery, Adrian Garvey, Simon Raiwalui, Rod Snow and others. And to think that as a rugby club, Newport was a dead duck when I took it over in 1999.
“They had been relegated from what was then the Welsh Premiership and were only reprieved because Cardiff and Swansea went into the English League for the coming season. All the good Welsh players had cleared off so I had no option but to go and hunt abroad.”
Brown, having gone above and beyond the call of duty during his ownership, nobody would have dared criticise him had he retired to the armchair and stayed there for the rest of his days. And yet as soon as the alarm bells began ringing last summer about the Dragons’ viability as a regional enterprise, Brown rolled up his sleeves and got stuck in again at the age of 75.
“I still have a great hankering for Newport Dragons,” he says. “It used to take over my life when I was younger and fitter and I enjoyed nearly every minute of it. A lot of my sweat went into creating them as one of the four regions.
“Then nine months ago we were back in the cart again and now we’re making our way out of it. I’ve only seen one match this season which was a bit of a disaster (the home defeat by Cardiff Blues) but I attend the board meetings and do whatever I can.”
No sooner had Brown taken his seat as a non-executive director than he was back in action, writing to each and every season-ticket holder with an appraisal of the Dragons’ financial status and a warning that they faced “considerable” debt.
The next six months, he wrote, would be critical. If they survived the period which takes them up to the end of the year, then the Dragons would have every chance of “creating great rugby at Rodney Parade again”.
Halfway through those six months, Brown is optimistic while typically down-playing the fact that he is owed an awful lot of money. “I have a few loans outstanding which I am not pushing for at the moment,” he says. “It was important to let the season-ticket holders know that their support is much appreciated and that things are a bit tight.
“With a bit of luck we’ll see it through. We have a chief executive, Chris Brown (no relation by the way) who is doing a good job as is the chairman, Martyn Hazell. They bring a sense of realism and now there’s a great deal more rationale in the board room.
“It will be a miracle if we do make a profit this season because everything depends on how the team is doing. If we can get through the remainder of this difficult patch, Newport Dragons will have a huge future. All being well, we are forecasting a small profit, against the odds.”
Rodney Parade has at last moved with the times, the new Bisley Stand named after Brown’s company giving it a 21st-century look. Newport County’s arrival may not have pleased the anti-soccer lobby but the advent in their midst of a winning football team at least means that the old ground is being made to sweat financially.
“At board meetings I pay a great deal of attention to the corporate and hospitality side of things,” Brown says. “The cost of the new stand turned out to be nearer £5m than four but it gives us the opportunity to stage non-rugby events. Facilities are vastly improved.”
The Dragons may be the poor relation among the four regions but they are all the richer for Tony Brown’s renewed care and attention…
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