BY FAR the most powerful moment of Saturday’s return to Rodney Parade was the pre-match tribute to former Newport County AFC manager Justin Edinburgh.

I was just about to set off on holiday in June when I heard the awful news of Justin’s death so I didn’t have the chance to write about his Exiles legacy in the immediate aftermath.

After emotional scenes at County and at his final club Leyton Orient on Saturday, now seems as good a time as any to remember the man who took the club back to the Football League after a quarter of a century in the non-league wilderness.

I’ve written before in this column that he and I didn’t always see eye to eye during his three-and-a-half years in charge at Spytty Park and latterly Rodney Parade.

Justin always got on better with my colleague Michael Pearlman, a fellow Tottenham Hotspur supporter, and he often felt that I was too negative in my reporting.

One particular rant over the telephone – following a particularly grim defeat at Bristol Rovers in January 2014 – lives long in the memory and it almost led to me being banned from attending the following week’s pre-match press conference.

Thankfully we patched things up and our relationship was much better following his departure for Gillingham In February 2015 – when I wasn’t writing about him and his team every week!

Over the past few years he was always happy to chat about County’s successes under his protégé Michael Flynn.

The last time I spoke to him was in the week before the League Two play-off final in May when was effusive in his praise for the job that Flynn and his assistant Wayne Hatswell have done at Rodney Parade.

It was obvious that the man who had just guided Orient back into League Two desperately wanted his old team to make it to League One and I ended the conversation by telling him jokingly: “I hope we don’t see you next season!”

They are words that tragically took on a whole new meaning just a few weeks later and it’s a crying shame that he’s not around to see how much he meant to fans of County and Orient.

As well as the impeccably observed silence for him before Saturday’s draw with Mansfield Town, Rodney Parade and the Dragons have created a permanent tribute at the ground in partnership with County.

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A framed collection of the shirts, scarves and other memorabilia left at the stadium by fans in the days after Justin’s death are now on display on the Rodney Road Stand concourse wall.

Mark Jones, managing director at Dragons Rugby said: "Justin Edinburgh was the first Newport County AFC manager at Rodney Parade and the staff here shared a fantastic working relationship with him.

“We were all deeply saddened by the news of his untimely passing and the tributes left at the stadium gates reflected the high esteem he was held in by everyone.

“In recognition of this, Rodney Parade contacted the club with a view to the tributes at the gates being retained.

“From this contact, the tribute wall within the Rodney Road Stand was developed, and it is hoped it will serve as a permanent reminder of the part Justin played in the history of NCAFC."

County chairman of operations Gavin Foxall added: “Having a permanent tribute to Justin at Rodney Parade is fitting, given the positive impact he had on the club and its supporters.

“Our thanks to Rodney Parade for working with the club closely to make this happen."

It’s a great initiative from all at Rodney Parade and a wonderful way to remember the man who probably still retains the title of the most successful manager since the club was reformed in 1989.

The manner of his departure did not go down well with a lot of Exiles fans but time has hopefully healed those wounds and his achievements in Newport speak for themselves.

Justin saved the club from slipping back into the Conference South and secured a first ever trip to Wembley in his first season.

He then masterminded promotion to League Two via the Conference play-off final the following year and firmly established County as a Football League club once again.

Flynn has done a fantastic job since he took over in 2017 and he’s already earned his place in the County history books alongside his good friend.

The only thing missing from his managerial CV so far is a promotion.

If he can achieve that this season, he will take Justin’s crown but nobody will ever forget the starring role his mentor played in the Newport County AFC story.

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