Tony Pulis and Michael Flynn ready for FA Cup battle of Pillgwenlly in replay

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Pulis & Flynn, the managers made in Pillgwenlly

Standing in the shade of the Newport Transporter Bridge lies Pillgwenlly, an area with a rich sporting history and a troubled recent past.

An internet search of the deprived docklands area of Newport, known locally as 'Pill', shows it has been in the news a lot recently, though you will struggle to find a positive headline.

Unless, of course, the story in question is about two of its most famous ex-residents, Tony Pulis and Michael Flynn, who this week lock horns in the FA Cup as managers of Middlesbrough and Newport respectively, with the prize a chance to host Premier League champions Manchester City.

According to the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation, which covers 1,909 areas, Pillgwenlly has the 22nd lowest income in Wales, has the 10th worst health levels, the 25th worst education levels and ranks 50th for the worst in community safety.

It is known as an area where crime is increasingly an issue and it has been described as Newport's red light district, an area where police have been given special anti-social behaviour powers.

However, it is also an area with a rich sporting heritage, featuring both football and boxing, with the legend of Dave 'Bomber' Pearce and his boxing brothers replaced at the St Joseph's boxing gym by the likes of Lee and Andrew Selby.

The sporting element is emphasised in this week's FA Cup replay between Middlesbrough and Newport, a contest featuring two managers from one of Newport's most deprived areas.

Because while they might have made their names in the bright lights of the Premier and Football Leagues, it is on the streets of Pill that both Pulis and Flynn were born and raised.

Pill, according to Flynn, is a place that "never leaves you," and Pulis recollections back up that viewpoint about a place both managers recall warmly.

Pulis, who grew up on Dolphin Street, has not been a resident in Wales for the best part of 40 years - though no-one has told his accent - but he grew up just a few minutes away from Baldwin Street, the road where Flynn was raised by his auntie Sheila and uncle Ted, desperate to follow in Pulis' footsteps, first a professional footballer, then as a manager.

Newport Transporter Bridge
The Newport Transporter Bridge is a grade one listed structure

Pill 'makes you stronger'

A common theme from both managers is that growing up in one of Newport's toughest areas was character forming.

"Pill was a fantastic place to be born and raised in, the community spirit - at the time it was a vibrant area," Pulis explains to BBC Sport Wales.

"It's never been a salubrious place to live but as a community and as an area, I can't say anything bad about the place.

"I didn't know anything else. I was born and brought up there and left at 16.

"It gave me all the grounding that I needed in my life to make me determined enough to do the best that I possibly can. That's what I have done in football.

"I am absolutely convinced that the grounding I got in that area has done that for me."

Flynn agrees unequivocally.

"Pill is a tough place, there were a lot of talented youngsters, families who were not very wealthy, but they managed to give us whatever they could afford," he said.

Tony Pulis and Newport fans
Tony Pulis meets Newport County fans after taking a Stoke City side to his home city for a pre-season friendly

"But it was also a really close community where everyone knew each other and everyone looked out for each other.

"I am glad I grew up there, because the tough parts made you stronger going forward.

"We played on the streets and you are learning life lessons as well, you get knocked down, you get up again."

'They sneaked me into the pub'

Pulis recalls happy times in the city, playing football for Newport YMCA and tasting his first sip of beer.

"The two schools I went to, St Michael's and St Joseph's Junior, were in Pill. Everything in my life that I wanted and needed - football, sport, my mates, where we kicked around - was all down there," he said.

"The community there - I am talking about the 1960s and 1970s - was absolutely fantastic.

"The people were of good stock. They had respect for one another and the togetherness was second to none.

"I played for the local team. I was playing men's football when I was 15. I was playing for the sixth team, the fifth team, the fourth team, sometimes even the first team when I was 15.

Michael Flynn
Michael Flynn played for Gillingham, Wigan Athletic, Bradford City and Blackpool

"That not only toughened you up but meant you met a lot of people who were a lot older and wiser than you... the memories just talking about it come flooding back.

"They used to sneak me into a pub after a game on a Saturday. I would sit in there and have a pint of beer with the boys.

"Everybody would be singing and dancing. The married ones would go off at about 6.30pm and the single ones would stay on.

"How my dad allowed me to do it I don't know, but he did. The togetherness was fantastic."

'I could have gone the drugs or thieving route'

Newport boss Flynn has become a genuine hero in his hometown after County's heroics since he took over as manager of the club.

When he took charge they were 11 points adrift at the foot of League Two with just 12 games remaining.

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Not only did Flynn keep County in the Football League, but he consolidated their position and produced a thrilling FA Cup run last season, where the Exiles beat Walsall and Leeds United before almost stunning Tottenham Hotspur, before the run this season that culminated in beating Premier League Leicester City.

A draw at Championship Middlesbrough was simply another feather in the cap.

Flynn admits some of his friends who did not follow a path into football have endured more troubling times since than he or Pulis have.

"You are knocking about day in, day out with your friends or people you know and you are always trying to outsmart them or outdo them, either playing football, playing cricket against the Asian lads, playing a game against the Somalian lads, we were all one community and everyone got on. You look back and it is a special time," Flynn recalls.

County fans
Newport boss Michael Flynn says being raised in Pill means he better understands Newport County's supporters

"But for some of my friends, things didn't turn out so well, not everyone goes on to fulfil their dreams, there are different pathways to go down.

"I could have got in trouble with police, gone down the drugs route, the thieving route, there are many directions you can go, but thankfully my auntie and uncle and mum and dad guided me right and so did my friends. We weren't angels, but we never crossed the line."

On Saturday the Exiles will cross the white lines in Middlesbrough hoping to write the next chapter in their recent FA Cup history. However, whatever the result, there will be cause to celebrate in Pillgwenlly.

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