"It’s easy to miss Taylor's Lane in Strood because there’s not much there. In fact it’s little more than a passageway that offers a shortcut from the Prince of Wales to the Civic Centre. But this tiny, unassuming part of Kent was the starting point of a journey that led to the founding of one of Argentina’s oldest clubs, one that nurtured a young Lionel Messi and employed an ageing Diego Maradona. The man who made that journey was Isaac Newell, and Man of Kent Adrian Pope is hoping to honour this Kentish Man with a statue in the Medway Towns.
Born in Strood on April 24th 1853, Newell travelled to Argentina at the age of 16 and settled in Rosario, 200 miles northwest of Buenos Aires, where he became a teacher. A keen footballer, he was one of the British expatriates who were the pioneers of football in the country, and is credited with bringing the rules of football and the first footballs to Argentina. In 1903 his son Claudio formed a football club, which he called Newell’s Old Boys in honour of his father. The club colours of red and black were taken from the emblem of the Argentine Commercial Anglican School that Isaac Newell had founded in 1884.
From those modest roots Newell’s went on to win six League Championships and have twice reached the final of the Copa Libertadores (the Champions League of Latin America?), but in Europe they are more famous as the club where Lionel Messi first made a name for himself.
Messi joined Newell’s at the age of six and played for their junior sides for six years before joining Barcelona in 2001. He was part of a team that became known as La Maquina del ’87 (the ’87 Machine – the number indicating the year of birth of the group) that lost only once in four years. Such was his ability at keepy-uppy that he would sometimes be the half-time entertainment at first team games. However Messi isn’t the only great Argentine to have worn a Newell’s Old Boys shirt. Among those who have come through the club’s youth teams and gone on to represent their country in World Cup tournaments are Gabriel Batistuta, scorer of a record 56 international goals, Gabriel Heinze, Maxi Rodriguez, Aldo Duscher (who famously broke David Beckham's metatarsal, pre-World Cup, in 2002), and Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino. Newell’s once even supplied all 11 players for the national team for a pre-Olympic tournament.
The club have one of football’s most unusual nicknames, but there is a certain honour in the title as it involves a deed of which Mr Newell himself would no doubt have been proud. Many years ago Newell’s and their bitter rivals Rosario Central were asked to take part in a match to raise funds for a leprosy charity. Central refused but Newell’s agreed, and after that they were given the nickname of The Lepers by their rivals.
Newell’s 50,000 capacity Estadio Mercelo Bielsa (also known as El Coloso del Parque, or "The Colossus of the park) has been their home since 1911. The stadium was given its official name in 2009, and is named after former player, and former legendary manager Marcelo Bielsa. He managed the national sides of both Chile and Argentina, and clubs like Lazio, Olympic Marseille, Espanyol, and Athletic Bilbao.
The city of Rosario is the third largest in the country and their most famous son is not Messi but revolutionary icon Che Guevara, who was born in the same street where Newell’s were formed. The British introduced football to many countries around the world but few of those early pioneers ended up with a football club named after them, let alone one that has given so many great players to the sport. So if you agree that Isaac Newell of Strood deserves a statue to match the one in his adopted home in Rosario you can do your bit by liking the Facebook page called "Isaac Newell. A Statue in Kent".
There is weekly correspondence between the British-based campaign for a statue, and Gabriela Bodo and Armando Andres Garrido from Newell's Old Boys Cultural Department. Armando is a former player who actually won the Argentinian league title with NOB in 1974. In 2017 club photographer Ramiro Ortega visited Kent, and stayed in Cranbrook. Among other things Mr Ortega visited Gillingham's Priestfield Stadium, and Maidstone United's Gallagher Stadium where he chatted with manager Jay Saunders, and former manager Bill Williams. He also visited the Medway Archives, to be given a copy of Isaac's christening certificate, and then went into St Nicholas Church in Strood, where the christening took place. And he visited Higham, near Gravesend, where Isaac spent most of his life... at a time when write Charles Dickens was living in the village."
*This is an edited version of an article that appeared in a Gillingham Football Club matchday magazine, written by Nigel Clark from Tonbridge