THOSE who remember him in Newport always knew Tony Pulis was destined to become top managerial material.
Former Wales midfielder David Giles was a team-mate of the Stoke City boss in the 1980s at Newport County and saw at first hand the skills he brought to
the pitch and the dressing room.
Pulis had returned to his home town – he was born in Pill, down by the docks – from Bristol Rovers and threw himself into his defensive duties with County with steely determination.
“He was a great pro and we knew even then he would do very well as a manager,” Giles recalled in Andrew Taylor's book Look Back In Amber.
“Tony was a great lad, a leader with drive and a never-say-die attitude, which especially came into its own when we were away from home.
“If anyone gave you a chip, he would be over to them and have a word for you – ‘You do that again and you won't be walking off’!”
Pulis spent two seasons at Somerton Park playing in the hard school that was the old Third Division before joining Harry Redknapp at Bournemouth.
Now the 53-year-old is poised to become the first Welsh manager to lift the FA Cup – George Latham was the coach when Cardiff won the trophy in 1927.
And the whole of Newport will be rooting for him at Wembley when Stoke face Manchester City on May 14.
Pulis has an abiding affection for the place and his former club, who went out of business in 1989 before reforming and now play in the Conference National.
In the forward to Taylor's book, a history of Newport County, he said: “In football I always look ahead to the next game, but as a person have never forgotten my roots and am proud of my upbringing
“I set my mind to using whatever ability I had to the maximum of my potential and kept the daydreaming for my visits to the Somerton Park terraces.
“In 1984 I returned as a player. The club clearly had financial problems and in my two seasons there, given the quality in the squad, we under performed.
“Like most County players I don't have medals to show from my time there, but do have plenty of fond memories.”
Pulis remains committed to helping the Newport football community as well.
He is bringing a team to play County in July and last summer he sent a side to face Albion Rovers when they opened their new clubhouse.
Taylor, who is married to Pulis's cousin, takes up the story. “Albion Rovers were expecting a team of 16 to 17-year-olds to get off the bus. Instead off stepped James Beattie and Dave Kitson.
“They played on a little public park opposite my parents house. It was unreal.”
Pulis also donated a Stoke kit this season to Pill AFC, where his brother Raymond is chairman. They marked the gift by finishing Gwent County League Division Three champions.
Taylor, chief executive of Lincoln City Council, who has known Pulis for over 30 years, added: “He is a very proud Welshman even though he has lived most of his life the other side of the bridge.
“Even as a young pro I can remember his dad saying Tony would make a better coach and manager than a player.
“He got his FA badge at 19 during a time when he was injured and took it on from there. He has worked hard to get to where he is now.”