IT was great to see Rodney Parade rocking on Sunday, as lowly Newport knocked the high-flying foxes of Leicester City out of the FA Cup, a feat for which they were rewarded with a plum tie in the next round against mighty Middlesbrough.

When the match is played, the Riverside will also be rocking, the football will undoubtedly be exciting, and the battle of the bridges will be settled. The tie is already being called the Transporter Derby because it pitches the only two operational transporter bridges in the UK against one another.

Newport’s Transporter was built in 1906 over the River Usk and the distance between the centres of its two towers is 664ft; Middlesbrough’s Transporter was built in 1911 over the River Tees and the comparable distance is 590ft, although its towers are a little taller.

Both of the bridges are the icons of their respective towns.

The transporter was a solution to a problem of another age, when sailing ships with tall masts ploughed up and down our great rivers unable to go beneath low bridges. But men wanted to cross the rivers from one bank to the other – their ferryboats were literally going against the tide. At the start of the 20th Century, 2.25m men a year crossed the Tees south/north while 70 ships an hour sailed east/west.

The first transporter to solve this problem was built in Bilbao, Spain, in 1893 although the solution was devised much closer to home – in Hartlepool, and it got its first ever airing in these pages.

In 1873, Charles Smith, manager of the Hartlepool Engine Works designed the first ever “ferry bridge”, as he called it, to solve the problem of two million workmen a year bobbing about in a rowboat across the busy mouth of the harbour.

His working model did not impress the Hartlepool authorities so, as reported in The Northern Echo of June 14, 1873, he presented it to Middlesbrough council with a view to it spanning the Tees. His plans gained national attention – Glasgow was extremely interested in it crossing the Clyde – but he drowned in Lake Lucerne in Switzerland, where he had gone for his health, in 1882 without ever seeing his idea leave the drawing board.

He left a widow, six children aged one to 11, and an unpatented design. Engineers Ferdinand Arnodin, from France, and Alberto Palacio, from Spain, must have studied it before they lodged their “transbordeur” patent in 1887 and started work on the Bilbao bridge.

Bilbao started the age of the transporter. About 17 were built around the world in the next 25 years, although fewer than half survive. Newport’s was designed by Arnodin and Middlesbrough’s must have drawn inspiration from Bilbao, as it had a close ironstone connection with the Basque port.

So when the Transporter Derby kicks off on January 26, perhaps the fans will unite to remember the man from just down the road who kicked the whole concept off.

IT was a joy to see Newport (population 151,500) triumph on the telly last weekend in the third round of the FA Cup. Also making it through to the fourth round against the odds were Doncaster (population 109,805) and Gillingham (population 104,157) and even smaller Accrington (35,456) and Brentford (27,907). How long will it be before Darlington (105,564) has a team capable of making it onto prime time television, generating positive publicity, in the third round as a potential giant-killer?