Rodney Parade: Newport County's home feels pressure as Britain's busiest ground

By Steve TuckerBBC Wales Sport
Newport v Barnet
Newport's abandoned match against Barnet looks likely to be replayed in October

It is one of Britain's most used sporting pitches and now there are warnings of further disruption to fixtures at Newport's Rodney Parade this season.

On Saturday Newport County saw their League Two tie at home to Barnet abandoned at half-time due to a waterlogged pitch following torrential rain.

Referee Graham Salisbury made the decision out of concern for the safety of the players and, while County boss Warren Feeney and Barnet manager Martin Allen expressed dissatisfaction when the game was called off, Feeney admitted he agreed with the decision.

But with the football season barely a month old and with both Newport Gwent Dragons and Newport RFC starting their home campaigns this weekend, there are concerns the Exiles and the two rugby clubs could struggle to fulfil their packed fixture schedules.

The latest problems come following intensive work on the Rodney Parade pitch over recent years.

In 2013, £110,000 was spent installing new drainage systems with the help of a Football Foundation grant.

During this summer, the pitch was ripped up and levelled at a further cost of £35,000, but it seems the same old problems persist.

The man in charge of the pitch at Rodney Parade, operations manager Mark Jones, insists that Saturday's rainfall was virtually unprecedented and that his staff fought hard to keep the game on.

"It was the amount of rain in such a short time we could not handle," said Jones.

"It stopped the ball rolling in a particular area. There was nothing we could do, the pitch could simply not handle that volume of water.

"The annoying thing is that at the start of the game the officials congratulated us on the state of the surface compared to how it had been last season.

"In the end nobody was left happy with the situation."

Newport v Barnet
The players trudge off after Saturday's League Two clash is postponed

Jones believes he and his staff are being asked to cope with the busiest professional sporting pitch in Britain, with the Exiles playing football on it regularly along with rugby sides, Newport Gwent Dragons and Newport RFC. No other British ground houses one semi-professional and two professional sports teams.

Despite Newport RFC owning the ground and the Dragons attracting the biggest crowds, it is tenants Newport County who have primacy of tenancy when it comes to the fixture list, due to Football Association rules.

The same rules preclude the introduction of a synthetic pitch and the Exiles have a 10-year lease to remain there until 2023.

So the problems have no easy solution with the situation unlikely to ease in the coming weeks, and this weekend serving as a prime example.

The Dragons play their first Pro12 home game of the season on Friday evening against Zebre, County entertain Cheltenham in League Two on Saturday and Newport RFC face Bedwas on Sunday.

"We are always going to be up against it," added Jones.

"We must be the only pitch in the country with three teams playing on it, rugby and football. We've got three teams, none of which are cash rich. It is not ideal at all, but we've just got to get on with it.

Rodney Parade
Covers have been used previously as a temporary solution to stop the pitch becoming waterlogged.

"At the start of every season when you have got three teams playing you are always going to be in the lap of the gods.

"Further problems cannot be ruled out. I look at later in the year, look at November for example and there's 12 games scheduled for the pitch, it's very difficult and we are going to be left at the mercy of the weather once more.

"You look at Cardiff City, they ripped up their pitch and re-laid it halfway through last season after problems. They spent probably more there than has been spent on the pitch at Rodney Parade over the last three years.

"I would love to have a blank cheque-book, but that is just fantasy. We have budgets and have to cut our cloth accordingly."

At the heart of the problem is the fact Rodney Parade has a traditional turf pitch and not one of the new generation of Desso grass and artificial weave surfaces like those at the Cardiff City Stadium and Swansea's Liberty Stadium.

Desso pitch
Rodney Parade could have a Desso grass-hybrid surface but it is deemed too expensive at around £1m

Dragons chief executive Stuart Davies said the possibility of installing such a surface had been looked at, but had been rejected due to the costs involved.

"It came in at just shy of £1m and that was not possible of course," Davies told BBC Wales Sport.

"Like any traditional surface it is vulnerable to the elements and that is what happened in County's game with Barnet on the weekend. It was the result of five hours of rain and the tides might have contributed to that as we are near the river.

"There has been significant investment in the Rodney Parade pitch as recently as the end of last season. But the pressure on the surface is greater than at other grounds as we have the football and two rugby sides using it.

"Obviously I can give no assurances moving forward, but I can assure everyone we have a dedicated group of staff working hard to keep the surface at its very best. To be honest, right now, the surface is in tremendous condition."

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