MICHAEL PEARLMAN SAYS: County made mistake, but we need all parties on Parade pulling together
10:32am Tuesday 11th February 2014 in Sport
NEVER in my wildest dreams did I imagine the lame pun of 'Life's a pitch' would get such incredible mileage.
We are now in what feels like week 6000 of being pre-occupied with a 112x72 yard surface of grass at Rodney Parade that has had more scrutiny than Owen Paterson and Mark Harper combined.
The Exiles have lost five successive home games to the rain and have slipped eight points adrift of the top seven in League Two (thought they are seemingly immovable from eighth) while Newport RFC and the Dragons have also seen postponements hit their schedules.
It's a worrying situation and perhaps it's wise to take stock with so many accusing fingers being pointed.
I'm going to largely come at this from the Newport County perspective, because we have a fine rugby columnist, but it'll be impossible to assess the overall picture on Parade without referencing the rugby clubs.
Firstly, let us accept common ground on the grand scheme of things at Rodney Parade.
It's very testing to have three teams playing on the same pitch. But it's possible, because we saw that last season.
Work was done in the summer on the Rodney Parade pitch. It was paid for by County, with the help of a Football League grant, cost £80,000 while the rugby sides worked on an irrigation improvement that was a £40,000 investment.
The idea, is that combined, they'll vastly improve the pitch. It is universally accepted that IS the case, but the chink in the armour is that the work wasn't finished.
Some of the north side of the ground won't be completed until the summer. Because of this and the incredible rain levels - the worst in almost 250 years - we've had huge problems. The above, I hope, we can at least all nod in agreement about.
Now we move from accepted truth to opinion.
I've had very little cause to criticise the Newport County hierarchy in the past 18 months, but it is patently clear to all that they made a real mistake last week in deciding to put covers on the pitch after Newport RFC's loss to Aberavon.
It was County, not Rodney Parade's Head of Operations Mark Jones, who called on supporters to come and help lay the covers. It was County, not Jones, who decided the best way to give themselves a chance of playing on Saturday was to put sodden frost covers down, on already wet turf.
It was a mistake. The area was trampled and when the covers came off on Friday, those areas were the worst on the whole pitch. Yes they were the worst to begin with, but even County now acknowledge it was a bad move.
Frankly, it reeked of desperation. Having already lost four games, having ignored pleas from fans to investigate getting proper covers, rain covers, not frost ones, having done A LOT of work (with Glamorgan CCC and the Celtic Manor both assisting with machinery), it came across to me as an exasperated final roll of the dice.
It was foolish. Dave Boddy, County's chief executive, bravely confessed it was his idea and that incidentally is entirely in keeping with someone I have found to be an honest and decent man, who works very hard and doesn't deserve the vitriolic criticism and scepticism he has received since joining the club.
However, in this instance, he made an error of judgement. Dave Boddy shouldn't be pioneering efforts to improve the pitch any more than Mark Jones should be on the phone trying to get a better deal with Newport County's sponsors.
Kudos to the volunteers who are always at the ready for the club they love, but it was a mission of folly through no fault of their own and it gave the Dragons no chance of playing on Sunday which won't help relations.
Now County are hiring 'dome covers' and more power to them, it's a positive move. However (and this is where I fear I will upset some at County) if Newport had a better rapport and dialogue with the faction of fans they publicly fell out with, might this not already be sorted?
I can pretty much guarantee that at the least, they'd have organised a fund-raising event. At best, something similar to the fighting fund to avoid Conference relegation might have seen the Exiles able to invest in the long-term, in a 'plan B' for weather that is positively freakish. And let us be clear, by far and away the biggest culprit in all of this is the dastardly weather.
However, we can and should praise County for acting now, especially as the games either side of the Wimbledon and Fleetwood postponements - all three of them - were unavoidable and in keeping with postponements across the region, which is reflected in the fact Newport don't have five games in hand on their rivals.
While I felt it was, in this instance, appropriate to focus on what Newport County could've done better, I really do think we should all be enormously careful when pointing fingers at Mark Jones and his staff.
They worked miracles last year, they work incredibly long hours and the current situation is pushing them to breaking point. They are at their lowest ebb. I certainly don't envy their task and am incredibly grateful for their efforts. We should all keep this in mind.
Similarly, it’s a very, very dangerous road to travel to be asking “couldn’t Les Scadding pay for that?” His generosity has already helped the Exiles immeasurably and it should never be about waiting for him to hand out his own money.
We can certainly expect that all three teams at Rodney Parade can and will complete their remaining fixtures and as previously stated, I still firmly believe the Exiles have an excellent chance of reaching the play-offs.
But if I think one lesson can be taken from this whole thing, it is that relations across the board at Rodney Parade could be improved.
County were wrong to bullishly go their own way last week, but there is still a prevalent feeling on the football side that they are viewed as the odd-one-out, even an inconvenience.
There are some harsh realities to face for a minority who don't like football at the stadium. Newport County AFC are not tenants at Rodney Parade any more than the Dragons are. And sorry, but it's no longer a rugby ground.
It's a sporting arena to make an entire city brim with pride. All three clubs should be viewing one another as partners, not lodgers or housemates you are stuck with like you are first years at university.
Rodney Parade belongs to Newport RFC and that stage, the wonderful arena full of spirit and atmosphere, is still the best place for the Dragons AND the County to thrive. But everyone has to be pulling in the same direction at all times.
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