NEWPORT County AFC return to Rodney Parade this Saturday for the first time since their unforgettable FA Cup battle with Manchester City, but for how much longer will they be able to call the venerable old stadium home? ANDREW PENMAN writes:

COUNTY'S titanic tussle with Premier League champions Man City, which was watched by nearly 10,000 people inside the ground and by millions more on TV, and the cup heroics against Wrexham, Leicester City and Middlesbrough have shown the value of Rodney Parade to the club – and vice versa.

But the Exiles’ 10-year lease to play at the city centre venue comes to an end in 2023.

Extending that deal has long been a priority for the club’s directors, but events in Coventry over the weekend will have concentrated minds on the task in hand.

League One Coventry City have been threatened with expulsion from the English Football League unless they can provide more clarity over where they will play home games next season.

The Sky Blues' rental agreement at the Ricoh Arena runs out in the summer and the EFL board has set a deadline of March 5 for Coventry to provide more details over their intentions for next season.

Unless a satisfactory solution can be found within the next two months, the EFL says it will need to call an extraordinary general meeting of all 72 clubs to consider Coventry's expulsion from the league and any future membership.

County’s current situation is thankfully not as complicated as Coventry’s.

But their relationship with the Welsh Rugby Union, which purchased Rodney Parade in 2017, has been far from smooth and its by no means certain that they will reach an agreement to continue sharing the ground with Newport RFC and the Dragons.

South Wales Argus:

There have been misgivings on both sides, with County claiming last May that match-staging costs had increased by 100 per cent since the WRU takeover.

That claim was quickly countered by Dragons chairman David Buttress, who insisted the Exiles would not be able to get a better deal elsewhere.

Speaking at an open supporters’ meeting in September, Newport County Trust chairman Shaun Johnson said that relations had thawed but he admitted that there were still issues that needed to be ironed out.

“The lease is ticking down so for both parties there needs to be a level of certainty in terms of the relationship going forward,” said Johnson.

“It’s obviously been one of the areas that is pretty high on our agenda.

“The question is how it can work for both parties because we’re a big drain on their operations if you think about the number of games. It does put a big strain on their resources.

“It is an area that we’re looking at and we need to be making a decision on that in the next 12 months.”

That was five months ago and we’ve heard nothing concrete about County’s future at Rodney Parade since then.

As my Argus colleague Chris Kirwan pointed out in these pages earlier this month, it is now football putting the famous rugby venue on the map and it would be a massive blow if County were forced to move elsewhere.

It would be bad for Michael Flynn’s men, bad for Rodney Parade and bad for the city as a whole.

The WRU may feel it would rather do without the football club, but the stadium and the city centre would be worse off without the prestige events delivered by County in the FA Cup over the last 14 months.

South Wales Argus:

And Newport City Council recognises the value of County’s presence, according to Exiles operational chairman Gavin Foxall.

“We have a very good relationship with the city council and they are aware of our predicament and the challenges that we’ve been having,” said Foxall last year.

“What is comforting is that they do want a football club in the city centre.

“That’s good but what we then need is probably some assistance to how that is going to be maintained in whatever shape that may be, whether that be where we are today or somewhere else.”

Despite this season’s cup windfall, estimated to be more than £1.2m, a new stadium is simply not realistic for County without outside assistance.

Their only other option in Newport is a return to Spytty Park, which is not ideally located and would require significant investment to be brought up to EFL standard.

So, while viable alternatives need to be investigated, the board must do everything they can to secure County’s future at Rodney Parade as quickly as possible.

Read more: It's now football putting Rodney Parade on the map

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