Rodney Parade is a hub for sport in Newport. Home to three teams, it is the busiest stadium in the UK.

A little-known secret is that Rodney Parade was used as an air raid shelter during the Second World War. Dragons managing director, Mark Jones, tells Elizabeth Birt about what goes on...

Dragons’ new managing director Mark Jones revealed he was told about the air raid shelter by one of his colleagues during his 35-year career working at the ground.

He said: “The oldest part of the stadium is the red brick building by the clubhouse, I’m not sure if its part of the original build from 1877 or not.

“Aside from that, the clubhouse is the second oldest and there are thick walls by the toilets which I was told by a previous member of staff was an air raid shelter during the war.”

Newport was heavily bombed during the war, particularly in 1940, as it was home to one of Wales’ biggest ports. The location of the ground, just off the river Usk, meant that it would possibly be a target for the German attacks.

However, the air raid shelter was in a prime location as the ground was, and still is, surrounded by houses, allowing for civilians to be able to reach safety quickly.

The air raid shelter adds to an exciting history for the stadium.

Built in 1877, it is currently the second-oldest ground in the Football League. It was built two years after the creation of Newport Athletic Club, following the acquisition of Clarke’s Garden from Godfrey Morgan, 1st Viscount Tredegar.

This was then demolished and flattened and turned into what we now know as Rodney Parade’s clubhouse, ‘cabbage patch’ and athletics track. In 1892, a former salt pool became an extension to the grounds and this is now where the rugby pitch stands.

At this point, it was home to cricket, athletics and rugby.

In 1879 it made history as the first ground in Wales to have floodlights installed. During October of that year, Newport RFC, the oldest tenants of the three teams playing at the stadium now, beat Cardiff RFC in the first game under the floodlights.

This period saw Newport RFC take on an extensive winning streak, going unbeaten for four seasons in a row. Winning 59 matches and only conceding eight tries and four goals.

The streak was ended by English side Blackheath in November 1879.They went down to Rodney Parade and dominated. This is where the Welsh Rugby Union and national team formation is traced back to.

January 12, 1884 saw the first of six capped international matches at Rodney Parade as Wales took on Scotland. Both teams returned to the ground four years later for their second Home Nations Championship match at Rodney Parade.

1888 was the first time Newport RFC played against an international side as the New Zealand Natives (Maoris) narrowly beat Newport RFC 3-0 in a Boxing Day match.

In 1891, Wales returned to Rodney Parade, this time to face England in the Home Nations, Scotland were the opponents when they returned in 1894. England were the visitors for the final Home Nations in 1897.

The last full Welsh international match at the ground was held on March 25, 1912 as Wales took on France in a friendly.

Between 1901 and 1934, Monmouthshire Cricket Club used the cricket ground behind the changing rooms for the main Rodney Parade stadium as their home base.

Newport RFC played New Zealand a further six times at Rodney Parade, in 1905, 1924, 1935, 1972 and the infamous 1963 match where Newport won 3-0.

South Africa have also graced Rodney Parade, winning in 1960 but Newport RFC beat them on their return in 1969. Australia lost in 1957 and drew with Newport in 1966.

International rugby union would not be seen at Rodney Parade again, until Tonga were the visitors for a special Newport RFC centenary match in 1974, where Newport were victorious and the last was against Uruguay in 2001.

Newport RFC were the sole tenants to the Rodney Parade pitch after 1993 when the cricket pitch was turned into Maindee Primary School and Newport Cricket Club moved to the Newport International Sports Village.

In 2003, they were joined at Rodney Parade by the Newport Gwent Dragons after the invention of regional rugby. In 2007, it was announced that the ground would go under redevelopment and in October 2011, the Bisley stand was opened.

In 2008, Rodney Parade was one of the venues picked to host the Junior World Championship and among several games, saw Wales U20s play their New Zealand counterparts

In 2010, the Celtic Crusaders rugby league team made Rodney Parade their temporary home, before their rebrand.

May 2012 saw Newport County join the tenants at Rodney Parade, making it the only stadium in the UK to be home to three teams. This has led to teams including Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City making their way to Rodney Parade in the past couple of years.

2017 saw the Welsh Rugby Union take ownership of the ground and the Dragons.

In August last year, the first international football match was held at the ground as Wales Women took on their English counterparts in a Women’s World Cup qualifier.

Rodney Parade has also hosted the opening ceremony for the British Transplant Games last month.

It has, however, put a massive strain on the ground and the staff at the club. Mark Jones said that there were more than 70 games held at Rodney Parade in the 2018-2019 season.

“It’s one of the busiest stadiums for sporting events. With the three teams, sometimes there are three games on one weekend,” he added.

“Its not just the ground staff who have to work exceptionally hard, but the stadium clean teams, catering teams, pretty much everyone who works here.

“When there are multiple games on a weekend, the ground staff sometimes have to work all night to get it prepared.

“What I used to do was work week to week, otherwise it looks too daunting if you look at the whole schedule. That’s also what the ground staff do. It makes it easier.”

The ground has always been known to be plagued by the weather, with multiple fixtures having to be called off due to pools of water forming. In 2017, a hybrid pitch was installed, with five per cent fibre, to give a carpet backing and a softer surface.

Mr Jones explained how this pitch has a three-year lifespan. He said: “It holds better in the weather. But it is in the third year now, so will be interesting to see how it holds up this year.

“The grass growing period stops in November and starts back up again in March. Its between this period that our ground staff have to work the hardest and it is when they get accolades from other ground staff for their hard work in maintaining the ground.”

Even during the off-season, the care for the ground does not stop and Mr Jones believes that they work just as hard, if not harder, during this period.

“I would rather be working at the busiest ground in the UK than at the least busy,” Mr Jones added.