It’s a non-stop marathon effort keeping Parade pitch playable
LIKE a marathon runner, head of operations Mark Jones knows it’s inevitable that they will hit the wall at Rodney Parade, he just hopes the end will be in sight when it arrives.
The finish line for Jones, head groundsman James Stuart and assistants Nick Delahay and Jon Raymond, is May 3 and Newport County’s game against Rochdale... unless the Exiles reach the League Two play-offs.
Until then it’s all systems go at Rodney Parade and there is no rest in what is seemingly a thankless task.
No matter how much work Jones, Stuart, Delahay and Raymond put in – and you would struggle to find anyone in the colours of the Dragons, Exiles or Black and Ambers grafting harder – things won’t look pretty come May.
You see, it’s a numbers game when it comes to the pitch – three teams playing at least 52 games on one surface equals trouble.
“We highlighted at the start of last season that we were going to hit a wall and we did,” said Jones, who has worked at Rodney Parade since 1985.
“I know that a lot has been made about the money being spent on the pitch in the summer but it’s exactly the same this year, I just hope that the wall is further along.
“With three teams playing on one pitch there are always going to be problems, but our staff do the best they can and last season would have been a lot worse without their hard work.
“Their dedication is second to none and without those boys there would have been lots of games that were never played. People get taken for granted and I couldn’t bestow enough accolades on them for the painstaking and backbreaking work that they do.”
Jones strikes you as a man who would be far more welcoming to a PPI cold caller than he would to someone trying to extol the virtues of a 4G pitch like the one now in place at Cardiff Arms Park.
Rodney Parade is an old-fashioned surface – there is no expensive synthetic Desso GrassMaster hybrid.
Unsurprisingly, there are turf wars in Newport.
The relationship between those that prepare the pitch and those that ply their trade on it can be strained.
When in the business of trying to win games it can be galling to be told that it simply isn’t possible to train on the pitch, or even have kicking practice.
“About three years ago Newport asked for a 15-minute team run,” said Jones, who is safety officer on matchdays.
“I said ‘yes’ but told their team manager Mike Sage that he could come in and divot with the boys the following morning so that he could really appreciate what can happen to a field in 15 minutes.
“It only happened once and they didn’t ask for another team run when Sagey realised the damage that can be done in such a short space of time.”
Players, coaches and ground staff have had to get used to sharing but plenty of lessons have been learnt from last season.
Little things, like the way the brackets are put into the ground in order to change the posts, should make things run more smoothly.
And the bad news for the conspiracy theorists is that all men are equal at Rodney Parade.
“No priority is given to one team by myself or any other member of staff,” said Jones, whose first love was football, leaving school to try to make it with Sheffield United.
“Every game is treated on its own merits and it’s impossible to not work as hard one week because it’s only so-and-so while there is a ‘big game’ the following week. You can’t catch up and we work flat out.
“It was dropped on us last year and if I am honest it was too big an ask considering that we have very little budget when it comes to maintenance and renovations.
"It will still be a struggle again with two rugby and one football team but hopefully we’ll benefit from being a little bit more experienced.”
Then there is the dark side to their work. While the ground staff are out in their waterproofs trying to get games on, they are being lambasted online by those sat in warm slippers.
Jones said: “I feel sorry for the groundstaff because they are the ones who are religiously out there, often seven days a week, repairing, putting back divots and making good the pitch for the next game.
“I don’t think that some people really appreciate what they do and once the season starts this weekend it is non-stop until May.
“It’s fairly daunting and you don’t get weeks off or winter holidays, the boys can just grab a day here or there.”
One thing is for sure, if things are a tad boggy in the winter months then it won’t be down to a lack of effort from the boys with the forks.