Rodney Parade: What can Man City expect in Newport?

By Michael PearlmanBBC Wales Sport
Rodney Parade
Rodney Parade has stood since 1887

Are Manchester City ready for Rodney Parade?

Pep Guardiola's men have won the Premier League, are one of the favourites for the Champions League and are managed by perhaps football's most successful current boss.

They stand at the pinnacle of world football at a time in which global funds and a worldwide audience have ensured more focus than ever on the beautiful game.

However, of all the differences between the Premier League champions and a mid-table League Two side like Newport County, perhaps none is starker than that of the stadiums in which they play.

Because it is fair to say that despite all they have achieved in the Premier League in the past few seasons, Manchester City have never experienced anything like Rodney Parade, a ground with a rich history and unique place in British sporting history.

With its stands and makeshift terraces only yards away from a pitch that has become notorious, Rodney Parade is in every sense an old rugby venue adapted for football. The conditions can be wild, the fans definitely will be and as Tottenham and Leicester have found, it is not a comfortable place for Premier League footballers.

Welcome to Rodney Parade.

Pontypool front row
The Pontypool front row of Graham Price, Bobby Windsor and Tony 'Charlie' Faulkner prepare to scrummage for Monmouthshire against the All Blacks at Rodney Parade in 1978

The history

The second oldest ground currently in use in the Football League - only Deepdale was built earlier - and standing proudly in the centre of Newport since 1877, the ground was first owned by Newport Athletic Club who used it primarily for cricket, tennis, bowls, rugby and athletics.

Designed by Thomas Douglas-Jones, Rodney Parade's distinguishing feature is the close proximity between the stands and the pitch, with old fashioned terracing stretching across the bottom of one of two main stands, the Hazell Stand, meaning there is a fervent atmosphere for every big game staged there.

Newport RFC and now the Welsh Rugby Union have also owned the ground which has staged various international sports and become British sport's most used playing surface in recent times.

Though the headline about the pitch are unfair, the level of difficulty in maintaining it cannot be overstated.

Rodney Parade
Rodney Parade has already staged two fixtures in the week leading up to the visit of Manchester City

The pitch

Incredibly, Newport County, Newport RFC and the Dragons all share Rodney Parade, which has also become the recent preferred venue for Wales women football internationals.

No other venue in British sport is used by three sides and an international team.

However, while several managers are still quick to point to the Rodney Parade playing surface as a factor in poor performances, the truth is the pitch has been markedly improved after the WRU performed close to £1 million worth of upgrades in the drainage after completing a takeover of Pro14 region Dragons in 2017.

While the hybrid grass surface is comparable to the best of the best in League Two, the unique circumstances of the ground mean that groundsman Mark Jones is by far and away the busiest in the UK.

Newport County are tenants of the ground, as are previous owners Newport RFC, but Football League rules ensure the Exiles receive primacy when it comes to fixtures, a point of frustration for the Dragons in what has become an occasionally uneasy alliance at the ground.

Newport's midweek defeat to MK Dons was the 60th match played this season by County or the rugby sides, so it is highly unlikely Pep Guardiola is going to find a surface to his liking.

New Zealand lock Colin Meads
New Zealand lock Colin Meads visited Rodney Parade for perhaps its most famous game, Newport RFC's win over the All Blacks in 1963

The biggest games

Rodney Parade has hosted six full Wales international rugby matches, though it is unlikely anyone would remember the last one, as it was in 1912 when France were 14-8 victors.

However, Newport rugby fans certainly still recall some glory nights at the stadium, no more so than when Newport RFC beat the might of New Zealand. It was the All Blacks' only defeat of a 1963 tour, when the likes of Colin Meads and Don Clarke were beaten, for the only time in a mammoth 36-game, four month trip.

Newport RFC were the team to beat in Welsh rugby for much of the 1960s and 1970s in a golden era for the club, who in addition to the scalp of the All Blacks also beat Australia in 1957, South Africa in 1969 and Tonga in 1974.

Newport supplied over 150 players to the Wales national team have also boasted 30 British and Irish Lions.

While triumphs for the Dragons have been few and far between, Rodney Parade has provided memorable moments in other sports.

It has regularly staged boxing events, even wrestling events in recent years, but until the arrival of Newport County, cricket was the second sport that came to mind.

It hosted 27 first class games between 1935 and 1965, with two Gloucestershire contributions standing out. Wally Hammond scored a record 302 there in 1939, while in 1956 Tom Graveney reached 200 in Gloucestershire's innings total of 298, the lowest tally to include a double ton.

Newport Great Escape
Newport County managed to stay up on the last day of the 2016 season despite being 11 points adrift in League Two with 12 games remaining

Then came the County

Arguably the biggest and most contentious decision in Rodney Parade's 132-year history was the announcement of Newport County as tenants in May 2012 for the forthcoming season, with the Exiles agreeing a 10-year lease in 2013.

Parties on both sides have complained since about the terms of the agreement, with the alliance of Newport's sporting sides all in one stadium proving fractious at times.

However, Newport won promotion back to the Football League in their first season at the ground affectionately known as Dave Parade thanks to Trigger in Only Fools and Horses, with their Houdini act in 2016-17 under rookie boss Michael Flynn extending that tenure.

Last season they shocked Leeds and almost stunned Spurs in the FA Cup, while this term it has been the turn of Leicester and Middlesbrough who have fallen at a boisterous Rodney Parade.

If Manchester City are next, County will be be celebrating the biggest result in their history, while Rodney Parade may experience its greatest ever night.

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