Ballymena United fuming after new £250k pitch damaged in stock car race
The chairman of Ballymena United has said the club's confidence in Mid and East Antrim Council has been "unfortunately dashed" after their newly laid pitch was damaged during a stock car race on Friday.
In an open letter to fans, John Taggart spoke of his "total disappointment" that parts of the surface had been gouged.
Ballymena Showgrounds is owned by the council and leased to both Ballymena United and stock car racing organisation Ballymena Raceway.
It is estimated that a total of £250,000 has been spent on the new surface.
Mr Taggart said fears of damage had been raised by supporters and club members just over a month ago.
In the statement, he added: "At the AGM, concerns were raised at great length by shareholders about what efforts would be in place to protect the pitch from damage.
"Supporters were particularly vociferous that the council should not allow damage to the playing surface after such a capital spend of ratepayers' money."
After the annual Winter National Stock Car championship on New Year's Day, cars cut up parts of the playing surface, which led to games being postponed.
Ballymena United manager David Jeffrey condemned the co-users of the stadium at the time, commenting that a "lack of respect" had been shown to the club.
The football club said the latest situation was even worse because the pitch had been brought up to a European competition standard.
Ballymena United vice-chairman Don Stirling told the Belfast Telegraph that football and stock car racing were "completely incompatible".
"Everybody was looking forward to the new pitch. We had agreed to stay off it until October 6," he said.
Ballymena are due to face newly-promoted Newry City at the Showgrounds on that date.
Mr Stirling added: "The council made totally inadequate provisions for stopping the cars going onto the pitch.
"I'm not blaming the stock cars for this. It's the council's mess and they'll have to fix it."
Aubrey Arbuthnot, who runs Ballymena Raceway, told the BBC that 70 tyres were placed around the pitch in order to try and protect it, and that any criticism directed at Ballymena Raceway was unfair. "I laid down the law to the drivers about what would happen if they went on the pitch," he said.
"The driver who went off, he was spun off by someone else, he's completely innocent.
"If I had found out who put him off, I would have put him out the gate. That's how seriously I've been taking it."
The council said it was "deeply disappointed" by what had happened.
"As the owners of the venue, we are fully committed to doing all that we can to safeguard the new pitch, and we are considering a range of measures to minimise the risk of damage to the surface as a matter of urgency," it stated.