Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland football club frustration after stock car damage to new pitch

By Jonathan Bell

The chairman of Ballymena United has vented his frustration after damage was caused to the club's Showgrounds pitch.

John Taggart said he was "totally disappointed" to have seen damage caused to the new pitch during Friday night's stock car races.

The Ballymena Showgrounds is owned by Mid and East Antrim Council. It leases the stadium to both the football club and Ballymena Raceway. A new pitch has been laid at the ground and it was hoped to be ready for around October for games.

However, on Friday the club circulated pictures on social media showing stock cars ripping up the new grass.

The council said the measures put in place to protect the grass were "inadequate" and work had begun on making repairs.

Club chairman Mr Taggart said around £250,000 had been spend to "establish a top quality playing surface". He questioned how anyone thought the placing of tyres "at wide intervals" around the racetrack could have prevented the damage.

"Ballymena United have been very supportive of the Council and the unprecedented scale of the works undertaken on the pitch," he said.

"Despite the cost of having to play almost the first quarter of the season away from home, supporters, officials, players and staff have all been looking forward to the greater good of having a pitch that would be the envy of many top flight clubs for years to come.

"This morning the confidence in the council's protection and maintenance of the new surface has been unfortunately dashed."

We had been looking forward to a pitch that would be the envy of many top flight clubs for years to come.

He said concerns had been raised in the past about how the pitch would be protected from the regular races.

"Unfortunately, the grass hasn't as much as bedded in and the council's token attempts to protect the pitch at the very first use of the main arena have resulted in widespread disgust and sadness.

"It is the understanding of the club that the main arena is to see further use between now and the anticipated date in which the club has been advised the we can return home, and we strongly call on Mid and East Antrim Council to do its duty to local rates payers and all users of the main arena in ensuring that facilities are protected from regular damage, as the council indicated it would be.

"As always we will continue to work with all for the greater good of sporting facilities in our borough, and will continue to advocate that these must be respected and protected by all."

They just don't want a stockcar around the place.

The incident happened during a Ballymena Raceway stock car event on Friday night.

Raceway organiser Aubrey Arbuthnot told the BBC he was "fed up" of the criticism and of the 60 cars racing on Friday only two went off the track. He said the car that spun off was knocked by another car before hitting the grass and the driver could not have prevented the damage.

"All I want is fair play. I'm a ratepayer, not like some of the people sounding off in the press," he said adding that if the council could provide another venue, he would use it.

"They just don't want a stock car around the place," he added.

Mid and East Antrim Council said it was considering a range of measures to minimise risk to the new pitch.

"We are deeply disappointed by last night's incident and fully appreciate and understand the frustration around this," a spokesman said.

"Ballymena Showgrounds is a multi-use facility, enjoyed by a wide range of local sporting organisations.

"The measures put in place to protect the new surface at the venue were inadequate for last night's event.

"Remedial works are being carried out on the pitch today.

"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."

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