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Saturday 4th December 2021 ko 14:00

Wessex League Division One

NEWPORT (IW) FC 2 (Kelly 23 31)


Att 98 at Smallbrook Stadium

Entry £6

Programme £1.50

I have a nasty feeling I’m groundhopping ways of reaching the Isle of Wight! There’s been, so far, the Fastjet from Portsmouth for Cowes Sports, the ferry from Portsmouth for East Cowes Vics, the ferry from Southampton for Ventnor, and the hovercraft from Southsea for Brading and Shanklin, and there’s plenty more ways to come. No, I will not be trying to swim it!

I’ll always have a soft spot for the 3 Wessex League sides on the Isle of Wight, not least when all 3 travelled to the former BAT Sports Ground for a meeting when I was trying to get a Wessex League Hop up and running. They made the effort and were enthusiastic when some others were not.

I visited Newport Isle Of Wight’s St George’s Park 9 years ago (by Fast Jet) and found a stadium built to accommodate a former Southern League club with ambitions to return there. The catch was that the ground had only been in situ in 1988, replacing the original ground that had been lost to a retail development, but already the property developers were sniffing round. 

And so it came to pass, Newport were forced to vacate St George’s Park at the end of the 2018-19 season in favour of a retail development on the site. The club moved initially into a groundshare at East Cowes Victoria, while a new ground was built, the issue was where? The club wanted a site in Seaclose Park which would have kept the club in the centre of the town. Now it seems that the stadium will be built at the site of the old Racecourse, in Whippingham which is near to Newport, but certainly not in it. 

In the meantime Newport have made a home for themselves at Smallbrook Stadium, home to the Isle Wight Warriors Speedway team and Isle of Wight League outfit Ryde Saints. The key to it, of course is seats and lights, Ryde Saints need neither but one notch higher up the footballing pyramid both are needed for Newport. Now as a temporary home Smallbrook would be just fine, but the lights are configured for speedway and for football they serve only to add a little to the ambient light at the end of a game. It wouldn’t be difficult to reconfigure the lights for for football, but the cost is prohibitive for a temporary solution, and they’d have to be changed back for the speedway season.  

The result is that for now Newport’s games must kick off at 14:00 on a Saturday and midweek games are being played back at East Cowes Vics. The club are hoping that building work will start in the New Year and that they’ll be in their new home for the start of next season. But as the club put it, the operative word here is “Hope” ; they’re very much in the hands of the local authorities and their priorities. 

So for now Saturdays are at Smallbrook and that fact does take a little thought if you’re travelling from the mainland. The stadium isn’t easily accessed by bus which for us ruled out the FastCat or the hovercraft to Ryde. We took the car on the ferry from Portsmouth to Fishbourne for roughly £60 mainly because there was a rather convenient 17:00 sailing afterwards. It was all remarkably efficient but do look out for the roadworks near the ground. 

What I saw was a club set up for 2 notches further up the pecking order but struggling with having to play games at a less than idea stadium. There’s no doubt that Smallbrook isn’t ideal for football, the best vantage point is the clubhouse balcony and the pitch cut up in the heavy conditions.

Newport did well to beat a spirited Andover New Street, and two of my car load managed to drink the entirety of the stadium’s stock of bottled Island Brewery “Wight Knight” beer. It was an enjoyable day out albeit one tinged with a hint of sadness. The fact is that Newport at Smallbrook isn’t sustainable in the long term, so the hope is that the light they can see at the end of the tunnel isn’t the light of an oncoming train.  I hope to see Newport at their new ground next season.