FOOTBALL fans have expressed concern after a prestige match was called off just 25 days after the official opening of a newly laid pitch costing over £200,000.
Mid & East Antrim Borough Council had previously lauded the new surface at their Ballymena Showgrounds stadium.
At the start of November the Council held an official opening ceremony for the new pitch which was unveiled by Mayor Lindsay Millar after a pre-match reception.
The Council previously said the new pitch featured revamped drainage.
Ballymena United play at The Showgrounds and their big County Antrim Shield semi-final tie against Linfield was postponed on Tuesday after a referee’s pitch inspection following rain.
The Ballymena United Facebook page said early on Tuesday evening: “After an inspection tonight’s match against Linfield has been called off due to a water-logged pitch.”
The game has been re-arranged for Tuesday December 18 at The Showgrounds.
The Council previously told how work began in May to transform the pitch in order to revamp drainage, lay a new playing surface and install a new sprinkler system.
On Tuesday, fans expressed frustration that the pitch couldn’t cope with the elements just three and a half weeks after opening.
On social media one said: “Very disappointed and more than a little surprised to learn of the postponement.
“I live less than a quarter of a mile from the Showgrounds and, while there have been some heavy showers, it has by no means been continuous rain today.
“While the decision to postpone any match rests with a referee (not a club or Council or whoever else), it’s not a great advert for the much-vaunted new pitch.
“Coming so soon after being relaid and after a day of greater-than-average rain – hardly monsoon conditions – should be cause for concern.”
Another person said a junior football game had already been cancelled on the pitch.
They said: “Joke of a pitch. Absolute disgrace. Remember the All Saints v Harryville Homers game was off as well. 10 games in and 2 called off already. dec jan feb mar still to come.”
On the Irish League Supporters Forum page, one person said: “Was there a new/improved drainage system put in place along with the pitch, or is it just that the rain was that heavy today that it didn’t really matter how good the drainage system is?”
A Mid & East Antrim Borough Council spokesperson told ‘Ballymena Daily’ on Wednesday: “Last night’s match at Ballymena Showgrounds was among a number of football fixtures in Northern Ireland adversely affected by heavy rainfall.
“The safety of all users of the venue is paramount and we believe the referee’s decision to postpone the game was the correct one, given the poor weather conditions.
“We understand and share the frustration of fans who had been planning to attend the big game, and we look forward to seeing the rearranged tie take place at Ballymena Showgrounds soon.
“Drainage works were carried out as part of the recent substantial investment at Ballymena Showgrounds but while this has significantly improved the main arena surface and its durability, the pitch, by its nature, is exposed to natural elements.”
When the newly laid pitch was officially opened at the start of November, Mayor Millar, said: “I am delighted the programme of extensive work on the pitch at Ballymena Showgrounds is now complete and everybody involved in this project is over the moon with the results.
“This work was carried out to the highest standard and involved significantly improving drainage and the quality of the playing surface to work towards meeting European standards.
“We thank all of our partners and Showgrounds users for their patience throughout the past couple of months. In particular, our thanks to Ballymena United for vacating the use of the arena during the start of the season.
“We now have one of the best playing surfaces in the country.
“Ballymena Showgrounds is a multi-use venue and our council continues to work closely with all users to ensure it remains one of Northern Ireland’s premier facilities.
“We look forward to enjoying some first-class sport at the Showgrounds in the weeks, months and years ahead.”