VECTIS Rugby Club have come under a barrage of criticism about the state of pitches — deemed unplayable and unsafe in many cases — for its annual Minis Festival, played at the County Showground, Northwood, today (Sunday).

Anything from nails to stones and tent pegs were found on pitches and there were many injury-causing holes left there, which led to matches being cancelled on safety grounds.

U12 matches were also switched to Wootton Rec, following safety concerns on the state of pitches.

One of many disgruntled parents, Shaun Stevens, complained about the state of the pitches on the Vectis Rugby Club website.

He said: "Vectis and their agents had more than six months to get this right, but clearly the original venue selection was completely wrong and no one was willing to put their hand up in all that time and admit the error.

"Make no mistake, this was an uneven, pitted grazing field, from which a long rusty nail, dozens of tent pegs and handfuls of stones were quickly lifted on our arrival.

"It was never going to be fit for purpose.

"I cannot see there being any faith from other clubs to come back in future, unless there's an admission of guilt."

Vectis Rugby Club, which had run the event from Seaclose Park, Newport, each year for the past 17 years, had to switch venues due to "uncontrollable circumstances", said chairman Emma Douglass on behalf of the club's committee. 

It is believed 1,400 players took part in the event, many of which belonged to clubs from around the country and watched by several thousand spectators throughout the day.

On the Vectis Rugby Club Facebook page, mainland parent Paul Finney commented: "The U11's pitches were unsafe, with many holes, stones, nails and tent pegs left there.

"Not a single coach, including those of Vectis, were happy for any play to take place on the four U11 pitches.

"An alternate location was looked for, but none were suitable or available to accommodate all the U11s. If Vectis had completed a full and proper assessment of the U11s' four pitches and deemed them acceptable, then shame on them.

"The U12 Vectis coach said the same about most of the pitches, which is why games were moved to Wootton.

"This is all down to Vectis, not a few clubs being sensitive and walking out. Every single club, coach and kid wanted nothing more than to play rugby.

"However, Vectis need to be honest and hold their hands up and take responsibility."

The Vectis chairman went on to defend the decision the club made about staging the event and the quality of the pitches played on — after an apology was made to the dissatisfied who had left the event.  

"It is obviously regrettable some teams were concerned about the pitches and felt unable to allow their teams to participate," said Mrs Douglass.

"The safety of players is always of paramount importance to all involved in youth rugby and is always the responsibility of each teams’ management group.

"Vectis RFC were happy with the quality of the pitches, but appreciate that others hold their own views."

Mainland parent, Rona Lucas, was dismayed by the club statement.

"It took clubs months to organise this event, with volunteers taking time to get every detail right for the players, including ferry times and accommodation," she said.

"Their coaches had the best interest of the players at heart. No coach would have cancelled if they could play.

"If lots of children hurt themselves playing on pitches not up to health and safety standard, who would be accountable?

"Vectis should have checked the area thoroughly when deciding where the event took place, then make sure it was safe to play for all age groups.

"Putting the blame on the coaches is totally unacceptable."

Vectis said the U7, U8 and U9 teams enjoyed a full, fun day and that they had received really positive feedback from a number of participating teams.

Kirsty Payne commented: "When the ref looking at the pitch tells you it can't be played on as it's too dangerous, you do not play on it.

"The kids safety has to be the priority. The pitches weren't fit for purpose."

"We would hope that this years’ experience will not deter teams from visiting the Island next year and we look forward to a successful 2020 Mini Festival," said Vectis.

Mike Churchyard described the Vectis response as disappointing and that they should be embarrassed by it. 

David Gale echoed those sentiments.

He added: "Absolutely shocking Vectis. After years of fun at the Mini Festival, you had my sympathy — until their statement.

"If you (Vectis) felt it was safe for our kids to play on, you should be ashamed of yourselves. I stood in front of your lovely coaches as they apologised and cancelled the event, suggesting where else we might go and play."

Visiting mum, Susie Frank, said: "This was my fourth Vectis Minis event — and my last. Terrible response."

Phil Elson was also left unhappy by Vectis response.

"The organisation was bad, the pitches were poor and I heard Vectis explicitly say the event was cancelled.

"Apart from that, evidently it’s all the fault of the other clubs, like the one my son belongs to, who travelled miles at considerable expense."