They may only play in the Northern League, but Durham City FC has scored a major success with the new state-of-the-art pitch at its Archibalds Stadium that any Premiership club would be proud of. Designed and built by SIS (Support In Sport) Ltd, it incorporates a blend of fibres that provide what club Chairman Stewart Dawson proudly describes as "quite the best synthetic pitch I have ever seen".
The pitch has passed both the FA Community Standard and the IATS international standard, which is equivalent to the FIFA 1 Star Award, proving excellent standards of construction and care were incorporated in the build.
The installation officially opened on 14 July and replaces a natural pitch. Although it was widely regarded as one of the best non-league surfaces in the country, it required intensive on-going maintenance - and money - to keep it that way. In order to increase playability without employing the expensive luxury of a full-time groundsman, a synthetic option was the only sensible way forward.
The 'third-generation' SIS Supreme pitch should last six years before replacement. "It will withstand 1,700 hours' use during that period," says SIS Chief Executive Officer George Mullan. "That contrasts with 300 hours for a conventional grass pitch. SIS installs both real and artificial systems, so we know exactly what is required to replicate the ideal natural surface, but which can withstand intense use."
The Supreme secret is the surface itself. SIS sourced a special grass 'carpet' incorporating two different fibres from Dutch-based yarn manufacturer TenCate Thiolon. Firstly, monofilament fibres, measuring just 1mm wide, stay upright for superior ball roll and realistic pace. Secondly, 2mm-wide monotape fibres are more flexible and cover the rubber crumb infill, minimising player contact with the infill and achieving excellent sliding performance without friction burns.
Cleverly, the Thiolon LSR fibres are different shades of green, creating a wholly natural appearance. "It looks fabulous, absolutely spectacular," says Stewart Dawson. "The colour is stunning and the ball behaves exactly as it did on our old surface. The shock pad underneath achieves the correct 'give' and our players are very impressed as are Coca Cola League Two club Darlington FC, who are also using it for training sessions."
George Mullan oversaw the entire Durham City installation. The old pitch was stripped in May and excavated to a depth of 250mm. A porous membrane was installed and filled with drainage stone, and this was then sandwiched by a second membrane on top. The rubber shock pad was laid in place before the Supreme carpet was installed. Finally the rubber crumb infill was applied.
As George Mullan explains, a pitch is like an iceberg with much of its features lying beneath the surface. "About 90% of what makes a great pitch, whether real or artificial grass, is underneath, in terms of the drainage and the shock pad. Also, because SIS constructs, manufactures and installs using its own expert employees, clients have peace of mind dealing with one company from start to finish."
Durham City's Supreme pitch will enable the club to accommodate a vastly increased level of usage. As well as the first team, 17 boys' sides and 12 ladies' teams will use the pitch in 2006-07, and it can be used for training purposes. "Because the stadium has floodlights the ground can used during the week and all weekend," says Stewart Dawson.
"This is the first pitch of its kind in the UK," he adds. "I have seen another in Holland, but ours plays even better. SIS have come up with something really special."