The Pitchcare Survey of Premier League and Nationwide League Groundsmen
Welcome to the Pitchcare survey of Premier League and Nationwide League groundsmen - the first survey of its kind ever undertaken.
Questionnaires were sent to the Head Groundsman at all 92 Premier League and Nationwide League clubs. 48 responses have been received.
The purpose of the survey was to get answers to a number of key questions:
- Do managers influence the way their pitch is prepared to give the home team a greater advantage?
- What activity causes most damage to pitches?
- Who are the worst culprits when it comes to causing excessive and unnecessary damage to pitches?
- Should the FA be giving more support to groundsmen, and enforcing their own rules more rigorously?
Compared to the bare and muddy surfaces on display a decade or so ago the quality of football pitches in this country has improved beyond recognition. However, despite the best efforts of groundsmen, there is still a great deal of ignorance about the growing and maintaining of top quality football pitches and, more importantly, the type of usage that causes most damage.
Summary of responses
Two thirds of groundsmen are influenced by the manager on how they prepare their pitches, with just over half watering or not watering depending on the visiting team. Almost 20% altered the height of the grass on their managers' instructions. The majority of groundsmen were happy or unconcerned about being influenced in this way.
The growing fashion for extended warm ups is undoubtedly taking its toll on pitches, with almost 75% of groundsmen identifying it as the most damaging activity, five times as many as those who consider matches to be the most damaging.
Premier League Middlesbrough are way out in front, with their goalkeepers given special mention for their particularly intensive routines. In the lower divisions Scunthorpe, Oldham and Derby also feature. Scunthorpe's goalkeeping team and Derby's liking for a full-scale pre match 7 a side received specific mention.
When the ball bobbled over one high profile keeper in a match a couple of years ago, there was no sympathy from the groundsman. In the Premier League, 100% of the groundsmen surveyed have to suffer goalkeepers scraping lines in the penalty area. In the lower divisions, one custodian was stated by one groundsman to have "loved digging trenches over the whole goalmouth."
It is an offence to put unauthorised markings on a pitch, yet no action has ever been taken by referees or the authorities to deter the practice. Conversely, at least one groundsman has received a warning about putting white markings on the 6 yard box. Almost 100% of the groundsmen would welcome the introduction of white markings on the 6 yard box and penalty area to assist goalkeepers with their positioning.
In England, the Football League's Playing Surfaces Committee is the professional game's lead body dealing with the standard of football pitches. Earlier in the year Pitchcare contacted the committee about the issue of pre match warm ups. The response was follows:-
"In respect of pre-match warm ups by players and match officials our Committee has previously addressed the issue with club groundsmen. The advice was that groundsmen should initially seek some agreement with their own manager and then to mark off those areas that are 'off limits' pre-match, goal areas are one such area that receives excessive use. It is also in each club's interest that their own pitch not only looks good but provides the best possible surface, the working relationship between each groundsman and their secretary/chief executive should provide such support.
I am aware of my involvement with match officials that pre, and in some cases, post match warm ups are here to stay, we feel that the groundsman must be responsible for the warm ups to be conducted in the best possible areas."
Basically, the committee is saying that it is the responsibility of the groundsman with support from the club secretary. Does the committee realistically believe that, once players and coaches are out on the pitch, they take any notice of the lowly groundsman?
Based on the survey responses it is evident that excessive, unnecessary damage is being caused to football pitches every week of the season, and goalkeepers in particular are infringing the laws of the game. Why then has no action ever being taken against an individual or a club?
Clearly, the system, and we must assume there is one, does not work.
The response of the Football League is inadequate inasmuch as it deals only with areas and not times or intensity. In November, a five minute 7 a side in a small area of a wet pitch can cause severe and possibly irreparable damage to grass.
The system needs improving, clear guidelines need to be set out, with referees given the teeth and backing to take action against any offenders. Without such a system giving adequate support to the groundsmen, one could reasonably ask the question - what is the purpose of the Playing Surfaces Committee?
Course of action
It is our intention to send copies of the results to the Football Association, the Premier League and the Football League.
We will be suggesting the following:-
- They provide guidelines to clubs on the length and intensity of their warm ups.
- In inclement weather and if, in the opinion of the groundsman, the warm ups are likely to cause severe damage to the pitch, he should have the authority to ban or restrict them.
- Referees should ensure that the goalkeeper, or any other player, does not make unauthorised markings in the penalty area and, if necessary, caution any offender.
- The FA should consider allowing white markings on the centre of the 6 yard box and penalty area to assist goalkeepers with their positioning.
Any response will be published in full on the site.
In the meantime, we would welcome more examples from groundsmen of clubs and players who deliberately ignore advice on pre match warm ups and who, in their opinion, undertake unnecessarily extensive routines.