The Premier and Football League Groundsmen's Awards
By Dave Saltman
The Premier League and the Football League Playing Surfaces Committee in association with the Institute of Groundsmanship held the 2004 seminar yesterday at the impressive City of Manchester Stadium.
The proceedings were opened by the Chief Executive of the PFA, Gordon Taylor, who stated that over the last decade or so, stadiums had been built for professional entertainment, and in most cases the resulting architecture was not best for the longevity of the playing surface. He added that a well-deserved pat on the back was due to the Groundsmen for their contributions, and that he was constantly reminded whenever he travelled the world, about the superb quality of British football pitches.
Mike Abbott and Alastair Cox then gave the delegates a brief history and the latest developments regarding synthetic turf. Mike Abbott talked about some of the drawbacks saying that the surface laid is generally only specific to football and doesn't allow other sports to be played and that the construction and installation is relatively expensive. He continued by saying that contrary to popular belief there is a substantial degree of maintenance involved as well as the need for specialist maintenance machinery. He also added that the life span of these third generation carpets is as yet uncertain and that synthetics were still to find favour at the professional level.
However both UEFA and FIFA have published standards for 3rd Generation carpets as well as individual football associations including the FA. Last summer the U 17's World Cup Finals were played partly on the synthetic surface at Helsinki, Finland, this venue hosting ten of the tournament games including the final. Five senior club venues across Europe have now been trialing approved synthetic surfaces for a season. Continued monitoring and assessments are recorded, with all opposing team members asked to fill out questionnaires. Alastair Cox, who works for The Centre for Sports Technology, and is a member of UEFA's Synthetic Turf Expert Panel, said that all the feedback was being digested along with the scientific analysis, and that UEFA had an open mind as to whether of not synthetics had a part to play in the professional game of the future.
In February 2004 the International Football Association, allowing the use of synthetics for major European competitions, amended Law 1. In fact Dynamo Moscow played two of their European qualifying games on their artificial surface last season. The five clubs involved in the trial, will play another season on the grant assisted pitches before UEFA announce results and a decision at the end of the 2004 season as to whether there will be a sanctioning of artificial surfaces for the potential use by all clubs in 2005.
Alastair did state that one of the early downsides being reported using synthetic turf, is the increase in player fatigue, as the artificial surface seems to allow 10-15% more play than a similar game on natural grass. He put this down to their being less physical contact between players, scared perhaps of injuring themselves, and therefore there were fewer stoppages during the game.
In contrast, John Hacker and Mike Harbridge from Professional Sportsturf Design talked about the factors affecting natural grass growth and quality in terms of light, temperature, nutrients, air movement, pests and diseases and wear. In particular Mike discussed the importance of Photosynthetic active radiation or in layman's terms 'light levels' within the confines of the stadium. He showed the effects of roof design at Portugal's Stadia de Luz with slides of the varying shade pattern on the pitch at different times of the year.
Mike and John emphasised the need for using reinforcement materials in sand based pitches, enabling more hours of use on natural grass surfaces, as well as the need for a well-balanced program of maintenance coupled with the use of slow release fertilisers, artificial light, water retaining agents, microbe enhancing root development and irrigation. Finally the benefits of working closely with stadium architects in initial design to maximise the long term quality and efficiency of the pitch surface were highlighted, showing that the pitch was becoming an important part of the design criteria.
The next speaker was Simon Barker, Chairman of the PFA and an ex-player who had made more than 600 appearances for clubs such as Blackburn and QPR. Simon is the representative on the Playing Surfaces Committee and opened by saying that the vast majority of players preferred to play on natural grass. He wants to see more advances in natural turf technology. He said that in a recent questionnaire, the players at Dunfermline said that they enjoyed training on their home ground artificial pitch, but still preferred to play competitive games on grass. He accepted that synthetic turf may well find it's niche in inhospitable places such as Scandinavia and Africa, where extreme climates make it difficult to maintain reasonable quality natural surfaces.
He also stated that the PFA has a fund for its members to have operations on crippling joint injuries. Interestingly many older ex-players have suffered dehabilitating leg injuries from playing on the older synthetic surfaces, and he feels that the medical issues surrounding the new generation carpets may not be assessed properly for many years to come. He hopes that the future decisions on the use of artificials in the professional game will be based on technical reasons rather than on purely financial grounds.
There was then a change of subject, with Dr Andy Owen from the STRI talking about the control of poa annua on football pitches. He showed pictures and graphs of the test beds at Bingley, using management, physical and chemical treatments. He discussed the use of the Koro machine to remove both the vegetation and surface fraize mowing, and the effects of these physical treatments in the subsequent re-growth of poa in the test beds.
He also showed the use of Ethofumosate as the only effective chemical to control poa, although it's use can cause serious detriment to other grasses in the sward as well. The third control was the effective use of water management, clearly showing that a reduction in watering can also have an effect on poa growth and colonisation. He concluded by saying that a combination of effective water use, light chemical use and end of season mechanical removal of poa would retain a desirable grass sward.
After an excellent lunch, Jim Westwood (STRI) talked about the design and pitch construction at The City of Manchester Stadium, starting back at the original use of the stadium and pitch for the Commonwealth games, and then the subsequent 6-metre pitch excavation, additional lower tier of seating and the completion of the North stand. He showed the benefits of incorporating translucent roof panels and adjustable louvers to allow additional light and air movement into the stadium as well as the gravel carpet pitch
Roy Rigby and Lee Jackson then took two groups of delegates for a stadium tour, before everybody reconvened for the presentation of the Groundsman of the Year Awards.
Presented by Gordon Taylor, the awards were gratefully received by the Groundsmen from Macclesfield Town, Hartlepool United, Ipswich Town and Southampton Football Clubs. Certificates of commendation were also awarded to the second and third placed Groundsmen in their respective divisions.From left to right, Dave Brown (Hartlepool), David Roberts (Southampton), Gordon Taylor (PFA), Mark Patterson (Macclesfield), Alan Ferguson (Ipswich).