Natural Turf fight gathers momentum
If you picked up a copy of The Times today you will have read the following article. We hope that this is the first of many as we stand united and start to promote and market the clear benefits of natural turf. The article is reproduced by kind permission of The Times and is written by Peter Lansley. There is still time to buy your copy, alternatively log on to The Times Online
Campaign for real grass is growing
By Peter Lansley
THE STREAKER WHO BURNED HIS nether regions after swallow diving on Dunfermline Athletic's synthetic pitch may be relieved to hear that, in the wake of Uefa's decision to allow the return of artificial surfaces from next season, Groundsmen are pitching into battle to keep football on real grass.
Dave Saltman, the FA Cup Final Groundsman, is alarmed that European football's governing body has sanctioned the potentially damaging move away from the natural surface that has served the professional game for all but a few plastic and very bouncy years in the 1980s.
Fifa and Uefa are confident that technology has moved on to such a degree over the past 20 years that synthetic pitches can replicate grass but prove more versatile - and therefore more lucrative - but Saltman, the man responsible for the immaculate Millennium Stadium pitch for this year's cup finals, disagrees.
The Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) recognise the worth of synthetic pitches for development purposes but echo the personal views of Michel Platini, the former France captain and a big cheese at Uefa, who questions whether there is any need to change from grass.
Platini said: "Some countries require these surfaces but in France we don't; do you in England?" Uefa, having instigated a two-year trial last year, helping to pay for Dunfermline's pitch, has already decided to give the go-ahead.
"I agree that there is a place for quality synthetic surfaces, especially at school and community levels, and in countries where it is impossible to achieve good grass," Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the PFA, said, "but I would always support natural pitches where possible."
"Grass is a beautiful thing," Saltman said. "It is good for the environment and it is the surface on which the most popular sport in the world has been played for the past 120 years. It is fair to say the carpet producers have been lobbying football's governing bodies fairly intensively. Now our industry is looking to put together a worldwide grass council so we can speak with a united voice."
Enticing lower-division clubs with grants and the prospect of increased revenue from hire charges neglects some of the cons. "This isn't going to be the answer to football's financial ills," Saltman said. "For multi-use venues, no one can guarantee the quality of the carpet when the stage (for a concert, for instance) is removed."
Manufacturers are suggesting a ten-year life-span for the "carpets" - others suggest half that time with high usage - so there will be the cost of replacement to consider and the question of where to dump the waste product. The environmental argument runs long and deep.
"Grass lives and breathes," Saltman, managing director of Pitchcare, added. "It takes approximately 11 tons of plastic fibre and 80 tons of rubber to make one artificial pitch. Grass is one of the largest producers of oxygen and an important fixer of carbon dioxide in the soil. One grass pitch provides more oxygen than two acres of forest."
At Derby County, Ian Taylor, the veteran captain, is horrified at Uefa's decision, having played on Preston North End's plastic pitch early in his career. "The game would suffer as a spectacle with players unable to commit themselves through fear of injury," he said. George Burley, his manager, installed a field-turf training pitch when in charge at Ipswich Town. "It soon became evident to us that it was greatly inferior to playing on grass, " Burley said.
Synthetic pitches are unlikely to feature in the Premiership imminently. David Dein, the Arsenal vice-chairman, said: "Clubs at the top level have to be totally satisfied that there will be no long-term problems. There needs to be a controlled experiment over several years to monitor any differences in injuries to joints and limbs. We need to be cautious."
Saltman helped to relay grass at Loftus Road in 1988 when the plastic pitch was ripped up. "Natural grass is the professional's preferred choice," he said. "It is the product that Uefa and Fifa have asked the synthetic companies to emulate. Why haven't they just invested in improving the product that everyone knows and loves? It's a cop-out driven by greed."