They cause a great deal of damage to the playing surface, and the problem needs to be addressed. Do the regulations require amending? Do we need more precise clarification of what is an acceptable practice? To investigate these questions, Lee Williams gains the thoughts of groundsmen from a variety of football clubs.
In my time as a Head Groundsman, I too have had many problems and encountered disrespect from some visiting coaches, so I completely understand the concerns and frustrations from across all levels of football. In this article, we speak to a few groundsmen about their experiences and thoughts on the subject.
Mike O'Brien, Groundsman, Stockport County FC
Having spoken to numerous groundstaff over the last couple of years, it's very clear that a lot of clubs encounter the same problems as we do on a weekly basis.
On match days, groundstaff invariably encounter fitness coaches leading the players onto the pitch without having the courtesy to liaise with them and advise on the best area of the pitch to conduct their warm-ups. Consultation is of paramount importance to ensure that those areas that are "off limits" are avoided. This is especially significant during adverse weather conditions.
It is essential for "fast feet drills" to be conducted at the side of the pitch. Goalkeepers must use the warm-up goals to avoid unnecessary damage to the goalmouth areas. Strict timescales must be followed to allow the groundstaff enough time to set out and remove goals and other equipment; they must not start warming up too early or finish too late. Fortunately, half time does not usually cause many problems, however, occasionally, players do need to be reminded to stay out of the goal areas.
Warm-downs seem to be the most problematic area. Players appear to be confused as to what constitutes a warm-down. The consensus defines post-match warm-downs as "easy exercise following intense activity to allow the body to transition to a resting or near resting state gradually." Recommended activities include a slow jog or walk and gentle stretching. They are thereby allowing the heart and breathing rate to return to normal levels and to give the body time to remove waste products, such as lactic acid, from the muscles.
It is commonplace to see players who have not even taken part in the game - and in some cases have not even been named on the team sheet - take to the pitch and start sprinting up and down. This is unacceptable; the warm-down time is not for this purpose.
I would be interested to hear from fellow groundstaff and ask them to share their experiences and difficulties encountered. Can you offer any suggestions for improvement? Personally, I would like to see:
- Coaches to consult groundstaff before warm-ups commence
- Warm-up/down time to be reduced in bad weather
- Clarification of what exercises are permissible for warm-ups/downs
- Educate coaches and players that Pitch Protection Regulations actually exist and why there is a need for them. It is not just a matter of the groundstaff being difficult
- Form a standard complaints procedure to deal with teams that do not comply with the regulations
Our main concern is our wish to prepare an acceptable playing surface to the best of our ability, enabling players to enjoy the game, demonstrate their skills, and for the supporters to experience a good game of football.
Andy Gray, Grounds Manager, Southampton FC
A lot of the problems with any type of pitch usage comes down to education. None more so than warm-ups. Due to the localised intensity of most of the drills they do, it is often the case that more damage is done in the warm up than the actual game itself.
I have found over the years that, if you speak to the coaches before they set up, you can (mostly) get them to go where you want. There is no point talking to them when they are in the middle of their warm up as they will not change what they are doing at that point. Most of them now know before you even say anything what you are going to ask - fast feet off the pitch, possession boxes on the wings, shooting in the practice goal etc. and so, agree to it all and say that's what they would do anyway.
Pre-match shooting in has changed a little with the new way of 'team shape' and needing the whole width of the pitch, thus the need to do it in the main goal. However, I have found this not to be that bad as it is only a few actual shots at the keeper rather than lining up like a firing squad and firing balls at two keepers for 5-10 minutes and destroying where that goal is.
I have worked in all top three divisions; all at Southampton and, for the main part, it is actually the PL teams who are the best/easiest to deal with. Often in League 1, it was the away teams 'cup final' and all they wanted to do was shoot balls at the main goal both before the game and at half time. I chased many a goalie and subs out of the penalty box in the FL.
We do have guidelines and rules for warm-ups and warm downs in the PL, which are on the wall in both changing rooms. However, unfortunately these are not worth the paper they are written on. You can report misuse of the pitch to the delegate but only after the match, long after the damage has been done and the culprits are twenty-five miles up the motorway or at the airport! The fines then handed out are so minimal it is mere pence to the club.
As I started, I think it comes down to education. This can start at your own club by building a good relationship with your own S&C department. Explaining why you are asking to go here, why you don't want them to do that there etc. These then look after your own training pitches and, in turn, will respect the pitch when they play away. We have a good relationship with the S&C department here at Southampton, from 1st team all the way through the academy and I hope they take into consideration the pitch when they play away. Of course, it can come down to personal character and attitude with some people; unfortunately, something that you cannot do much about sometimes!
Paul Knowles, Head Groundsman,
Northampton Town FC
I think most groundsmen would agree that warm-ups and warm-downs are one of the more significant challenges we face throughout the season. Guidelines were brought in over ten years ago now, so maybe it's worth a revisit/refresher. I believe, certainly this season and maybe last, things are slipping and etiquette has started to slide.
We all understand players need to warm-up/down. We accept that. But it's a two-way street and there needs to be acceptance about pitch conditions from coaches too. Small keep ball squares are
in vogue at the moment. But set two or three squares up and hop from one to the other, not stay in one. Carry them out in a corner, too, where there is less wear from the game. Same with shuttles.
I've said for years pitch etiquette/management should form an element within the coaching badge. It is in their interest to look after the surface. You can't control damage from a game as its completely random, but warm-ups and downs can be managed more effectively.
Within the guidelines, something should be added to have a discussion with a groundsman at 1:45pm. Make it formal. Not hang around tunnels pre-match waiting for a coach or avoiding them altogether. The whole process needs tightening up in my opinion.
In the interests of fairness, a lot of clubs are respectful, but we need to turn that into all clubs. Things have improved over the last ten years, but we should always strive for better.
Peter Ashworth, Head Groundsman,
Preston North End FC
With regards to warm-ups, I feel there have been improvements over the years, but also know a lot more can be done. I have approached this in numerous ways over the years, and I'm currently on the "go with the flow option". Which translates to; I will sort out the mess afterwards.
I do find a lot of the clubs will now ask or generally try to do any of the rough work off the pitch or out on the wings. I also must admit that now having a few small lighting rigs (still not enough) has made me chill out a bit more as I know I can help aid recovery in the high wear areas. I also fully understand that clubs without such luxuries, and maybe no reinforcement in their pitch (fibre/Desso etc.), will find it much tougher after a heavy session in the wrong conditions.
An option I have put forward in the past was to have contact with the visiting team's fitness coach/coaches in the days building up to the game. A quick email off them detailing what they intend to do could help a groundsman prepare when letting them know where to carry out the various parts of the warm-up. The groundsman could either email back a quick diagram of the pitch detailing where they would like each skill to be carried out, or at least be prepared for when they arrive on the day of a game.
I feel most clubs generally do the same every game, so their warm-ups could even be sent out to all clubs in their league at the start of the season. If they change it at any point, they would have to let the clubs know. I feel doing something along these lines, helping to open the lines of communication, will help stop any match-day confrontations and unwanted stress that groundstaff and coaching staff can often face. I feel this could be a straightforward task once everyone gets used to it, without taking up too much of anyone's time.
After all, we are all - or should be - trying to help each other to produce as good a surface as possible, so that the players can perform to the best of their ability.
Daniel Bunce, Head Groundsman, AFC Fylde
My major gripe with warm-ups is inconsistency. There are guidelines that a team should be out 45 minutes before kick-off, but I'm amazed when teams actually stick to this. You can have one team out at 2:00pm and then the others may not come out until 2:25pm. The regulations state teams should only be allowed to have the squad out warming up, but some bring out players on their way back to fitness, sprinting up and down the line in the same areas repeatedly from 1:30pm!
But my major gripe is goalkeepers' warm-ups. A new 'thing' seems to be that keepers need 'a few sighters' in the main goals. I'm sorry, but if you don't know what you're doing by now, you shouldn't be playing.
Rondo drills are the new killer; five players in the same area with fast passing and closing down, killing the same area without moving it about.
Another problem I'm starting to face now is linesmen warming up. They run up and down the area they then batter for ninety minutes; running up and down like a shire horse. When asking them why they need to do this, most just entirely disregard anything I have to say. How a respect campaign can be utilised across the board is beyond me.
Anthony Harry, Grounds Manager, Swansea City FC
I think each club needs to have a bit more support. Our policy includes the following:
- No players are allowed on the pitch an hour before kick-off
- All fast feet drills have to be carried out off the pitch at all times
- If cones are set up on the pitch to do any of the fast feet drills, we ask coaches to remove them and put them in the places they're meant to go
- Goalkeeping drills are all in our dead ball areas with the portable goals and they are only allowed to do crosses in the goalmouths. No strikers finishes - all of that is done off the pitch
I just think there needs to be more from the match delegates for when teams don't do it. It's unfair when the home teams abide by all the rules and away teams seem to try their luck a little bit. Although things can be resolved very quickly, it sometimes gets heated.
We need that 'go to person' so, if there is a problem, they could step in to help the groundstaff resolve the issue. People don't realise that damage from warm-ups is sometimes massive and the impact of that means the pitch can end up looking battered in places before kick-off, which doesn't look good on televised games.
The drills are intense, which is the main reason for us insisting that everything must be done off the pitch. We have a lot of side areas which are more than suitable and should mean policies are adhered to.
It's the same for rugby. We don't allow pitch access an hour before the game and, if it means standing in the tunnel to enforce that, we do! It's a very strict policy that we stick to and we're not in their faces. We approach people in the right manner and explain the situation and they're usually willing to help you out. The meeting and greeting is key for us; we always introduce ourselves to opponents coming onto the pitch and take them to the areas where we want them to go. That way there is no arguing and it reduces disputes. That might be something that more groundstaff need to look at. Thankfully, it does work for us.
Pitch Protection Rules (as stated by EFL)
28.1 In order to protect the pitch, unless otherwise mutually agreed between both participating Clubs, the following procedures shall be adopted by Players and Officials in the periods immediately before and after a Match and at half time:
(1.a) the pitch shall only be used for warming up or warming down by Players named on the Team Sheet
(1.b) pre-match warming up by either team shall not commence until 45 minutes before the kick-off time at the earliest, shall not last for more than 30 minutes, and shall end no later than 10 minutes before the kick-off time
(1.c) if portable goals are provided, they shall be used for all goalkeeping drills other than crossing practice
(1.d) the goalmouth area shall be used by goalkeepers only if portable goals are not provided or for crossing practice and then only for not more than 20 minutes
(1.e) for the purposes of warming up and warming down each team shall use only part of the pitch between the edge of a penalty area and the half way line or as otherwise directed by the groundsman
(1.f) all speed and stamina work shall be undertaken off the pitch parallel to the touchline opposite the side to be patrolled by the assistant referee or, in the absence of sufficient space, in that part of the pitch described in
paragraph for the purposes of warming up and warming down each team shall use only part of the pitch between the edge of a penalty area and the halfway line or as otherwise directed by the groundsman; above or as otherwise directed by the groundsman
(1.g) Players using the pitch at half time as aforesaid shall give due consideration to any other activity or entertainment taking place on the pitch at the same time
(1.h) the Home Club may water the pitch at half time provided that it gives reasonable notice to the referee and the other Club that it intends to do so and that any such watering is carried out evenly over the entire length and width of the pitch
(1.i) any warming down after the conclusion of the Match shall last for no longer than 15 minutes and for that purpose neither penalty area shall be used