0 The best in the world ...

It is always difficult writing this editorial three weeks before publication and, so, my nick name of 'Deadline Dave' proves justified as I try to be as current as possible. Unfortunately, the World Cup will be in the knockout stages when you read this. So, let's hope England are still involved!

No doubt the state of the South African pitches will have been commented on and, in the main, I have welcomed the increased media discussion about our sports surfaces over the last decade.

This issue of the magazine - our 5th anniversary, by the way - will be delivered in the middle of a hectic and high profile summer of sport. Already in the media spotlight will have been the AEGON Tennis Championship at Queens, the opening Test of the summer at Lord's, The Derby at Epsom, Royal Ascot and, as this issue thumps onto your doormat, we will be enjoying the All England Lawn Tennis Championships from Wimbledon.

Messrs. Kimpton, Hunt, Whybrow, Gilford and Seaward will have delivered superb surfaces fit for the intended sport, whilst Ken Siems at Loch Lomond, Gordon Moir at St. Andrews, and Jim McKenzie at Celtic Manor will be flying the greenkeepers' flag further into the summer. Throw in all the groundsmen at the cricket venues up and down the country hosting ODIs, T20s and Test matches, and never has our industry had such a high media profile.

However, the more recent debates have been born out of the inability to get our iconic 'home of football' stadium pitch right.

You could say that the Wembley project was doomed from the start, with the Football Association promising one thing and the builders, Multiplex, clearly failing to deliver! Ongoing litigation is due to be heard in High Court early in 2011 - possibly! Where Wembley is concerned, you never quite know.

So, three and a half years after the stadium eventually opened, horribly late and massively over budget, what has changed at the home of football? Well, the pitch has - eleven times to be exact. The schedule of extra curricular events continues to plague the surface and the levels of criticism have become louder and more vociferous.

Following the end of season Cup semi finals, finals and league play-offs, players and managers were united in their condemnation. "Worse than many non-league pitches"; "scandalous"; "very poor" and "no excuse" were bandied about in the national press. PFA chief executive, Gordon Taylor, said: "The pitch is a big concern." "It ruined the [FA Cup] final," said Chelsea and England's John Terry. "It's probably the worst pitch we've played on all year."

However, Sir Trevor Brooking, the FA's director of football development, denied that the use of the stadium for non-football events was a major factor, whilst the then FA chairman, Lord Triesman, before his fall from grace, insisted "Wembley's pitch problems are over."

So, there you have it - a bugger's muddle of the highest order.

England are bidding to host the World Cup in 2018 and noises from FIFA are positive, But, and it's a big but, if the Wembley pitch continues to receive bad press, will that affect the awarding of this prestigious tournament?

And, where does it leave the reputation of our industry?

The UK has some of the most highly respected Groundsmen in the world. Paul Burgess recently delivered a stunning playing surface for the Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Inter Milan, at Real Madrid's Bernabéu Stadium - and that at the end of an intense La Liga. Chris Hague works a multi-use pitch in Copenhagen, with a similar event schedule to Wembley, and on a budget!

The majority of the top-flight stadium pitches in the UK are a joy to behold, but the ongoing and highly newsworthy saga of Wembley and 'that' pitch negate that good work.

If anyone at Wembley reads this article, please take note. Employ a Groundsman with experience at this level, give him autonomy and an open cheque book and let him answer to one person, preferably the Chief Executive. Allow that person to attend all concept, pre and de-brief meetings to provide his expert advice and that way the surface can be managed correctly. All the science is a wonderful tool, but nothing beats good practical experience and decision making, all of which is based on event schedules and the day to day assessment of the turf.

Our industry deserves better!

Cheers
Dave Saltman

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