At Last Proof Synthetic Turf Is As Good As The Real Thing

On the opening night of the 2012 Super League season, in sub zero temperatures, Widnes Vikings opened their season on a new synthetic turf pitch. It could not have been better. With plenty of pre-match positivity from well-briefed commentators to an exciting, fast game, the pitch proved to be a real triumph.

From first site the visuals were all positive. A natural green with painted on lines showed up well under the floodlights, and for those in the know, expecting the usual black rubber on top, here was proof that we can install high quality pitches in the UK. Take note all you contractors and installers who leave rubber on the top and claim, “job done”, only a green top is acceptable.

From first whistle the players gave no thought to the surface and focussed fully on the game. On a very cold February evening when pitches around the country were frozen, game on at Widnes, and only a foot in touch prevented an early score. Widnes will be the envy of most clubs and players until the sun warms up and natural turf reaches its optimum appearance and feel in early summer – well into the season.

Another triumph has been the positive press the pitch has received. No mention of 3G or rubber crumb here, but a strong reference to the “ipitch” throughout the pre-match discussions. I for one am happy for this name to stick, although the actual surface is certainly not the best or most advanced in the market place. What it is though is very well installed. All credit again to the contractor and manufacturer for showing what synthetic turf is all about.

There was, of course the usual opposition to synthetic turf from the “Poo poers” afterwards jumping on the grazes a few players suffered. Well let’s knock that on the head at once. The game was played at -7C. This meant that it could not be watered, and any moisture in the top would have frozen, meaning that the pitch was playable but not 100% perfect. Normally, just like natural turf, synthetic turf plays better when slightly wet. Most of the season this will be the norm through natural moisture or a watering system. The grounds man will soon work this out, and any fears of grazes will peter out.

Next up will be rugby union, with news that England will train indoors on a synthetic pitch in London ahead of their match against Italy. This is not the first time England squads have used synthetic turf, indeed as far back as the 80’s the national team used synthetic turf. How soon before the RFU will be funding their own training pitch? And with Saracens due to build a pitch at their new stadium in the summer, it seems both codes of rugby are embracing synthetic turf.

This of course leads to the obvious question, when will football embrace synthetic turf? The answer of course is it already has, worldwide, but only in England are we fighting the inevitable benefits synthetic turf brings. An enlightened view is long overdue and it is hoped that the FA will soon open the doors in the FA Cup thereby encouraging clubs to safeguard their financial futures, whilst in many cases improving the quality of their playing surface.

My final observation on the Widnes pitch is to congratulate the grounds management team on presenting the pitch in such a positive way. There remain fears that a synthetic pitch will cost jobs, but to keep a pitch in as good a condition as Widnes requires real skill, time and understanding.

Now let’s see how the industry gets behind the impetus the Widnes pitch can bring.

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