Ground Wars

For anyone who has already read the article which appears on the Pitchcare site, or is interested enough to spend a few minutes following the attack on synthetic turf, the full frontal assault on the IOG and the impassioned defence of natural turf, I am sure you will come to your own conclusions. The link is here:

Quite a few years ago I was asked to speak at SALTEX in a debate about natural and synthetic turf. At the time I was MD of the UK’s major synthetic turf manufacturer, a director of SAPCA and founder member of ESTO (European Synthetic Turf Organisation). I went second after an “old boy”, who spoke about natural turf being around since dinosaurs, and asked who were these upstarts with artificial grass? It was an aggressive attack borne out of fear. The Pitchcare article is exactly that. It shows no understanding of the real situation.

Across the world there is a need for synthetic turf – environment, climate, management, financial and yes, performance. Those demands also exist here, but less so. That is why, to date, the professional game of football has not taken to synthetic turf. But one clear factor is emerging, which justifies why synthetic turf should be considered, and that is financial. At a cost of £350,000 in the right, small stadium location, a club can see its finances turn around. It is not unreasonable for this swing to be between £100-150,000 per season. Work out how long before valuable income is being paid back into the club. Then consider how many more kids and adults are able to enjoy football at their home club, rather than on poor natural turf or a synthetic hockey surface at the local comprehensive. It becomes a no brainer, unless, of course, you do not see the bigger picture.

Furthermore how will a synthetic turf stadium pitch cope with club training, evening rentals, week-end kids coaching and still be in tip top condition for a 3.00 kick off? I would suggest that a knowledgeable and skilled groundsman would be a vital asset to ensure this happens. Different skill set perhaps, but still an important position. And as you will shortly be able to see on the new IOG Maintenance website, the role of a groundsman in ensuring a pitch returns 40-50 hours a week use is as important as one who ensures 10 hours a week on a natural turf pitch.

I will go further and say that I see no reason why synthetic turf should ever be seen in the Premier League, but I will also ask how natural are the pitches currently being built? In fact every single facet, apart from the fact the grass grows is engineered. The result – unbelievable pitches, but at a high cost.

Next question. How many groundsmen get to look after such high investment natural turf pitches? The point I am trying to make is that there are already different types of groundsmen; those who look after big stadiums with budgets for lights, Desso etc, those who look after small stadiums on no budget and those who look after sports fields at schools and councils. Of course there are certain skills common to all, but there are also some, which are specific to your facility. The same applies to synthetic turf. Do not think that a stadium field used for league matches will be maintained in exactly the same way as a municipal, multi sport surface.

It therefore seems logical to me that the IOG, Pitchcare and groundsmen generally should embrace, understand and see synthetic turf as an opportunity not a threat. Accept that users’ demands are different to twenty years ago and sometimes natural turf isn’t the right option. Have belief and promote good grounds management for synthetic turf as much as you would natural turf. Perhaps, and maybe here is where I get controversial, by increasing participation in sport (government and Sport England target) the demand for synthetic turf pitches will increase and create more jobs for skilled operatives, namely groundsmen.

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