The turf at Wembley Stadium has been criticised by players, managers, commentators and groundsmen this week, after a weekend of FA Cup semi-finals that were characterised by a loose, slippery surface.
Portsmouth benefited when they beat Tottenham on Sunday. Defender Michael Dawson slipped, and Portsmouth striker Frederic Piquionne pounced on the loose ball and scored.
What is the problem?
The Times says the Wembley pitch appears to have drainage problems, making it spongy on the surface but too hard beneath. Pressure caused by intensive use compacts the soil, which reduces aeration and harms drainage.
The pitch has has been relaid 10 times since the stadium opened in 2007. While this is means steady repeat business for sports turf suppliers and installers, it does not give as stable a surface as, say, Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, which was seeded in the arena is reinforced with articifial fibres from Desso Sports Systems.
Why is this happening?
Although the stadium was designed as England’s showpiece football stadium, the need to recoup the cost of the project has meant that it is a multi-use facility, with other sports such as rugby league, rugby union, American Football events there. There have even been motorsport events, with a temporary tarmac surface being laid over the turf, as well as several concerts that also require temporary surfacing.
Former groundsman Dave Saltman criticised Wembley’s heavy events schedule on the state of the pitch and on telegraph.co.uk, Everton head groundsman Bob Lennon agreed: “The stadium is used as a multi-function venue, and so you will have a multi-function pitch,” he said. The Emirates is a new stadium, like Wembley, but that is probably the best surface in the world. The difference is that nobody so much as walks on that pitch without the manager’s say-so.”
How can it be remedied?
The Sports Turf Research Institute has been employed to try to resolve the pitch problem but The Telegraph accused the STRI of misjudging the ground conditions – although extensive data has been collected in an attempt to reproduce the dry, firm conditions that saw the pitch play well last summer and autumn, the eventual surface was still problematic.
This morning, Geoff Webb, chief executive of the Institute Of Groundsmanship, went on national radio and released a press statement that also suggested that the schedule of events is the main factor in the state of the pitch. He has expressed concerns that groundsmen are routinely blamed for the Wembley pitch, which may be damaging the reputation of the UK’s groundsmanship industry.
In an article on timesonline.co.uk, Saltman suggests that Wembley could try rebuilding the layers of gravel and sand below the surface in the hope of improving infiltration, but a project like this would take two months, and would be prevented by the events schedule. The only option seems to be the one reported in The Telegraph – that the pitch will now be relaid every four months at a cost of £125,000 a time.
Institute Of Groundsmanship
Sports Turf Research Institute
ESI.info: Sports turf suppliers
ESI.info: Natural sports turf contractors