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Synthetic Turf - Isn't it time we promoted it to the next league?

15 July 2010

Everywhere we witness evolution. In fact in our modern world, not only have we become accustomed to it, as consumers we have come to expect it.

Products are continuously being, improved, revamped, modified, tweaked and developed in order to meet the needs of the customer and to push the boundaries of the given market sector.
Synthetic turf for football is no exception to this rule.
From the early 80’s, a handful of English Football Clubs, took the plunge and installed plastic pitches at their grounds on the proviso that they would withstand heavy and regular use and would be more tolerant of adverse weather conditions than natural grass. This of course was the case.

The problem was that the performance, safety and aesthetics of the surface were all overlooked and by 1988 the English FA banned plastic pitches for professional use. 

Since then the road to recovery has been a slow one. With much resistance from players, fans, clubs and football governing bodies to consider the concept again, it seemed unlikely that there would ever be a replacement or alternative for natural grass. Although it appears as though a new generation of synthetic turf has altered some opinions.

In some parts of Europe, there has been increased interest in synthetic turf pitches over recent years. Russia's national football side plays competitive matches on its synthetic surface at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow, the surface is also used by Russia’s club teams Torpedo Moscow and Spartak Moscow.

A full international fixture for the 2008 European Championships was played on 17 October 2007 between England and Russia at the stadium, it was one of the first full international games to be played on such a surface which has been approved by both FIFA and UEFA.

However UEFA ordered that the 2008 European Champions League final had to take place on natural turf and stressed that artificial turf should only be considered an option where climatic conditions necessitate it.

Installations at East End Park in Dunfermline, Scotland; De Polman Stadium in Almelo, Netherlands; Eyravallen Stadium in Orebro, Sweden; Denizli Atatürk Stadium in Denizli, Turkey; and Wals Siezenheim Stadium in Salzburg, Austria have contributed towards a pilot scheme led by UEFA over the past eight years. Having a synthetic surface installed means the highest standard of football can be played all year round, which means increased playing hours for countries with harsher climates.

The Ligue de Football Professionnel have recently announced that, for the first time in French football history, two clubs, Lorient and Nancy, will switch to artificial turf. Both clubs attributed the switch to weather and ecological problems with severe cold fronts affecting their region every winter. They are hoping that the new synthetic turf pitches will reduce energy costs and also avoid cancellations of matches due to a frozen pitch.

Synthetic turf for football hasn’t been customised or adapted, it’s undergone a complete transformation. Gone are the days of players being frightened to tackle through fear of joint injuries or friction burns, no longer does the ball bounce about like it’s in a pinball machine and the appearance is so lifelike you would be forgiven for thinking it is natural grass.

In fact, that is the whole point. It has been redesigned to replicate natural grass as much as possible. Each element of the system has been carefully designed to imitate every performance characteristic of a natural turf pitch. From the ball-surface interaction to the player safety and comfort, each element is stringently tested to performance criteria that matches or surpasses the quality standards of natural grass.

The choice of products within the football turf selection has also massively progressed. From a specification point of view the options are vast to say the least. The yarn which replicates the blades of grass can be made of different types of plastic, extruded differently (and therefore be of varying forms), they can have a shape or profile in their spine to encourage blade recovery or infill encapsulation and the thickness (dtex) of the yarn can affect the aesthetics, weight and density of the finished turf.

On top of variations with yarn specification, the construction specifications also play a big part in the finished product and can affect the product density, pile height, weight and texture. All of these possible combinations will greatly determine performance, durability, aesthetics and longevity. The art of getting the right balance for each application and customer requirement is a science within itself.

In today’s UK market most local community and education centres are turning to synthetic turf to offer an all weather solution for their playing fields or football pitch. By significantly increasing the playing hours capacity, facilities can be utilised all day every day, meaning no more cancelled matches due to muddy or waterlogged pitches.

Players can train more regularly and therefore are more likely to be successful and venues become more financially viable due extended hiring availability. These benefits could all be replicated for professional football but there still appears to be slight reluctance for some reason.

However with the FA now aligning themselves even more with FIFA standards, perhaps it won’t be long before the world of professional football in the UK turns to synthetic turf to offer solutions that natural turf simply can not provide.

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