For football fans, the pitches themselves are just as much a part of the game as the players and managers. Teams playing at home have an advantage which goes beyond the purely psychological, as every pitch is slightly different. While the Football Association (FA) has taken steps to ensure that all football pitches are standardised to an extent, many professional players still feel that each pitch is unique and that playing on the familiar home turf offers a significant advantage.
The FA has its own set of rules and guidelines for the type of grass that can be used on football pitches for professional games. The first rule is that the pitch must be green. This might seem like a strange rule, but it actually makes good sense when you consider that many pitches use artificial grass. If pitches weren’t mandated to be green then the home team could use a colour scheme designed to be disorienting to other players, but bearable for the team which regularly trains for it.
As for whether the pitch is natural or artificial, the FA rules state that “The field of play must be wholly natural or, if competition rules permit, a wholly artificial playing surface except where competition rules permit an integrated combination of artificial and natural materials (hybrid system)”.
So, basically a pitch must be made from natural grass, unless it is located in an area where conditions make this impossible or impractical. It’s also worth noting that line marking paint for sports pitches can be used regardless of the type of grass that is being painted.
The most common type of artificial turf is 3G, which used to be known as AstroTurf. 3G is an improvement on the original AstroTurf formula, whereas AstroTurf used to be sprinkled with sand, 3G pitches instead use a rubber crumb fill. This rubber crumb mixture is, rather wonderfully, make from recycled tyres. It is a far more durable option than the sand and can be played on for roughly eighty hours every week without degradation in quality. According to BestofMachinery.com‘s gardening expert Bob Robinson, artificial grass is slowly considered by many who seldom have the time to maintain and care for their lawn. It may look fake upon very close inspection, but they last long and prevents weeds from growing.
This is a significant improvement over the five hours weekly total that natural grass can withstand before it will struggle to recover.
Unfortunately, there is some evidence that the rubber pellets that are used may be carcinogenic, although there is still much research to be done in order to determine how much material players are exposed to through normal use and how much is required to cause long term problems.
Desso Grassmaster is the most popular and most widely used hybrid system in the world. It consists of a combination of natural grass and artificial fibres, but it manages to meet or exceed the FA’s stringent requirements. The number of artificial fibres is low, accounting for around 3% of the total surface area. These artificial fibres are injected in around the natural grass. As the grass grows, its roots become intertwined with the artificial fibres. Among the famous stadiums to make use of this hybrid system are Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge and Manchester United’s Old Trafford.
Like all aspects of professional football, the football pitch has undergone a sustained evolution, beginning in the latter half of the 20th century. Who knows what the future of football pitches might hold!