2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app

Women's football faces turf war after less than perfect pitches cause fixture backlog

Lack of investment coupled with one of the wettest winters in years has ruined many lower league and women's pitches

Erin Cuthbert - Women's football faces turf war after less than perfect pitches cause fixture backlog
Prenton Park, which hosts League One side Tranmere Rovers and Liverpool Women's home matches, has turned into a quagmire over the winter months Credit: PA

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appFor Portsmouth Women, Wednesday evening brought not only relief at playing their first game in 4½ weeks but also fear of how, physically, they could play again the following night. This is the reality for a side who have faced 14 postponements this season: 12 relating to unplayable pitches, 10 of which were at Kendall Stadium, which they share with non-League men’s club Baffins Milton Rovers. In the FA Women’s National League South, they have six games in hand on the leaders.

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appWith Kendall Stadium unplayable, Portsmouth Women are ground hopping, checking off eligible venues for their home fixtures within a 20-mile radius to meet the backlog. Even with additions from the academy, just 20 players are available to manager Jay Sadler, who admits that “three games in five days, after not playing in five weeks, is crazy”.

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app“We’ve still got hopes of challenging at the top of the league,” he says. “We’ve got firefighters, police officers, doctors, schoolteachers. Managing their workloads and what they do outside, trying to make sure we’ve got a strong side when we compete. We want to increase attendances and exposure of the local city women’s football, but we also want to play games. It’s finding that happy medium.”

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appPortsmouth are an extreme example, but in women’s football they are far from alone. It is understood that one WSL club consider their pitch to be so unplayable that they are on the brink of moving – as part of the licensing criteria, WSL and Championship clubs must name a backup ground.

Every WSL club shares their ground with another football or rugby side – some with two – and the Football Association, although unconcerned by the vast majority of pitches, has enlisted the help of an external turf advisory team, Professional Sportsturf Design Agronomy, to help the “two or three” clubs particularly struggling.

The governing body is believed to be reluctant to consider sanctions for clubs repeatedly failing to stage games, given it is rare that women’s clubs own the assets, which is not to mention their initial difficulties in finding reasonable grounds in their area.

The problem is not confined to women’s football. Prenton Park, shared between Liverpool Women and Tranmere Rovers, is a major concern2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app. Tranmere had ambitiously scheduled three home games in seven days ahead of Liverpool v Arsenal on Feb 13. The pitch’s underlying substructure, the club revealed in a statement, is around 30 years old. Indeed on Friday night Liverpool announced that they were switching the Arsenal match to Chester's Deva Stadium. 

“What can you do?” asks David Saltman, managing director of Pitchcare and among the ground staff at Shrewsbury Town, having previously worked with Rangers, Tottenham and Real Madrid. “In the Premier League and Championship, most of the pitches are constructed from a gravel carpet and drainage to sand layer. Even the root zone – the top layer of material – is predominantly sand. All of them have fibre reinforcement woven into them, so the grass is growing into that matrix. They’re very high-draining. They provide very stable, flat surfaces, which are consistent across the year.

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app“When we drop down to League One, League Two, many of those pitches are still indigenous soil-based pitches that have had a lot of sand worked into the surface over the years, and had drainage improved. Tranmere have clearly got some serious drainage issues that have manifested themselves this season, particularly because we’ve had one of the wettest autumns I can remember.

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app“It’s all very well putting large sheets of plastic [covers] on, but the water that collects on the surface has to be drained somewhere. If you’ve got water sitting on the surface, players tend to emulsify the top and turn it into a bit of a pudding.

“Aeration is key. At this time of year, it’s all about getting the surface water away. They need to put copious amounts of sand on to it to try to help with the drainage and dry up the muddier areas. That was common practice everywhere in yesteryear, but these days I don’t see it so much.

“Soil temperatures and air temperatures are too low, so there’s no grass growing, no recovery. It’s a downward spiral until we start getting some of the sun back in March time. They might be able to, if it’s dry, get a flat surface again, but they’re certainly not going to be able to get grass at the moment.”

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appSaltman knows of colleagues at Premier League clubs who have spent “just over £2 million” on pitches and resources, including gravel carpeting, drainage networks, undersoil heating, lighting and a subair system that “sucks moisture out of the pitch and air into it”. He estimates that most League One and Two sides “haven’t had more than £100,000-£200,000 spent on them, on average. End-of-season renovations are fairly basic”.

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appIn non-League, “lots of clubs I know have had no pitch construction at all and probably spend five or six thousand at the end of each year on an end-of-pitch renovation. The gulf is massive. Anything you build needs to have decent foundations. If you’ve got a high-end drainage system, it’s a lot easier to retain grass and keep good levels on the surface than if you’re trying to work on indigenous soil with poor or zero drainage underneath it. The machinery is important, but more important is the construction of the pitch in the first place”.

Kelly Simmons, the FA director of the women’s professional game, said: “We invest multimillions into the grass-roots game through the Football Foundation to develop pitches. Recently, the Government announced £550 million towards improving pitches. We’re starting to work with the Football Foundation to make sure the whole of the women’s game benefits from that. One of the big priorities for the FA is to increase investment in improving pitches.”

Women's football faces turf war after less than perfect pitches cause fixture backlog