Watching today’s game at the JJB Stadium between hosts Wigan and Arsenal, one thing was made patently obvious: That field is a disaster and shouldn’t be used for Premiership games. It has gotten worse and worse as the season has gone on and it’s gotten to the point where it just seems unplayable; the surface is an embarrassment to a league that is one of the top three of its kind in the world.
The field is as hard as a rock on sunny days and a mudpit on rainy days. There are vast stretches without grass. There are clearly visible remains of rugby lines from games played by rugby Super League’s Wigan Warriors, who share the JJB with Wigan Athletic.
My high school soccer field was in much better shape than what I’m seeing today and have seen for large portions of the season. I’ve seen better elementary schoolyard fields than that as well.
What’s the solution? Something many purists of the game don’t want to hear and likely will criticize me for even suggesting it.
You know what, I don’t care if it isn’t commonly used on soccer fields in Europe. That doesn’t matter. I don’t care if it isn’t part of the sport’s tradition; the only reason synthetic turf wasn’t used back in the old days was because it hadn’t been invented yet. If it had been, it would’ve been installed and there would be none of this debate about tradition and sentiment.
The Premier League and its member clubs have a responsibility to provide the best and most safest possible fields with the surfaces most condusive to the game. You can argue and cite studies that indicate that natural grass is safer than synthetic turf and if all things were equal, I’d agree with you. I’d rather play on grass than turf also.
But when the conditions lead to such slop like we’ve seen for a majority of the season at the JJB, synthetic turf simply has to be considered. It would be safer than what we’re seeing now and it would allow the players to contest a game with as close to a perfect surface as possible. As I said earlier, this is one of the top, if not THE top, leagues in the world. It’s inexcusable to see balls skipping around all over the place and players not being able to gain any firm footing, especially when the technology to prevent those things is out there.
UEFA announced in 2005-2006 that approved artificial surfaces were permittable in their competitions. Stadion Salzburg Wals-Siezenheim in Salzburg, Austria has an approved synthetic turf field and will have matches played on it in Euro 2008 this summer. Heracles, a Dutch Eredivisie side, has a synthetic surface in their stadium, which, like the JJB, is a multi-use ground.
The field in today’s game was a joke. A joke. There are alternatives, namely in the form of synthetic turf, that just have to be considered. Soccer purists, I don’t want to hear you. It’s not about tradition, which I respect, it’s about getting it right and providing the best possible surface for these players to compete on.