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Wigan Should Consider a Synthetic Turf Field

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.

Synthetic turf.

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.

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  1. JLay

    March 12, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    I agree with you, ossie. As exciting as it might sound to have the biggest teams in Europe playing each other every week, at the end of the day it would be just another league- one without any history or tradition.

    Besides, we already have the Champions’ League, so we already get to see the best clbs take each other on…

    As regards to the pitch at Wigan, you make a good point in stating that everyone has to play on it. I’ll see that and raise you one- a bad pitch doesn’t bother me at all. Really, it only adds another element of danger, and might open up scoring for either side.

    Arsenal play a very precise, attacking brand of football- so their game does take a knock when playing on soggy, uneven ground…but a plugging, defense-oriented team would also be at a disadvantage playing on a short, fast pitch- don’t these kind of cancel each other out?

    Either way, Arsenal should be able to beat Wigan on an pot-holed asphalt pitch littered with ball bearings- they need to stop making excuses and start beating people.

    As a United fan, I empathize with you, as we’ve lost a few matches that we should’ve won easily- but roll with it, man- it’s part of the game! I’m looking forward to a close, exciting finish, and wish you Gunners the worst of luck!


  2. ossie's dream

    March 11, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    Alex Hleb said: “ossie’s dream, im sorry but you just dont understand. you have to be a fan of one of the big four.”

    How condescending and elitist. If you know your history, and your comments indicate you don’t, you would remember the “Big Four” was the “Big Five” not so long ago, consisting of Liverpool, Everton, Arsenal, Spurs and ManU. Note the differences, and note that nothing is permanent, and no one team should enjoy the divine rights of kings. Creating a Euro Super League would mean arbitrarily including and excluding teams purely based on their status at one single moment in time, a time when coincidentally your beloved Arsenal happen to be in the top four of the Premier League. But Arsenal have had their lean years, as do all clubs, so what if a Super League was created in the 60s or early 80s, when Arsenal didn’t achieve anything of note? Like poor Derby now, who was once led by Brian Clough, almost all the way to the European Cup final? You would see them cut adrift purely because you personally don’t like them?

    As for your list of English teams outside the big four – it’s a bit arbitrary, isn’t it? Hardly a case for a super league.

    A super league may be inevitable, but only at the insistence of chairmen of European football’s richest clubs. Do you think they are doing this for the fans, because fans have a preference for “classy settings?” No, it’s for money. Not for the good of the game.

    Alex Hleb said: “the lower the stadium attendances, the more likely it seems that the big four clubs will start planning for the superleague to happen.”

    Championship games have higher attendances than Serie A. That’s right, each week, tens of thousands of people pay to see the likes of Scunthorpe, Southampton and Stoke – more than Juventus, Inter and “classy” AC Milan. I don’t think they’d be lining up to support a super league. Do you?

    Alex Hleb said: “but its all about business and the fans of the big four would not mind to see those games and they wont regret not having to travel up to the cold and grey towns of northern england.”

    So football is all about business? Is that why you watch it? Aren’t ManU and Liverpool in the “cold, grey north?” Besides, the big four already have the Champions League, which, if you’ll remember, was reduced in 2003 from two group phases to one. Why? Because no one wanted to spend good money trekking across Europe or even across town to watch one meaningless game after another against the “big” teams from Bulgaria, Germany or Denmark.

    I’ll let you have the last word, as this was a post about astro turf after all. But if you take time to continue defending the harebrained super league idea, you may want to address football’s roots – local and regional rivalries that just don’t translate when teams from England are playing teams from, say, Spain. Also, you may want address how Wenger’s Arsenal often seem to drop points when playing teams from the north east. Otherwise, it would seem that you would welcome a super league purely so Arsenal didn’t have to fight for a top spot by spending a cold, wet Wednesday evening in unglamorous Wigan or Blackburn or Bolton. Which, incidentally, every other bloody Premier League team has to do, too!

  3. Alex Hleb

    March 11, 2008 at 11:42 am

    ossie’s dream, im sorry but you just dont understand. you have to be a fan of one of the big four. think about it, within one week we went from the classy san siro, to the muggy jjb. its just pointless to play teams like wigan. i have to admit that there are teams in football that i enjoy games against. ill list them for you so that you understand that this is more against sides like wigan than the rest of them.

    teams(besides the top 4) i like to have games against-

    -man city
    -aston villa
    -west ham
    and ill also name championship teams for you just to point out that i wouldnt mind seeing games against them
    -crystal palace
    -preston north end
    all very intersting teams, ill mention some league one clubs too that would be intersting to play
    -nott forest
    some league two as well
    -milton keynes(wimbledon)
    -accrington stanley

    -so its not about disliking playing teams in england, its just about hating to play blackburn, wigan, derby, middlesborough, sunderland, bolton, and birmingham.

    im not pro uefa superleague, but it wouldnt be a bad thing if it happened. of course this league would have to have promotion and relegation for me to be for it.

    but there are teams that i enjoy watching other than arsenal and find games against them would be very interesting. especially derby matches. london derbys are always welcomed.

    what i am trying to say by saying that fans yearn for a superleague is that we would like the classy settings like san siro, and others. the muggier the pitches get, the more players come out with broken legs because of teams like wigan and birmingham, and the lower the stadium attendances, the more likely it seems that the big four clubs will start planning for the superleague to happen. im sorry but its all about business and the fans of the big four would not mind to see those games and they wont regret not having to travel up to the cold and grey towns of northern england. its just much more nicer to think of travelling to milan and barcelona.

    but face it, superleague is inevitable. its going to happen within the next 30 years.

  4. ossie's dream

    March 11, 2008 at 8:57 am

    Alex Hleb said: “its reminders like this that make the fans of the big four yearn more and more for the eventual uefa super/premier league.”

    Really? In the 30 years I have supported English football, I don’t think I have met a single fan, of the so-called “big four” or otherwise, who yearns for a European super league. It’s a supremely daft idea akin to Game 39 – the kind of idea embraced by “fans” with short memories or a poor understanding of football history. Or the kind of “fan” who lives thousands of miles away from North London and thinks a game between Arsenal and Weder Bremen would be more exciting that, say, a North London derby or an away day up north to Manchester City or Everton.

  5. Alex Hleb

    March 10, 2008 at 6:45 pm

    its amazing how we can go to the classy san siro and win against a tough team like milan and then go to the jjb and be reminded that other teams are just out there to knock us down from our pedestal. teams like wigan only play for survival. its reminders like this that make the fans of the big four yearn more and more for the eventual uefa super/premier league.

  6. Alex Hleb

    March 10, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    plunkitt, its not about his tactics, he lets the players play the way they want. theyre tried airing it out from time to time but it didnt work with the likes of scharner and heskey and melchiot determined to do anything to get the point. its sad that they arent fined for their pitch. we should have had the points though.

  7. Alex Hleb

    March 10, 2008 at 6:38 pm

    kartik, is that basketball you are talking about? in a football discussion.

    please. sunday’s rugby lines were no match to this awful mls pitch:

    what is that giant logo doing in the middle of the field? it looks like an airline logo. maybe that should be theyre new form of marketing, putting logos on the field, they should take what they can get.

  8. Dave M

    March 10, 2008 at 10:32 am

    No plastic pitches in the Prem, thank you very much.

    Good players will not want to sign for a team with astro turf, so you’ll never be more than a yo-yo club. There’s no geographical reason that Wigan can’t grow a decent field of grass (like, say, in Moscow). A modern drainage system should solve most of the problem, but they will still have wear issues for sharing it with the rugby club.

    …and there can be no argument that a team that plays half of their matches there accrues a definite homefield advantage. Arsenal pass beautifully and the better your home pitch the more you’re enabling them to pass quickly, accurately, and effectively. But if your potholes make it more into a longball game, you’ve already taken many weapons out of the arsenal.

    To win the league, you have to play in the real world – tackles (not the horror kind), bad pitches, and an occasional match outside London.

  9. ossie's dream

    March 10, 2008 at 9:07 am

    Dragon – teams do not train at their stadiums, so Wigan do not train at the JJB. Arsenal, for instance, train in Hertfordshire, not at the Emirates.

    Michael – why resort to artificial grass when hiring a decent groundsman would likely do the trick? It works for the other 19 Premiership clubs.

  10. plunkitt

    March 10, 2008 at 7:59 am

    Arsenal needed a plan b. If they can’t pass because of the turf, they need to go airborne.

    Wenger gets credit when his tactics work; let him take the heat when they don’t.

  11. Kyle

    March 10, 2008 at 2:38 am

    Even the new “Field Turf” used over here in the states has its drawbacks, and I’m not sure that it is safer than even a bad pitch.

    Real turf gives out. On field turf it is the human body that gives if you plant to hard. Be prepared for more tendon and ligament injuries. It’s also a lot harder so expect more wear on the joints. The ball will play nice and consistent, but take baseball for example–artificial turf has even occasionally proven to be a barrier for the few teams that use it when trying to sign players.

  12. BillE Shears

    March 9, 2008 at 11:59 pm

    As much as I “enjoyed” watching a match played on the surface of the moon, I think that a “plastic pitch” as those across the pond are terming it is the nuclear option.

  13. dragonki2012

    March 9, 2008 at 11:55 pm

    Owned, by Kartik about the Rugby line, I agree 100% man. But I disagree with you and I say that College hoops are idiotic.

    Go Lakers!

    Anyway… I’m with Micheal on this one, unfortunately I have to agree with him, but I have an opinion myself.

    It’s an advantage to Wigan because they play 18 games a season on that pitch and they train on it year around. So they’re used to it, I hope.
    And when teams like Arsenal come in and play there once a year, well you can’t expect instant adaption.

    It’s a draw and Wigan played well enough to deserve that draw. Arsenal should of scored in the 1st minute and ended it before it began.

    Too bad, so sad, we’ll be back.

  14. Kartik

    March 9, 2008 at 9:11 pm

    Boy, alot of people missed a great game between the Gators and Kentucky today if you were watching Arsenal. Billy Gillespie has the Cats playing some great ball and I watched it in HIGH DEF!

    Oh and as far as the JJB, lose the Rugby lines please, or don’t piss all over MLS for having American Football lines on our fields late in the year.

  15. mozeruk

    March 9, 2008 at 6:50 pm

    hi guys,
    please xcuse my early excitable post – had just got in from the game!
    the problem with the pitch is all the underlying ground, there would be no poitn replacing it now, as the ground underneath is so “slodgey” (is that a word?) and the new grass wouldnt bed.
    we have a 4 week gap in june/july where we can dig down, remove all the “slodge” and put someproper drainage down. then well be sorted – hopefully we will be playing the same fixture next season….. jsut on a better pitch!

  16. Michael

    March 9, 2008 at 6:12 pm

    That’s the thing, it doesn’t “help” one team more than the other; both teams are playing on the same field so I’m not sure how it favors Wigan. You can’t control the unpredictability of which way a ball bounces if it hits a bad patch or which parts of the field it may roll faster in than another. Wigan can’t control those things, so I’m not how it helps them.

    There is a limit to home-field advantage. I understand if a team wants to build a big stadium or change the angle of the seats or mess around with the acoustics of the stadium so it’s louder. Those are all things that can be done when a stadium is being built or more specifically, when a new stadium is in the planning stage. I understand if a team wants to reduce ticket prices for a specific game in an effort to draw more people in. These are all things well within the “home-field advantage” boundaries.

    The pitch itself, especially when it’s dangerous like Wigan’s field, is not one of those things that fits those boundaries. Sure, you can play around with the dimensions as long as they fit FIFA and UEFA guidelines/regulations, but the surface itself needs to be as true and as safe as possible. There’s no excuse for all of these divots and mud patches when the technology to fix them is available.

  17. Matt

    March 9, 2008 at 6:02 pm

    Ever thought that Wigan may want it to be pretty shit when the likes of Arsenal go there, it helps the home team more than the away team. Other clubs who share stadiums with rugby teams dont have the problem as bad as Wigan….

  18. Michael

    March 9, 2008 at 5:38 pm


    No, the field is natural grass with “2% synthetic fibre infusion which helps to stabilise the pitch profiles”.

    Basically, it has a synthetic base only in the places where wear and tear from rugby matches can grind the field down and make it uneven, leaving some sort of crest.

    Also, don’t try and suggest it never would have been mentioned if Arsenal didn’t win. Check the time I wrote the post; it was during the first 10 minutes of the game and as I said, this field has been in bad shape all year. I chose to write about it today because this is the worst I’ve seen it look.

  19. john

    March 9, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    I am a little biased as an Arsenal supporter, but it can’t be fun to play on as a Wigan player either. They have adapted well, but it has to be a bit demoralizing to step out on that pitch as the home team.

  20. b_chiller

    March 9, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    The JJB pitch is 25% artificial but you knew that already didn’t you Michael?

    Problems in the early days of the JJB’s artificial surface means that it is a main part of the bad state of the real grass.

    If Arsenal would have won it would never had been mentioned!

  21. Alex Hleb

    March 9, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    mozeruk. come on. please get out.

  22. mozeruk@

    March 9, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    ha ha! dragonki2012

    COME ON WIAGN – best pitch in league!

  23. dragonki2012

    March 9, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    Not to mention that Wigan don’t deserve to be in the Premier league.

    Year after year of not doing shit, get relegated and give another team a chance.

  24. dragonki2012

    March 9, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    My college football field is bad-ass compared to the JJB. I mean I can make sharp cuts and not slide, rain and hot weather don’t effect it.

    It’s a shame that a club in the Premier League has a pitch this horrible.

    I understand where you’re coming from and I agree totally.

    Mainly you bring up the point because Arsenal are playing on it and they like to pass a lot and the ball will skip on the field.

    I’d love to see Paul Robinson watching or playing on this pitch, nightmares going back to his England career and the game at Croatia.

    It can happen to anyone.

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