With the domestic football season well and truly underway and the uninspiring success coupled with heart-breaking distress of the World Cup qualifiers, it got me thinking about the playing surfaces. Why? You might ask! You see, some things never change in football, but in other areas they couldn’t be more different from the scenes of bygone decades.
One of the consistent features of being an England fan, for example, is that we will always believe. Faced with very little current evidence of quality, some grainy fifty-year-old footage, the FIFA world rankings, and the opposed will of every other nation on earth, we will still somehow manage to muster hope. I don’t know where it comes from, how we do it, or more to the point why we choose to put ourselves through it, but we decide that this will be our year. And it happens every single time a major competition comes around – without fail.
Meanwhile, our no less proud (but with all due respect, blessed with lower expectations) neighbours continue to cheer and support their teams’ efforts come-what-may, win-or-lose. Wales have done the UK proud in recent years, Scotland put up such a brave fight this time, and hats off to Ireland and Ireland for their achievements.
And now the thing that has changed…
Yes, you guessed it – The grass. When I think back to the glory days of the 60s and the excitement and fight (often quite literally) of the 70s, one thing stands out. The mud bath on which these talented, elite athletes of their day were expected to play on. Now I’m not calling for a return to waterlogged surfaces where a 40-yard cross-field pass would stop dead in a puddle, but it was quite a spectacle wasn’t it? A far cry from today’s bowling green, spotless, wrinkle-free, perfect pitches.
How do they do it?
The fact is that all of the top clubs nowadays use a hybrid surface that is still mostly real grass but intertwined with an artificial fibre throughout its length and breadth. The reason they do this is for the strength, durability, stability, shape and drainage benefits. The vast majority of the surface still has to be real grass, however, to minimise injuries under the FA’s regulations.
So that is why you can look out onto your 100% artificial grass and see a surface fit for a World Cup final (I’d just avoid practising your slide tackles on it too much if I were you).