Football is a unique industry. Now that like a number of statements contained within this blog, is neither original nor shocking. There are numerous reasons why it is unique but the one that amazes me is the complete absence of Research and Development spend that it incurs. But Big Fella, I hear you cry, look at the good work the academies do bringing youth players through into the professional game. Sadly dear reader this is not the R&D that I talk of. Criminally overlooked, shamefully neglected – it is the pitch to which I refer.
Look at the pictures from Munich on Tuesday. A brand new stadium, a brand new pitch. That was an absolute slagheap. In England this has a been a regular problem. In recent years, the problems have been well documented at Old Trafford that seem gradually to be going away but Stamford Bridge is just appalling. Mourinho may claim that it produces no advantage as they train on an excellent surface at the new Training Complex but that is to be disingenuous as Chelsea’s players get to use the pitch at least once every 14 games. To add insult to injury, Barcelona arrived at Stamford Bridge to find the pitch being heavily watered despite typically wet February weather over the last few days. Indeed in the last decade, the only pitch that has been consistently suitable week in, week out, for top flight football has been Highbury.
The fundamental problem appears to be stadium design, with the height of new stands being the key. As the clamour for more seats get greater, so the structures move upwards to increase the capacity or filling in the corners where the stands height is optimised already. This then prevents as much sunlight getting to the grass or the wind circulating properly over the pitch. Which is where the absence of R&D spend is unfathomable. Manchester United has rebuilt Old Trafford to such an extent that the capacity will shortly reach 76,000. This has not been donated by a philanthropic local business, it has been built using sizeable sums of money. Why have they not invested in Research to ensure that the playing surface is immaculate.
Stamford Bridge has also been improved in the last decade, even before Roman Abramovich invested his cash into the club. And yet their pitch would shame a Council Park used on in a Sunday League. Chelsea claim that Scott Parker’s injury last season was caused by the new pitch being laid yet if they had researched properly during the project planning stage this would not have happened.
In coming years, Ashburton Grove and Wembley will open their doors with Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton all planning for major redevelopment or new Stadiums. Whether this will include substantial investment in the pitch is open to debate; yes, they will lay new turf but will they take steps to ensure that new technologies are taken advantage of to enable the best turf to be consistently available to their most costly assets, the players? I somehow doubt that as much will be done as could be / should be. Have we now reached the point where FIFA / UEFA need to take steps to insist on a minimum standard of pitch being required. It is something that needs a big stick to be wielded and not left to the individual clubs or Governing Bodies to manage. Should the minimum standard not be met, then the punishment should be removal from the relevant competition, i.e. kicked out of the Champions League, suspended from domestic competition? Fines are immaterial nowadays to most of the top clubs so they need to be incentivised in other ways. As it stands currently, there is no reason for a club to invest in the pitch. After all, if the Premiership Champions don’t care, why should anyone else?
Todays tunes continue with The Jam extravaganza, being various demos and unreleased versions of album tracks.