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Friday, 20 November 2009

In Search of the Perfect Turf Pitch

We are all fully aware from either personal observation or from watching televised matches that the appearance and performance of modern day top tier winter sports pitches bears little or no resemblance to the divot strewn surfaces and mudbaths that were commonplace in the 60’s and 70’s.

This fact was clearly brought home to me by a recent newspaper photograph which showed Geoff Hurst scoring the winning goal in the 1966 World Cup Final at Wembley - the surface was unbelievably cut up with numerous large divots strewn all over the surface.

The marked overall improvement in surfaces probably really started in the late 70’s and early 80’s, with the introduction of sand - dominant rootzones following extensive research work carried out principally by the STRI. The use of faster draining rootzones with minimal mud-forming tendencies was not without its problems, for example lack of surface stability particularly in high wear areas, however, it did represent a very major step forward in the all round condition and performance of winter sports pitches.

In the early 90’s the development of various fibre reinforcement techniques in sand-dominant rootzones represented the next significant step forward in tackling the basic lack of stability inherent in such rootzones. Two such techniques firstly, the Fibreturf system of random fibre orientation and secondly, the DESSO Grassmaster system of ‘stitched fibre’, are now relatively commonplace and, as such, fibre reinforced 80/20/ or 90/10 sand/soil rootzones are to be found in the most top-class pitches and also on the numerous training and academy pitches of the top tier clubs.

However, sand-dominant rootzones by their very nature produce harder surfaces than soil rootzones; fibre-reinforced sand-dominant rootzones even more so. The development of maintenance techniques, particularly Verti-draining and other forms of solid-tine aeration, has been very important, therefore, in enabling the grounds staff to exercise control over the somewhat conflicting requirements of hardness v stability.

In order to keep making progress and particularly in order to address the hardness v stability situation, Fibresand UK in 2007, after a two year research programme at the STRI, introduced a new dual fibre reinforced rootzone termed Fibrelastic.

The aim of the product was threefold:-
Firstly, a reduction in surface hardness = less jarring of limbs and lower risk of player injury.
Secondly, an increase in surface resilience = more energy feedback to players feet, therefore, a less tiring surface.
Thirdly, a further increase in rootzone cohesion = increased traction, therefore, les surface disturbance.

The overall result of these three factors is a surface which has all the attributes of a typical fibre-reinforced sand dominant surface but which feels considerably softer and more akin to a soil based pitch in good condition.

Subsequently, the first two main stadium Fibrelastic pitches for Bristol City F.C, and Newcastle Utd. F.C., respectively were a resounding success during the 2007/08 season and these pitches are now starting their second season after minimal end of season renovation during May. The extremely positive feedback from players and groundstaff at both clubs justifies the claim that Fibrelastic pitches are more player friendly in that they produce a softer, less tiring surface and more groundsman friendly in that they require less post match attention to the surface. Two further main-stadium pitches have now been installed firstly, at Ibrox for Glasgow Rangers F.C and secondly at Llanelli Scarlet R.U.F.C stadium which hosted its first rugby match in early November. In addition, Newcastle Utd, have demonstrated their satisfaction with their St James Park pitch by installing two Fibrelastic pitches at their training ground and these are now in full use.

The two Newcastle training pitches are also interesting from another viewpoint in that the soil content has been replaced totally by PAS100 accredited green compost. This soil replacement has been made partly in order to take advantage of the long term nutrient provision and disease suppression properties of green compost and partly to recognise the environmental barriers that are building up in obtaining adequate supplies of good quality natural topsoil. Both pitches have now been in full use for six weeks and are proving very popular with both players and grounds staff.

In a repeat of last season, STRI have been commissioned to monitor all Fibrelastic pitches, with four visits per pitch during the season, so it will be very interesting to again compare their test results with the playing performance of each pitch and the feedback from the clubs.

The search for the perfect pitch goes on but based on the first season performance at Bristol City and Newcastle and particularly the feedback from both clubs there can be no doubt that Fibrelastic technology does represent a further significant step forward and, as such, can correctly be described as the second generation of fibre-reinforced sand-dominant rootzone pitches.

Source: Pitchcare Magazine

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