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Monday, 13 January, 2003, 13:36 GMT
Fighting a pitch battle
High stands create problems when it comes to pitch maintenance
Towering problems for Premiership grounds

As clubs like Chelsea and Newcastle fight a pitch battle to maintain a good playing surface, one of the Premiership's top groundsmen has warned against trying to cheat nature.

Chelsea ripped up the controversial Stamford Bridge pitch at a cost of 100,000, and Newcastle and Manchester United have also replaced their playing surfaces.

You can't cheat nature

Southampton groundsman Dave Roberts

Dave Roberts, who maintains the immaculate St Mary's Stadium pitch at Southampton says future solutions to pitch problems could lie in stadium design.

Roberts told BBC Sport Online: "The grass plant has evolved over millions of years to grow on plains.

"We decided to play football on grass and sticking a stadium around it reduces the environment the plant wants to grow in.

"As soon as you put a stadium around a pitch you deprive it of sunlight and air movement and the grass struggles to grow. You can't cheat nature."

Shadows cast by towering stands and the bowl-like nature of enclosed stadiums like Old Trafford conspire to make life difficult for groundsmen.

"The fact that fooball is a winter sport also gives you problems trying to grow grass in the middle of winter."

A football pitch is a stage and one that affects the way players play

Dave Roberts

Chelsea head groundsman John Anstis was shocked himself by the Stamford Bridge pitch, dubbed "a beach" by Blues' boss Claudio Ranieri.

Chelsea Village operations director Simon Arthur admitted: "John said it was the worst he'd seen at Stamford Bridge - but it did hold together for the match.

"We took up the old pitch and are laying the new one this week.

"We're very happy that the quality of grass being put down will last the season."

Southampton's St Mary's Stadium
Sunshine and greenery at St Mary's Stadium

Chelsea will play just eight Premiership games on the pitch, plus any home FA Cup ties, before replacing the surface, drainage and undersoil heating at the end of the season.

But Roberts said: "Unfortunately, a lot of people take the easy option, which is to grow the grass for as long as possible until it dies, and then dig it up and re-turf it.

"A stadium is only requried for two hours in a 10-day period and that may be someting people need to talk to architects and designers about.

"I believe both Arsenal and Wembley are talking to architects about having roofs that can be removed or pitches raised on hydraulics.

"A football pitch is a stage and one that affects the way players play.

"If you play the long ball game it doesn't matter if you play on a cow field.

"But the majority of teams in the Premiership play a fast passing game and that requires a good grass surface."


BBC Sport Online takes a look at the state of the pitch at Stamford BridgeSand blast
Chelsea's Stamford Bridge pitch under fire
Click here for all the latest from the My Club section

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