Memo to A-League groundsmen; time to roll out the carpet

Tony Tannous Columnist

By Tony Tannous, Tony Tannous is a Roar Expert

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    Sydney's Mark Bridge (left) and Perth's Jamie Harnwell in action AAP Image/Jenny Evans

    Sydney's Mark Bridge (left) and Perth's Jamie Harnwell in action during Round 16 of the Hyundai A-League between Sydney FC and Perth Glory in Sydney, Sunday, Dec. 21, 2008. AAP Image/Jenny Evans

    It’s an image that lives long in the memory. In May 2005, more than two months before the pre-season competition for the inaugural A-League season, the FFA gave us a sneak-peak into its new world with a double-header at Gosford’s Bluetongue Stadium, part of its process of deciding Australia’s participant at the Oceania club championship.

    Most will remember it as the day Nik Mrdja snapped Andrew Durante’s leg during the second match between the Mariners and the Jets. That memory was sickening.

    But it was another image, that day, which warmed the heart.

    It came at half-time in the first game between Sydney FC and Queensland Roar, and it didn’t involve any player or a football.

    It was the sight of the Bluetongue groundsmen, armed with a spading fork, out prodding and patting down the lush green surface. It happened again ahead of the second game, and then at half-time once more.

    It was ‘new football’ and a new professional attitude towards to the quality of the canvass, or so it seemed.

    Little wonder the back-of-the-net.com reporter that day rated the pitch a nine out of ten.

    As I watched the groundsman prod-around, gob-smacked, my mind went back to days of watching NSL matches at places like Leichhardt and Belmore Oval, and Parramatta Stadium, which at times resembled Bondi beach, such was the amount of sand dumped on them.

    While there were some very goods ones, especially at football-only places like Marconi and Hindmarsh, overall, the pitches and stadiums weren’t great.

    One of my pet hates growing up was the sub-standard treatment (or non-treatment) afforded the game by ground-staff across the country.

    How many big games – grand finals and Socceroos internationals – do you remember being played on fields where line-markings and sponsorship logos were everywhere? What chance did the game have at club level?

    Naturally, my hope ahead of the A-League launch was that the carpet would be rolled out, across the board, a point I made in an early email to John O’Neill and Matt Carroll.

    Surfaces in the inaugural season, I thought, were pretty good, especially in the context of where the game had been.

    But things have steadily declined, and last season even Bluetongue resembled a patchwork quilt.

    Elsewhere, across the multi-purpose facilities like Suncorp, Docklands, Westpac and SFS, the game continues to have to work alongside the likes of Andre Rieu, the two rugby codes and AFL.

    It’s a fine balancing act. On the one hand the FFA wants to enhance its package by playing in the best all-seater stadiums, with excellent spectator and hospitality facilities.

    Yet the bumpy surfaces often sell the players, managers, and fans short, as the quality of games suffers.

    It’s one thing to be able to get into a modern stadium and find a comfortable seat, but most fans want to see good football on good pitches, and there’s no better way to build a brand than by enhancing the on-field product.

    And to do that, players must be given the best surfaces, at training and on match-day.

    As the governing body tries to encourage more and more ball-playing through its introduction of small sided games and the national curriculum, it would do well to take in the words of the respected Roy Hodgson, who takes a calculated stab at the inferior state of our pitches just over three minutes into this grab, even if he bundles Docklands and Robina into the same ‘AFL’ basket.

    Naturally, things should improve over time and with the introduction of stadia like the rectangular one in Melbourne, but the technical heads at FFA and out in club-land would do well to stay in the ear of ground administrators.

    And fans, paying a decent dollar to attend, should also maintain the rage.

    Last night, for example, I was back at Belmore Oval for the first time in a while. The game between Sydney FC and Sydney Olympic was an eye-sore.

    You won’t be surprised to learn the surface was a shocker.

    Tony Tannous
    Tony Tannous

    Follow Tony on Twitter @TonyTannousTRBA

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    The Crowd Says (55)

    • July 20th 2009 @ 9:14am
      Towser said | July 20th 2009 @ 9:14am | ! Report

      This was mentioned last week in another article in which I stated that groundsmen must be reeducated into providing surfaces that are conducive to playing top class professional football. You cant change the status quo of football sharing with the Rugbies AFL & concerts etc,but you can change the knowledge of ground staff in preparing the turf. I remember as a lad turning up at Hillsborough & marvelling at the wonder of the billiard table pitch. I compared it to the local grounds I played on some on mountainside like slopes & mud up to the ankle & envied the professionals of Wednesday having the luck to play on such a pitch.
      It is also one of my pet hates in this country Tony.Although I do understand the reasons for it,nevertheless it has to be changed if this country is serious about presenting football at its creative best. Which means more on the ground crisp accurate passing & dribbling. Cant be done on a bumpy pitted pitch. Every sport who plays on the ground benefits.

    • July 20th 2009 @ 9:15am
      whiskeymac said | July 20th 2009 @ 9:15am | ! Report

      Fair point Tony, stands to reason that if the playing surface is poor the passing game will be poor and teams, and in particular defenders not willing to risk a bumpy stray pass, will be more inclined to hoof it.

    • July 20th 2009 @ 9:21am
      whiskeymac said | July 20th 2009 @ 9:21am | ! Report

      towser i agree with this too “Every sport who plays on the ground benefits” – surely its in everyones interests to havea good surface – less injuries, cleaner bounces (even for Sherrins and the like). Is it that there are just a few grounds being pounded non stop all year in a drought or that the science/ application by the groundstaff isnt there? it wld seem a little strange for aussie groundstaff not ot be aware/ trained in upto date ground management – maybe the stadia or clubs just arent investing in them as they should?

    • July 20th 2009 @ 9:30am
      Towser said | July 20th 2009 @ 9:30am | ! Report

      whiskeymac

      That is the first stop for the ground surface improvement bus,the grounndstaff. Personally I have no in depth knowledge of their capabilities in relation to ground preperation. But if their are benefits for all,surely its logical to set the standard to the level of the surfaces of the pitches of professional football clubs in Europe.

    • July 20th 2009 @ 9:49am
      Midfielder said | July 20th 2009 @ 9:49am | ! Report

      Some interesting things have come out of Bluetounge as we have to move two of our games for maintenance … we asked why not during the NRL season… one of the easons is because the ground grass is prepared for a winter season not a summer season … I wonder how many other grounds are the same..

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      July 20th 2009 @ 10:07am
      GeneralAshnak said | July 20th 2009 @ 10:07am | ! Report

      Thankfully not Hindmarsh, still the best little ground in Australia – now if only we could have it seat 50k and be in the cbd…

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