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Sydney pitch quality more than just surface tension

apaway Roar Guru

By apaway, apaway is a Roar Guru

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    Alex Wilkinson of Sydney FC. (AAP Image/Tony McDonough)

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    It’s March. That means it is time for the annual hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing on the state of stadium playing surfaces now that the rugby codes have commenced their seasons and football’s run with good surfaces has come to another end.

    This is especially the case in Sydney where the Sydney Football (Allianz) Stadium becomes home ground for Super Rugby’s Waratahs, NRL’s Sydney Roosters, and A-League’s Sydney FC, on top of a venue for various international games, tournaments and concerts.

    It happens every year, the powers-that-be know it’s going to happen, and not a thing is done to try and mitigate the damage, both real and aesthetic, as the A-League heads towards its finals series.

    Let’s get two inarguable facts out of the way. Rugby union destroys playing surfaces. Contested scrums and rolling rucks chew up the turf as surely as a stump-jump plough.

    I once sat in silent disbelief at a local council meeting when a soccer-hating council groundsman tried to tell a forum that round-ball footballers could only wear sneakers on “his” grounds during pre-season because “those new fandangled cleat boots” did more damage to the grass than anything the local rugby clubs did. Some attitudes are hard to change.

    Ireland and Scotland pack down a rugby union scrum

    The second inarguable fact is that neither league or union are too fussed about the state of a playing surface. Sure, they’d prefer a bowling green with no divots but it isn’t essential and that’s why neither code ever calls off a game.

    Given these facts, football is up against it. Paul Okon slammed the state of the SFS pitch after last week’s Sydney FC-Central Coast game. Graeme Arnold was a little more circumspect but is clearly unimpressed with the playing conditions at the Sky Blues’ home ground. Just this week, National Team boss Ange Postecoglou labelled the surface a disgrace ahead of the Socceroos crucial World Cup Qualifier against United Arab Emirates.

    General consensus is that the SFS playing surface was severely chopped up by the recent international Rugby Sevens tournament which ran over an entire weekend. Given the tournament attracted big crowds and supposedly generous revenue to the Sports Ground Trust, it’s ridiculous for football fans to become agitated by the existence of what amounted to a weekend of rugby fancy dress. Commercial interests are not concerned with how “serious” the show is, just how much it makes.

    However, cross-code fixture-making could be influenced and I’m beginning to wonder whether FFA or A-League ever talks to the rugby codes about what happens in Sydney in March, April and May.

    I’m deliberately focusing on Sydney here, while acknowledging that the same problem occurs in Brisbane but appears not to be an issue in Melbourne where AAMI Park magically produces a damn good surface for all, despite hosting 4 major sporting teams in the same time period.

    As a case in point, was it really necessary for the Sydney Roosters to play the Canterbury Bulldogs in an NRL game on a Thursday night last week, 24 hours before the Sydney FC-Mariners game? Was there not one other NRL game that round that could have filled the TV schedule requirements for Thursday night, such as Wests Tigers-Penrith Panthers or St George-Illawarra-Parramatta Eels?

    Would the Roosters really have been disadvantaged by playing on Saturday rather than Thursday? Did A-League organisers even attempt to negotiate such a thing? I know the NRL gives clubs who host Thursday night games a TV revenue incentive payment due to a perceived drop-off in attendance so I don’t think any of the clubs would have been financially handicapped if they’d played on Thursday.

    Perhaps my naivety is getting the better of me, and the Roosters wanted to play on a Thursday for some reason (TV money aside) to which I’m not aware. And yes, I realise this sounds a little like football trying to get everything it wants, but in the case of stadium surfaces, it’s something football needs more than the other two codes.

    It’s not like Sydney FC are poor cousins in the stadium-sharing family. In the last two seasons, they have averaged 6,000 more fans per home game than the Roosters. Trying to get average home attendances for the Waratahs is a little like trying to get confirmation of alien activity at Roswell, but one source – Australian Football Code Crowds 2014 – had the Super Rugby franchise on par with Sydney FC’s figures for that year.

    I’m not suggesting Sydney FC or FFA go all ‘bully-boy’ just because crowd figures tell us that football draws just as many fans to the SFS as the other two codes. However, surely they could sit down with officials of the other codes along with the SCG/Stadium Trust and try to negotiate an equitable arrangement for the final months of their season.

    I know, working harmoniously, hand-in-hand doesn’t seem to be the preferred business model for rival sports codes these days but to my mind, three happy tenants is better than two and I doubt scheduling fixtures with the playing surface in mind is going to seriously disadvantage the rugby codes.

    The other looming, unthinkably horrid scenario occurs in May. The Waratahs are due to play the Blues on May sixth at the SFS. The A-League grand final is scheduled for May seventh. Given current form, Sydney FC would appear to be a very strong favourite to win the rights to host the championship decider, which would then be played less than 24 hours after the surface is ploughed into a potato field.

    Alex Wilkinson of Sydney FC

    At least there is ten days grace between the ground hosting anything prior to the March 28 WCQ. To have the A-League’s biggest game of the season held a day after a Super Rugby game is clearly unacceptable.

    Of course, FFA don’t know for sure until a week prior as their altered finals format has painted them into a corner regarding their grand final venue, given the game could go to three possible venues. Maybe in this case, FFA need to bite the turf bullet and move the grand final date, as I doubt they’ll be able to get the Waratahs to swap their game day to Sunday just for FFA to make a temporary booking on the Saturday (the only other “sensible” option in an ideal world). But then again, have they even asked?

    Various football fans are calling for A-League clubs and football to build their own “boutique” stadiums. It’s a lovely thought, but much like world peace, Donald Trump’s impeachment or rolling green fields with sugar plum fairies, it remains extremely aspirational in our current market economy.

    In the meantime, perhaps we need to be negotiating more than agitating in order to get a better surface deal for the sport.

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    The Crowd Says (64)

    • March 18th 2017 @ 6:03am
      AR said | March 18th 2017 @ 6:03am | ! Report

      The only proposed solution I could glean from this article, is that other sports (specifically the Roosters and Waratahs clubs) should change their fixtures.


      • Roar Guru

        March 18th 2017 @ 11:52am
        apaway said | March 18th 2017 @ 11:52am | ! Report

        Which simply proves that you didn’t read it, AR.

    • March 18th 2017 @ 7:24am
      Waz said | March 18th 2017 @ 7:24am | ! Report

      I don’t see why this is an FFA/A League problem to fix?

      Common sense suggests the stadium is being leased out for commercial gain and while they can dress leasing contracts up anyway they like, the primary thing all codes are renting is grass to play on (which is normally leased separately and for a token amount in case someone demands a refund).

      So rather than have the codes trying to talk to each other the stadium should accept their responsibility to provide the best playing surface possible to tenants which should mean they tell each code when it’s available and allow fir the state of the pitch.

      Surely it’s also time for the codes that rip up the turf (union mainly) to pay more to rent the turf to adequately cover the cost of repair and eventual replacement.

      • March 18th 2017 @ 1:49pm
        Paul said | March 18th 2017 @ 1:49pm | ! Report

        Interesting approach, but I doubt there’s any chance of it being adopted. My understanding is that there’s not much money sloshing around RU in Australia at the moment, so jacking up the rent for the Warratahs is likely to force them to look elsewhere to play their games, in which case the SCG Trust loses all rental income they’re currently receiving from them.

    • March 18th 2017 @ 7:51am
      Pie Thrower said | March 18th 2017 @ 7:51am | ! Report

      So many things wrong with this article. Do you honestly believe that at the beginning of planning the fixtures for the season, SANZAR, the NRL, FFA and all the broadcasters (because let’s face it – they have the ultimate say) are going to sit down and take the playing schedule of the A-league into consideration and move games around? Your solution to ‘just move a Waratahs game to Sunday arvo’ is so unlikely due to so many factors it isn’t funny. The entire super rugby schedule is planned out to allow there to be games on from Friday evening in no all the way across the weekend ending up in South Africa or Argentina. I doubt the option of moving a game to accomodate the possibility that Sydney FC *might* make a final ((12 months beforehand) really comes into consideration. There are also travel schedules to take into consideration. The Tahs might need that Friday night game as they are flying to south America the next day for a game in Argentina. Same with the NRL – they plan the season months in advance to make the most of the likely ratings for those games, to give appropriate breaks between games etc.

      An alternative suggestion might be to book out each stadium for a week before the final to ensure it isn’t used??? Equally as unlikely but one that means football gets the surface it craves. (Would mean booking out SFS, Suncorp, AAMI and wherever else is shared)

      Time for football to put its money where its mouth is. Stop whinging about pitch standards and either get its own stadiums, book them out in advance, or accept that they won’t get the billiard table they crave. Whinging and expecting other codes to shift for them won’t cut it.

      • March 18th 2017 @ 8:32am
        Waz said | March 18th 2017 @ 8:32am | ! Report

        It’s a bit of a rant but there’s a lot of good stuff in there all the same; it’s not an easy problem to fix because there are three codes and multiple teams needing consideration. But the reality is the season overlap is not all that long and these situations could be minimised if not entirely eliminated if the stadium owners took their responsibility to deliver an adequate playing surface properly.

        And when you say “time for football to put it’s money where it’s mouth is” and build its own stadia – you mean in the same way League and Union did lol?? As we are all playing on government funded infrastructure paid for by tax payers money it’s a bit rich to suggest football should build its own infrastructure. Union is such a niche sport it can hardly claim priority over football surely?

        The point is more can and should be done to present pitches better for each code – but while attitudes like yours prevail we won’t see an improvement. It’s time the dinosaurs accepted football is big in this country and should be treated accordingly

      • Roar Guru

        March 18th 2017 @ 11:55am
        apaway said | March 18th 2017 @ 11:55am | ! Report

        Pie Thrower

        Nowhere in the article did I suggest moving a Waratahs game to Sunday afternoon. In fact, I even made it clear that FFA couldn’t expect that to happen and that as the likelihood of Sydney FC hosting the Grand Final grows stronger, that the date of the GF should be moved.

    • March 18th 2017 @ 8:09am
      tigranes said | March 18th 2017 @ 8:09am | ! Report

      SFC has Frank Lowy involved…hes one of Australia’s wealthiest individuals plus he knows property. Soccer should probably purchase its own ground like the Southern Expansion mob being controlled by Craig Foster are looking to do

    • Roar Pro

      March 18th 2017 @ 8:28am
      The Doc said | March 18th 2017 @ 8:28am | ! Report

      This is a recurring issue every season. Yet I don’t think there is a real solution currently. The stadium trust needs to make money and balancing the competing commercial interests of NRL, union and HAL is difficult. The NRL isn’t going to move its games from SFS on Thursday night to appease Sydney FC and nor should they be expected to. With regards to the HAL GF, you cannot reserve stadiums around the country on the off chance the final may be played there and as long as we have the current finals format this will forever be a problem whenever Sydney or Brisbane are a chance to make the final.
      Interestingly (as you noted) – AAMI park is shared by Storm, Rebels, Victory and City yet doesn’t seem to suffer the same issues that the SFS does. Hoping someone else knows the reasons for this.
      At the end of the day (as Pie Thrower mentioned), the only solution is build a new stadium that just houses soccer (the financial viability, location would be huge impediments to this) or identify ways to create a better, more durable surface (if possible).

      • March 18th 2017 @ 8:41am
        Chris said | March 18th 2017 @ 8:41am | ! Report

        Get rid of the ground staff at SFS who clearly have nfi and get people in who do.

      • March 18th 2017 @ 8:49am
        Waz said | March 18th 2017 @ 8:49am | ! Report

        “The stadium trust needs to make money” yes they do but if football moves out they’ll make less money

      • Roar Guru

        March 18th 2017 @ 12:08pm
        apaway said | March 18th 2017 @ 12:08pm | ! Report

        The Doc

        That is exactly what FFA do. They tentatively book a series of grounds as the finals approach, which is hardly ideal. The newer finals format means that in the penultimate week of the finals, any 3 teams could host a Grand Final (with only the lowest ranked of the final 4 being unable to do so) So last season, ground bookings were made tentatively in Adelaide, Western Sydney and Brisbane. Must be an administrative nightmare. Under the previous format, only the top 2 finishing teams could host the GF.

    • March 18th 2017 @ 8:39am
      SonOfLordy said | March 18th 2017 @ 8:39am | ! Report

      Soccer is the least attended of the four football codes.

      It’s absurd to suggest the two higher drawing football codes should put the interests of soccer first and foremost.

      If soccer doesn’t like having their fields chopped up by the more popular football codes, then soccer should build their own stadiums for the exclusive use of soccer.

      Maybe the soccer teams should start planning their seasons around the more popular football codes. If there’s a League game at the SFS on a Thursday night, then move the Sydney FC game (which will draw 13k people at most) to the Wednesday night.

      If push comes to shove none of these grounds will ever choose soccer over the more popular football codes.

      • March 18th 2017 @ 8:42am
        Chris said | March 18th 2017 @ 8:42am | ! Report

        I get the hint from your post that soccer is not as popular as the other codes?
        So much anger.

      • March 18th 2017 @ 8:51am
        Waz said | March 18th 2017 @ 8:51am | ! Report

        1,750,000+ attend soccer each season, way more than Rugby. Does that help you’re thinking or are you just set in your ways??

        • March 18th 2017 @ 9:08am
          SonOfLordy said | March 18th 2017 @ 9:08am | ! Report

          Average attendances would suggest otherwise.

          If soccer is so popular then they should build their own stadiums. Problem solved. You can’t expect higher drawing sports to cater to soccer.

          • March 18th 2017 @ 9:19am
            Waz said | March 18th 2017 @ 9:19am | ! Report

            You said soccer is the least attended of the football codes so average has nothing to do with it. 1.75 million+ attend soccer which is more than attend Rugby. Go on, change the measure to suit your argument lol

            • March 18th 2017 @ 9:44am
              Paul said | March 18th 2017 @ 9:44am | ! Report

              Football also provides the biggest single crowd at Allianz Stadium every season. Respect.

            • March 18th 2017 @ 10:53am
              Paul said | March 18th 2017 @ 10:53am | ! Report

              So true.
              Rugby Union only fill Allianz for Wallabies games.

              The issue is that that Rugby Union has the best network to influence powerbrokers.
              David Gallop was supposed to be one who could influence powerbrokers but there is little or no evidence that he has influenced one powerbroker.

              The use of average crowds is so misleading that the measure should be median.
              On both counts, the smurfs are the biggest tenants of Allianz Stadium (Sydney Football Stadium for Asian Champions League games).

              Rugby Union is becoming the 4th code in Australia for participation and attendances.
              The RU hierarchy are just like the AFL in being haters of the football (round ball)

          • March 18th 2017 @ 9:55am
            Fadida said | March 18th 2017 @ 9:55am | ! Report

            How many times can you use the word “soccer”?

            • March 18th 2017 @ 10:40am
              Hard Yards said | March 18th 2017 @ 10:40am | ! Report

              And how many times will you soccer supporters take his bait.

              It just too easy.

              • March 18th 2017 @ 10:47am
                Chris said | March 18th 2017 @ 10:47am | ! Report

                What bait?

              • March 18th 2017 @ 11:21am
                Nemesis said | March 18th 2017 @ 11:21am | ! Report

                @Hard Yards

                So, you admit you come to this discussion forum “to bait”.

                Which is basically TROLLING?

                What a sad, pathetic individual you are.

                If you’re a teenager, fine – you’re young and socially deprived.
                If you’re an adult… I advise you to seek medical help.

            • March 18th 2017 @ 5:25pm
              Cugel said | March 18th 2017 @ 5:25pm | ! Report

              Yeah, I mean when someone says soccer they could mean AFL or league or union. So confusing.

      • March 18th 2017 @ 8:57am
        Paul said | March 18th 2017 @ 8:57am | ! Report

        Football is popular enough to be taken seriously. So seriously you felt the need to post on the football tab LoL

      • Roar Guru

        March 18th 2017 @ 11:59am
        apaway said | March 18th 2017 @ 11:59am | ! Report


        No, football is not the LEAST attended of the three codes under discussion here at the SFS. Last season Sydney FC averaged 6,000 more spectators per game than the Roosters and slightly more than the Waratahs (figures for Waratahs games are hard to come by) Of course, this was spelled out in the article. By my reckoning, of the 3 SFS tenants, that makes football the MOST attended, but why would we let facts and figures get in the way of a good anti-soccer rant?

      • March 18th 2017 @ 12:07pm
        Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | March 18th 2017 @ 12:07pm | ! Report

        Pip, Mr F, now SonOfLordy, have I missed an alias?

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