Any football (soccer) fan who tuned into the FA Cup semi-finals last weekend would have found it hard not to notice the terrible state of the pitch at Wembley. It made for less than flowing football with players looking like Bambi on ice at times rather than the elite professionals they are. Twice as painful for me on Sunday as a Tottenham Hotspur fan as I had to watch Portsmouth FC’s Frederic Piquionne tap one home from close range after being gifted a clear path only due to a slip by Michael Dawson on this dreadful embarrassment of a playing surface.
Understandably the FA have been getting a bit of a hard time in the press regarding the playing surface (and not just from disgruntled Spurs fans). It is well documented that the schedule at Wembley is very heavy, and includes many other events such as rugby, motor racing and music concerts, and the pitch seems to have been in trouble since day one – having been re-laid 10 times already since July 2006. The FA released this statement today:
A Wembley Stadium spokesperson said: “We accept and understand the frustrations around the standard of the pitch at Wembley for last weekend’s FA Cup Semi-Finals.
“The problems faced on Saturday were due to the way the surface was prepared and the measures used overnight were unable to resolve the situation sufficiently for the match on Sunday.
“There is a unique challenge with the surface at Wembley and we are working with expert pitch consultants to get it right. Wembley Stadium is a multi-purpose venue and we have to hold other events as part of the business plan, which means regular pitch replacements each year.
“Football is the number one priority and we understand we have to find a way to deliver and sustain a consistent quality pitch and replicate the successful formula that we developed in the second half of last year.
“We are currently reviewing all options to provide the best surface for the busy period going forward, including a probable pitch replacement. We will make this decision after the weekend.”
However in the two weeks running up to the England Vs Mexico friendly on May 24th the Wembley surface is still to be used a further 5 times:
- FA Trophy Final on May 8th
- FA Vase Final on May 9th
- FA Cup Final on May 15th
- Football Conference Final on May 16th
- Championship play-off Final on May 22nd
I for one will be watching our last international friendly before the squad leaves for South Africa very nervously, as I feel the pitch in its current condition is nothing less than a major risk to the safety of our players.
Playing surfaces and the relationship with shoes (and injury)
Football is characterised by sprinting, stopping, cutting and pivoting – situations where shoe-surface interactions are essential and frictional resistance must be within an optimal range.1 Not to mention of course that when playing football you are also required to spend a lot of time on only one leg, so a stable base of support is crucial. Research has suggested that the footing or ‘grip’ a playing surface provides (its traction) may relate to injury in football.1,2
The BBC commented that one word used to describe the pitch at Wembley by Premier League managers was ‘spongy’. The most common compensation for a very soft and slippery pitch that players will make is to wear boots with longer cleats/studs as this will increase traction and therefore decrease slippage.3 This was illustrated clearly in the first half of the Aston Villa and Chelsea game on Saturday with many players running to the side lines to change their boots. My main concern here being that longer studs have been shown by many studies to increase in shoe-surface traction (torque) possibly outside of the optimal range, and with it increase the risk of knee injuries.4,5
The majority of the literature on surface traction suggests that increased shoe-surface traction may be a risk factor for non contact lower limb injury in football.6 A pitch such as Wembley encourages players to take measures to increase this shoe-surface traction as we have discussed above; as performance considerations (i.e. not falling over) will trump this relative increase in injury risk (in their minds anyway).
The sort of injuries most of the aforementioned studies refer to are the non contact kind where the shoe-surface relationship is the primary cause, the key injury generally considered to be knee injury. However as those with a knowledge of the game know, different playing surfaces do tend to result in the timing of tackles or challenges varying greatly which can often lead to knocks being picked up which ordinarily may not have been.
My closing comment on this is simple. I think the FA would find itself in a very uncomfortable situation if one of our key players was to get injured (due to the playing surface) just a few weeks before the start of the World Cup Finals. To see Rooney, Gerrard or Terry damage their anterior cruciate ligament just because it’s part of the FA’s business plan to keep Wembley as a multi-purpose venue would be very difficult to swallow.
- Nigg, B. M. & Ekstrand, J. (1989). Surface-related injuries in soccer. Sports Medicine. 8(1), 56-62.
- Milburn, P. D. & Barry, E. B. (1998). Shoe-surface interaction and the reduction of injury in rugby union. Sports Medicine. 25(5), 319-327.
- Yu, B., Kirkendall, D. & Garrett, W. (2002). Anterior cruciate ligament injuries in female athletes: anatomy, physiology and motor control. Sports Medicine & Arthroscopy Review. 10, 58-68.
- Lambson, R., Barnhill, B. & Higgins, R. Football cleat design and its effect on anterior cruciate ligament injuries: a three-year prospective study. American Journal of Sports Medicine. 24(2), 155-159.
- Torg, J. S. & Quedenfeld, T. (1971). Effect of shoe type and cleat length on incidence and severity of knee injuries among high school football players. Research Quarterly. 42(2), 203-211.
- Orchard, J. (2002). Is there a relationship between ground and climatic conditions and injuries in football? Sports Medicine. 32(7), 419-432.