Football pitches: then and now

Over the years, the foundations of football have almost remained the same – with the exception of the staggering salaries and the pitch the game is played on. The quality of the turf is vital for the professional game. It all began with natural grass.

Grass: the beginning

Football started out on natural grass back in 1863. It has served the game well right up to the present day. Pitches are heavily reliant on good levels of light and watering, requiring high levels of maintenance. Because of the delicacy of grass, intensive use can leave pitches far from perfect.

Natural grass is high maintenance so most professional football clubs hire groundsmen to ensure their pitch is match-ready. High-profile roles can earn up to £42,000, so it’s clearly big business.

The rise of artificial turf

With technology making changes in the turf world, garden and lawn dressing retailer Compost Direct has looked at how football turf has evolved from natural grass.

Artificial grass hasn’t always been around. It was invented by David Chaney, head of the RTP research team, and was made from polypropylene or nylon fibre attached to a concrete or asphalt base. And the first of its type was install in 1966.

Not long after, UK football teams realised this type of grass alternative. Queens Park Rangers, Luton Town, Oldham Athletic and Preston North End all replaced their natural grass pitches.

This was just the first of its generation, meaning it came hand-in-hand with several negatives. The harshness of the pitch was detrimental to player’s joints, while sliding tackles often lead to friction burn. In terms of matches and player performance, footballs were difficult to control and fatigue levels were higher.

Despite the many negatives, and harm to the players, these pitches were still played on for many years, right up until 1955 when they were officially banned from professional football in England. Premier League pitches were replaced once more by their grass counterparts.

The 3G revolution

Following the banning of artificial grass came the next generative of grass alternative. In the early 2000s, 3G pitch emerged victorious. Learning from the mistakes of previous pitches, the turf was created to mirror real grass, with longer, thinly spaced tufts to ease the impact on players. Likewise, sand infills and rubber granules deliver both bounce and support.

According the FA, these pitches are still extremely popular, with 780 registered in total for the 2016/17 season. They are primarily used by lower league sides and as training pitches due to their all-year-round appeal.

Moving forward with 4G

The future of artificial football pitches lies with 4G pitches. Taking things to the next level and developing from the negatives of previous generations, they contain a mixture of artificial and natural turf. They are created by growing natural grass around artificial blades, and work by combining the benefits of both natural and artificial pitches. The pitches are hard-wearing and low-maintenance, as well as being soft underfoot and having minimal impact on how the player interacts with the ball.