Field management has been professionalized so much that the goal is for it to go unnoticed during the match. Regulation sets the tone.
Mud, so-called bald people or endfangated playing grounds are a thing of the past. The use of new technologies coupled with greater professionalization in field maintenance has completely changed the ‘face’ of the stadiums.
There are several reasons why we have come to this situation in recent years, and the main one of them lies in the professionalization in the care of the fields of LaLiga Santander and LaLiga SmartBank. Personalized care and new technologies have been responsible for working this little miracle. “The pitch is only the visible part but the important thing is below. We do not grow the lawn, we prepare a pitch”, explains Pedro Fernández-Bolaños,in charge of coordinating that all the stadiums of the competition comply with the regulations so that football can be developed in the best conditions.
A bad pitch is an invitation to all kinds of problems: “When it rains it doesn’t drain well, it gets slashed and shattered because it trampled a lot”
Gone are the times when the Santiago Bernabéu, for example, suffered in its flesh the rigors of winter: “It is not remembered that the southern bottom was much worse than the north, which still received sun in winter.” A bad lawn is an invitation to all sorts of problems: “When it rains it doesn’t drain well, it gets slashed and shattered because it trampled a lot.” And that’s when problems once started, especially in the winter months.
The big change in recent years has a first and last name: growth lights. “The lawn is crazy about the sun,” recalls the LaLiga Pitch Quality Coordinator. A solution that has come from the sky for some teams whose stadiums have a common denominator: the field receives fewer rays of light than desired due to the height of the stands or by the roofs. That’s where huge lights come into play that replace the sun. These lights are located a few meters from the ground: “They are like those on the street, with a slightly yellow light. The stimulate the photosynthesis.”
To these lights we must add the progressive implementation of the so-called hybrid lawns, which turns the pitches into a mixture between artificial and natural, whose mission is to provide consistency and stability. In this sense, we can distinguish between sewn and mesh hybrids. The first, more laborious, can take up to ten days of preparation and has a lifespan of about ten or fifteen years. “After planting a ground, a machine injects artificial fibers about 15 to 18 centimeters deep. There is one every two centimeters but the total percentage is very low, only 2% or 3% of the whole field.”
The least laborious, but also less durable, alternative is that of the mesh hybrid. It is the example of stadiums such as Wanda Metropolitano or San Mamés that, “due to the events they have in summer cannot renew or regenerate it”, illustrates Fernández-Bolaños.
In search of uniformity
All the fields of LaLiga Santander and LaLiga SmartBank have looked the same for years. And it’s no coincidence. The sports organization has a regulation for all clubs detailing concepts as precise as the height of the turf, the length of the stripes or even the lines that delimit the pitch.
The height should always be the same, between 20mm and 30mm,although in those warmer climates it is allowed to be between 15mm and 20mm. This last point involves additional care because, as the coordinater explains that all stages, it is more difficult to maintain a ground-level cut than a slightly leafy one: “The longer it is, the more leaf photosynthesis can do and there is more root to absorb nutrients. It’s closer to the natural state.”
In addition to the height, each of the halves of the field must have nine stripes. Of these, the first four (starting from each goal) must have a width of 5.5 meters. How is the color of these stripes determined? The explanation is simple: it depends on the direction in which it has been mowed. “It depends on how the grass is lying. If the mower has cut towards you, you can see the underside of the blade, which is dark because it does not receive as much light. If the mower has cut away from you, you can see the upper part of the blade, which is light green ”, explains the LaLiga Field Quality Coordinator.
Duties of a newly promoted
All those guidelines that many clubs based in the elite have standardized are also mandatory for those who ascend to LaLiga SmartBank.
One of the teams that achieved promotion this season has been FC Cartagena, who has returned to the silver division after eight seasons in Segunda B. Once all the champagne was uncorked, the team’s board had to get to work to adapt the stadium to the new needs. And those responsible for maintaining it already knew in advance the problems they faced.
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“The drainage we had didn’t work. When you have a bad sand profile under the field it is very difficult to improve it without doing a great work. You need to be able to filter at least 50 liters per square meter per hour. When it rains or waters, the root suffocates because it needs air and the field does not filter well. In the end, more grass is ripped off when playing and loses quality,” explains Eduard Rovira, technical director of Royalverd, the company in charge of maintaining the playing field of the Murcian team. According to Rovira, it used to be enough for “five or six liters” per square metre to fall for the terrain to become “impractical”.
The Cartagena field was renovated this summer to comply with current regulations. “A very important investment has been made to change the entire profile of the field. It reduced the height to 40cm and the drainage system is brand new. The entire profile where the roots are supported has silica sand, as per the construction regulations, and is located on top of pure sand, like beach, which filters very well because it is very porous”, says Rovira. The result is a field that no longer suffers when rain comes in.