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When you spend £757 million on a new football stadium, you should probably get the most important part of it right: the pitch.
Following this weekend’s FA Cup semi-finals, with players slipping up all over the field, Wembley officials have admitted the poor state of the pitch:
“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.
Multi-purpose indeed, even though Wembley National Stadium Ltd is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Football Association. Of course, when you spend £757 million on a football stadium whose primary tenant team — England — only plays a few games a year there, you need to hawk it out to all kinds of events to make that money back, even with the £161 million of public funding chipped in.
Which is why on the same day the newspapers are full of woeful stories about the standard of the pitch at Wembley, Saracens rugby team are trumpeting “10,000 knights to descend on Wembley Stadium”:
The iconic venue will step back in time to middle England as medieval acts perform around the stadium and fans will get be able to join in the theme with 10,000 of them dressed in knight’s tabards that will be on sale on the day.
Then the Saracens rugby team will play Harlequins. In the summer, Green Day and Muse will host concerts.
One former groundsman at Wales’ Millennium Stadium said “Everybody expects the pitch to be perfect, even though it also stages rugby league, motor racing and American football, along with concerts.” And the lack of rest for the pitch in the summer is even more damaging. “Clubs have six to 10 weeks in the summer to work on the pitch but the demands of Wembley mean that is impossible. At Wembley, because of the use, the root zone has compacted and as a result the drainage isn’t good enough.”
Attempting to deal with the poor state of Wembley’s pitch, the Football Association reportedly plans to relay it every three months at a phenomenal cost of £125,000 each time.
This enormous expenditure on a facility not fit for its primary purpose inevitably raises questions over the Football Association’s priorities in spending. In the Telegraph, Henry Winter laments the lack of quality English managers, and says money spent on Wembley would have been better spent on training coaches: “For a 10th of the outlandish cost of a stadium the FA doesn’t need and can’t afford, it could already have built the National Football Centre and set up a production line of managerial talent.”
Of course, the Football Association just had to have Wembley instead, whatever the cost.
- Jonathan Wilson says adjustments to the offside law have massively benefited the game: “The modern offside law may be the best thing that’s ever happened to football, and it is almost certainly the reason Barcelona have been so successful with a fleet of players whose obvious asset is their technique rather than their physique.”
- Rochdale A.F.C.: now just one win away from only the second promotion in their history, a remarkable feat for a club founded in 1907.
- Stan Kroenke takes over. . .oh, the St Louis Rams.
The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.