In one day, we looked at the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal's Hale End Youth Academy, and Tottenham's White Hart Lane. Each place was so interesting and had so much going on, I couldn't fit it into one post. So, here is Part 1 of 3:
Remember that blog post I had at the beginning of summer about the Emirates Stadium reconstruction? Well, we were able to visit the stadium this week to see how the pitch is progressing.
Paul Ashcroft, Head Grounds Manager at Emirates Stadium and Hale End Youth Academy, took me and Amanda Folck, another intern at Arsenal from Ohio State, to take a look.
Currently, the pitch is a bit over one week old and due for its first cut this weekend. Like I said in my earlier post, everything about the pitch is new, from the undersoil heating to the Desso Grassmaster fibers, as well as the irrigation and perimeter artificial carpet.
Desso fibers and Perennial ryegrass blades
Below, you can see the current density of the 1 week old pitch beneath me.
But why completely rip out a pitch that has won the grounds staff numerous awards and has been lauded on social media by star athletes and fans alike?
Barclays Premier League Grounds Team of the Year two years in a row (2013/14 and 2014/15)
The Emirates Stadium was built in 2006, so the pitch was at the standard 10 year warranty for Desso-stitched pitches. The renovations after each season take a toll on the length of the Desso fibers, shortening them every year. The longer the fibers, the more the ryegrass roots have to anchor into.
From the viewpoint of the groundstaff, reconstruction is about preventing potential problems and fixing existing ones. If they were to take the old pitch into this upcoming season and parts of it started to fail, they simply wouldn't have time to properly fix it because of the busy match schedule and it would struggle to hold up as a result.
Close up of the current grass stand.
Another reason was to simply upgrade the aging irrigation and heating systems and make the maintenance of the pitch more efficient. Technology in any profession evolves a lot over a decade and sports turf tech is no different. Getting the most updated equipment in place allows the manager the most control over the pitch as possible.
New irrigation system allows for quick maintenance on the components
Other minor adjustments were also made. The perimeter irrigation heads have been placed into the artificial surface to leave no obstructions in the playing surface which will aid with player safety and to ease the difficulty when renovating the surface at the end of the season. The playing surface has a minimum of 1 meter of natural grass around the pitch; this area is to extend the transition zone from natural grass to the artificial surface with player safety in mind. As players run full speed out of bounds, they are at risk of injury due to the surface changing from natural grass to the artificial turf that surrounds the outsides of most pitches.
Because the artificial turf has different playing characteristics compared to grass, the players' boots could potentially stick in and cause a bit of an awkward transition/slow down. Dr. John Sorochan from the University of Tennessee works with playing surfaces and player safety and has done research to investigate this. The extra meter on the edges of the pitch can give the player a bit more time to slow down safely.
Pitch is a bit shaded in the morning
The reconstruction this year is just another step in the Arsenal ground staff's never-ending pursuit of perfection. As one of the most elite soccer clubs in the world, Arsenal have to maintain extremely high standards, starting from the
ground pitch up.