Wednesday, 21 April 2010

FA say they can't fix Wembley pitch until 2023

England's chances of hosting the World Cup in 2018 could be harmed by the news that the pitch at Wembley Stadium may have to be relaid as many as seven times a year until 2023.
A crisis meeting held today at the stadium attended by ground staff consultants, Football Association officials and the Institute of Groundsmanship failed to come up with any solution to the current problems other than having to constantly rip up the surface at a potential cost of over £8million.
It is thought that the pitch will be relaid before the Carling Cup and FA Cup Finals and at regular intervals throughout the season to coincide with England friendlies.
Geoff Webb of The IoG revealed that because of ongoing loan repayments the stadium will remain multi-purpose for the next 12 years at least.
"It is quite common for this to be the case at venue of this kind," he said.
"The FA have admitted that the pitch that was laid for the FA Cup semi-finals was too hard. But they hope that in future they will be able to solve the problem."
Having spent more than £750m on the stadium, the FA need to service their debts and have consequently allowed major sporting events to take place there, including rugby union and NFL matches, while the venue is regularly used to stage big concerts.
The easy alternative would be to reduce the number of events at the stadium but the FA are hamstrung by the debts.
The latest set of figures available at Companies House showed Wembley suffered huge pre-tax losses of £31.1m, following its £53.3m pre-tax loss in 2007.
At present, it is not expected to break even until 2014 and that will only occur if the number of events presently held stays at its present rate. It is still possible that Wembley could default on agreements with banks over its £326m loans if Club Wembley sales drop, which would certainly be the case if fewer events were held.
A new surface is currently being put down following Saturday's rugby match between Saracens and Harlequins when huge chunks of the surface reared up during scrummages, and it will be the 11th time it has been relaid since the stadium opened.
The new surface will be severely tested in the coming weeks with the FA Cup Final between Portsmouth and Chelsea to come on 15 May, before four play-off finals and England's World Cup warm-up friendly against Mexico.
The bigger fear for the FA is that next season's Champions League Final that is being hosted at the rebuilt Wembley for the first time will have the same problems with the turf. Such a scenario in a high-profile global match could only harm England's chances of then hosting the World Cup in 2018.
The pitch attracted fierce criticism after both FA Cup semi-finals earlier this month as Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp branded it "farcical" and said: "You wouldn't see players falling over all the time on a Sunday in the park".
Manchester United striker Michael Owen's season was ended after picking up a hamstring injury during the Carling Cup Final victory over Aston Villa and Sir Alex Ferguson said: "I think the heavy pitch at Wembley made some contribution to it."
Webb believes the pitch management could be improved. It has been the responsibility of the Sports Turf Research Institute since former head groundsman Steve Welch was sacked last year.
"I think it's coming down to the management of the situation itself within the stadium," Webb added. "You've got to look at the decision-making process and you've got to look at the control of that process as well."