With Mbombela stadium recently in the spotlight for the successful re-growth of its pitch, FIFA.com caught up with 2010 FIFA World Cup pitch consultant, Richard Hayden, on the 10-day stadium inspection tour to find out about the work going in to making sure South Africa has top-class pitches for the tournament.
Standing on what, only two weeks ago, was a pile of sand and is now a lush green pitch, Hayden, from the UK-based STRI (Sports Turf Research Institute), describes how at Mbombela, and the other World Cup stadiums, the pitches are being prepared for the tournament.
“First thing you have to do is start off with good foundation. Here [Mbombela] we started from a good foundation three weeks ago and you can see the pitch is responding very nicely. You need to get the pitch correct in terms of the specifications, in terms of the sand you are growing it in, in terms of the drainage of the pitch and then you seed it. If you have good weather conditions like we have here it will grow very quickly.”
For Hayden the choice of grass is essential in determining the quality of the pitch, and in this case it is necessary to look outside South Africa’s borders for the perfect grass for the World Cup.
“We have been championing the use of this cool season rye grass. When people start seeing it in use here they will realise its benefits over the native kikuyu grass, which is very wiry grass and goes dormant at the time of the World Cup,” said Hayden who cautioned that the grass must be monitored around the clock. “You have to nurture it, water it and help it resist disease and other stress."
With the World Cup just a few months away, Hayden and his team are fast preparing South Africa’s World Cup pitches for the football spectacular and are prepared for the hard work ahead. It is the week leading up to the first match that will have the pitch team working the hardest.
“There is a huge process and huge science in preparing the pitch before, during and after the game. So a week out from the game we will be striping it in the FIFA cut pattern and double mowing it every day so that it looks good but also to encourage growth.
“In the run up to the World Cup we are going to be watching very closely how much water we put on the pitch. For games during the day in particular, modern footballers like a spray of water on the leaf of the plant to encourage the ball to slick on the surface. At half time the groundscrew will have to do some divet repairs and after the game we do a cleanup of all the loose grass and then mow it again for presentation. We use two types of mowers – the big cyclinder mowers which give us these nice big stripes and a firm true surface but also a suction mower which allows us to pick up all the debris,” explained Hayden.
For Hayden, the pitches, or the “green jewels” as he refers to them, are the most important part of the World Cup.
“The importance of the pitch to the World Cup is that people come in and look at the stadium for 10 minutes, but they look at the pitch for 90 minutes and that’s really what we need to focus on. But it is also about the players. When the players leave, their impression of the stadium is very much based on how comfortable they feel on the pitch. It really is the most important thing in a stadium. You can get away with a lot of things, but getting away with a bad pitch is difficult”.
During the tournament itself, Hayden and his team will be on hand to ensure that everything runs smoothly.
“During the tournament STRI will be performance testing the pitches using the latest technology. There will staff going to every stadium during the tournament to make sure they perform to international standards. That will be a big job during the tournament."
“We will take a preventative approach to making sure the pitches are at their best with the testing beginning weeks before the tournament. We will then have the confidence that these pitches are all consistent and playing to the top international standard,” said Hayden.
Hayden would prefer that the hard work being put into preparing the pitches for the World Cup never be mentioned at all though.
“A successful World Cup means a pitch is not mentioned. That’s the definition of success. The focus should be on the players and the game and the pitch should not be the focus point. Great pitches will demonstrate that South Africa will do this World Cup as well or better than anyone else in the World,” concluded Hayden.