The roots of synthetic grass
The first third-generation synthetic soccer field was installed in the Netherlands in 1996. Of course, it didn't just suddenly appear; a history led up to it. What is that history? What are synthetic turf's origins? Where does it stand today? What do players think of it? Read on and learn the answers to these questions and many more.
Introduction to synthetic turf
The year was 1965. The place was Houston, Texas. More specifically, the Astrodome, the world's first domed stadium. The field of the Astrodome had been covered in natural grass. Of course, the grass needed to be kept nice and green, which requires sunlight. So the Astrodome was built with a transparent roof to let the sun shine in.
There was just one problem. The glinting of the sun on the roof caused serious problems for players trying to catch fly balls. To solve the problem, the roof was painted. As you might guess, that solution beget another problem: the grass no longer received sunlight.
As a solution to this new problem, the stadium owners and engineers decided to replace the grass with the first ever artificial playing surface. This was a green carpet made of nylon fibers. The surface was installed for the baseball season of 1966 and a new era was born.
The first generation synthetic turf
Synthetic turf carpet was introduced to Europe in 1970. But this carpet was different. Instead of nylon fibers, it was made of a different synthetic fabric: polypropylene. It was cheaper than nylon. It was more comfortable. And polypropylene was softer so players were at less risk of injury. This first generation of synthetic turf was what we now call carpets, with closely packed tufts.
The second generation synthetic turf
In the late 1970's, along came Disco and further development in synthetic turf. This second generation features longer tufts spaced more widely apart, more closely mimicking natural grass. Sand was spread between the fibers to create sufficient firmness and stability for the players.
Second generation synthetic turf fields provided a flatter playing surface than natural grass, which gives better ball control and prevents balls from shooting off in unexpected directions.
This was a great improvement, especially for field hockey. But acceptance of synthetic turf for field hockey was slow in coming; it would not widely replace natural grass fro another ten years. But acceptance ultimately did come and today there are few hockey clubs that do not have artificial turf.
The second generation is less suitable, however, for several other sports such as soccer. The playing characteristics and behavior of the ball on these fields is not comparable to natural grass, and sliding tackles can result in painful abrasions from the sand. Nevertheless, some soccer clubs did try out these fields in the 1980's. But it was not until 1996 that a surface was developed that proved truly suitable for soccer.
The third generation synthetic turf
After the arrival of the fields spread with sand, scientific and technological advances led to a new type of field. The third, and current, generation of synthetic turf. A third generation turf is in a class of its own and cannot even be compared with earlier generations. This turf has longer fibers (>55mm) which are spaced further apart in the carpet. They are not usually made of polypropylene but with polyethylene, which is even softer and kinder to the skin. These fields are spread with rubber granules in addition to sand. The combination of fiber and infill ensures a comfortable playing surface; even sliding tackles are no longer a problem. As there is plenty of space between the turf fibers, cleats sink well into the surface, which puts less stress on the players joints and allows the foot to get under the ball. These developments have made the third generation excellent for a number of sports, most notably soccer.
And, as a happy bonus, the new synthetic fields look more like natural grass as well.