Autumn 2010

Sustainable grass in professional football

Most professional football organizations (PFO) in the Netherlands have been training for a good many years on synthetic turf fields but playing their home matches on natural grass. Until recently only Heracles Almelo, AGOVV, FC Omniworld, FC Zwolle, FC Volendam and SBV Excelsior had made the switchover. In Almelo, Zwolle, Volendam and Rotterdam-East the fields are based on TenCate synthetic turf. txtures asked them about their experience.

The Polman Stadium in Almelo (NL)
Most synthetic turf systems in professional football in the Netherlands incorporate synthetic turf fibres and backing from TenCate. Heracles Almelo has been playing on synthetic turf since 2003. The present synthetic turf system in the Polman Stadium (Almelo) was developed entirely in cooperation with the club, suppliers and TenCate, the main sponsor. The board and players expressed complete satisfaction. ‘You can play the whole day long, all year round on a good field and always under the same conditions’, said Chairman Jan Smit. ‘The players have had good experiences playing on this synthetic turf system and are completely used to it.’

Fraud in the league?
The fact that fraud was said to occur in the league because one club trains at home and plays on synthetic turf and the other doesn’t is something Heracles chairman Jan Smit cannot accept. ‘In the whole of the Netherlands every PFO has the opportunity to play on synthetic turf – either on their own field, or in their immediate surroundings. Moreover, a half-hour warming-up session should be more than enough to get used to the field. Heracles Almelo will be playing on a natural grass field sixteen times this season and their opponents only twice on a synthetic turf field.’

(Picture: Rotterdam Sportstad)

When SBV Excelsior was promoted to the premier league it was required to install under-field heating in Stadion Woudestein, in conformity with the demands of the KNVB (Dutch Football Association). In view of the time available, this was not an option, so it was decided to install synthetic turf. From the start of the 2010-2011 season the club will be playing in the Woudestein Stadium on a new synthetic turf field with synthetic turf fibres based on a cutting-edge development, TenCate XQ™ technology. ‘We wanted a field that would satisfy the technical requirements we had set’, Chairman Simon Kelder tells us. ‘The field is not yet ideal, but it has been approved. We expect it to improve.’ And Simon Kelder is also convinced that there is no question of fraud. ‘Many players have now become familiar with synthetic turf. And anyway, not every natural grass field is the same everywhere.’

The symbolic placing of the kick-off spot in Heracles Almelo’s synthetic turf field by Chairman Jan Smit (left) and TenCate President and CEO Loek de Vries (photo: Wim Journee)
Bayern Munich coach Louis van Gaal said in 2007, when he was coach of AZ (NL):  ‘In a couple of years’ time the whole of the Netherlands will be playing on synthetic turf.’ In his view, clubs with synthetic turf gain an advantage from their field. His solution is to have all clubs play on synthetic turf. ‘Not until then can you talk of fair play’. At Heracles Almelo they think that Louis Van Gaal will be proved right and that in the future UEFA and FIFA matches will be played on synthetic turf. ‘Just look at the winter months. That’s when the difference between a good synthetic turf field and a natural grass field in a lamentable conditionare very clear.’

Training of the football team of FC Twente on synthetic turf
National champion FC Twente (Enschede, NL) as yet still prefers natural grass. ‘The present generation of players, coaches (and a great majority of the public) did not grow up with synthetic turf’, Eugenio Porcu (manager operational affairs) says. The club is, however, aware of the advanges. ‘At our training centre in Hengelo we have two synthetic turf fields. The major advantage of these fields is that they can be trained on for more hours than natural grass fields. Synthetic turf can be played on under almost any conditions and the maintenance costs are lower than those of natural grass fields.’
Young players nowadays are growing up with synthetic turf. Many amateur clubs already have at least one synthetic turf field. ‘The perception and acceptance of this generation as regards the improved synthetic turf and their own experiences may lead to the installation of more synthetic turf fields in the Netherlands being stepped up’, Eugenio Porcu believes.

Gert Jan Verbeek (picture: Heracles Almelo)
As the former coach of Heracles Almelo, Gert Jan Verbeek is familiar with training and playing on synthetic turf. In the AFAS Stadium his current employer AZ plays on natural grass. ‘In football it is important that the field has been prepared a well as possible. In the present summer conditions and the way in which the field at AZ is prepared, I would always prefer it. But it is possible that conditions will change and the quality of the natural grass decline and then I wouldn’t have any problems playing on synthetic turf.’

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