would argue that one of the great improvements over the years has been in
the area of pitch and turf technology. Even at the end of a season
nowadays pitches look more like the surface of a snooker table than the
mudbaths of old. Derek Hales, probably best known in his days as a
Charlton player, recollected some of the pitches played on -
'I also played for Derby
and West Ham and they had the two worst pitches in the country in
the 70's when mudbaths really were mudbaths. It was like playing on
a beach at Derby. The ball would be hoofed up in the air and just
land with a 'plop' - it would never roll anywhere. A lot of the time
there was so much sand on that Derby pitch it was like Margate
beach. I was in the stand the day Gerry Daly was about to take a
penalty and the pitch was so muddy and sandy that the groundsman had
to come on and paint the penalty spot.'
penalty spot repainting took place at Derby's Baseball Ground in a First
Division match against Manchester City on Saturday 30th April 1977. With
minutes remaining the Rams were 3-0 up against 10-man City - Brian Kidd
had been sent off - and were awarded a penalty. But the penalty spot had
disappeared into the mud and before the kick could be taken the groundsman
had to measure out the distance from the goal-line and then paint the mud
to mark the new penalty spot. The groundsman that day was Bob Smith and he
later recalled the problems he suffered with the pitch during his 17 years
at Derby. The pitch was 4 feet below street level, the drainage system was
almost non-existent and the stands stopped any drying winds. Despite those
problems when Brian Clough was manager there he often ordered that that
pitch be watered if he thought a particularly soft surface would give his
side an advantage. Before a 1972 European Cup match against Benfica even
Cloughie was to later accept that the watering was too much saying that
there was "enough water on the ground to have staged an Olympic diving
Frozen and waterlogged pitches have
been the biggest cause of postponements over the years. The traditional
cure for both was the cover the pitch in a thick layer of straw. Straw
absorbed the excess water from a waterlogged pitch and protected the pitch
from frost during freezing weather. The strategy was not always
successful. Once Newcastle covered a frozen St James' Park pitch with
straw and then set fire to it to try to melt the frost. It then started
raining and to add to the mess a layer of sand was added. Probably not the
best surface to play the beautiful game on!
Pictured is the Maine Road ground of
and the treatment it was getting to make it playable for the FA Cup tie
against Swindon Town on January 10th 1953. In those days braziers were the
most common method of trying to thaw out the pitch although in
latters even a flame-thrower was tried elsewhere. The cup-tie at
Maine Road was played - and City
Technology progressed and in May
1958 Everton's Goodison Park became the first League ground to have
undersoil heating installed when some 20 miles of electric wire was buried
beneath the pitch. It worked - in fact in worked too well! The extra water
from the melted ice and frost was too much for the drains and waterlogged
the pitch. In 1960 the pitch had to be dug up again to install extra
drainage. Since then the wires have been replaced a more standard form of
'central heating ' - warm water pipes.
Leicester City pioneered an
innovation in the 1970s which perhaps surprisingly didn't catch on. They
inflated a giant balloon over the Filbert Street pitch which kept the
playing surface frost-free and protected it from the snow and rain. The
polythene balloon - or tent as it was
sometimes called - was the largest of its kind in the world and was
inflated to over 720,000 cubic feet by four propeller fans, weighed over a
ton and could be erected by 15 men in two hours. The cost was £8000 but it
paid for itself. Not only did it cut down on postponements (no system
protected the terraces and approaches to the ground) but it also brought
revenue from extra matches being played at the ground. In one week in
January 1979 alone Filbert Street attracted over 70,000 fans to the
Second, Third and Fourth replays of the FA Cup Third Round tie between
Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday while the rest of the country was
Once you've got the pitch
drained and then warmed-up to prevent a frozen surface the next thing to
do is to get the sun to shine on it to get the grass to grow. But, hey,
this is England and in winter a bit of artificial sun-light is needed. A
picture of Fulham's Craven Cottage ground showing the solution to that
bury Charlton in the sand' and 'Chelsea coast it'
were some of the headlines that described Chelsea's 4-1 Premier league
Charlton at Stamford Bridge on Saturday January 11th 2003. The match was
played on sand. Charlton manager Alan Curbishley said 'It reminded me
of a piece of land about to have a patio laid on it'. And he wasn't far
wrong. Chelsea had decided to re-lay their pitch immediately after the
match and had removed the old grass surface leaving only the sand base on
which the new pitch would be laid. After the match Charlton demanded a
rematch stating that the rules banned matches being played on an
'artificial surface' although the rules do not state that the playing
surface should be grass only that it is of 'adequate standard'.
The Premier League let the result stand although they fined Chelsea £5,000
for not keeping Charlton informed about the state of the pitch prior to
the match. With a little bit more information they could have had the
correct beach flip-flops ready to wear!
Over the years many an animal has found itself on a football pitch - dogs,
chickens, squirrels, foxes and Vinnie Jones to name but a few!
Burton Albion lost an FA Cup Third Round replay in January 2006 5-0 at
Manchester United they complained that they hadn't just been sharing the
Old Trafford pitch with their opponents but also with some unexpected
visitors - mice. Most grounds have the occasional rodent problem in the
spectator areas as a result of large amounts of discarded food waste but
it is a tad unusual to find them invading the pitch during a match.
United's next match at Old Trafford was against Liverpool four days later
and as one United fan said 'Rafa Benitez may think he’s the big
cheese but I still think Fergie’s boys can squeak through'.
But perhaps the
strangest creature to be rescued from a football pitch was a....fish! Back
in January 2005 Carlisle United's Brunton Park ground was drying out after
severe flooding but just before the pitch was finally cleared of water a
goldfish was found swimming around the goalmouth. Apparently it had found
its way to the ground after escaping from its bowl in a nearby flooded
house. Nicknamed Billy after the half-human, half-fish creature who was
Fulchester United's goalkeeper in the Viz comic, it was rescued and
put in a tank. It proved to be a lucky mascot for the Cumbrian club who
were in the Conference at the time. A Carlisle spokesman was later to say
about Billy - 'It’s fair to say that the good luck tag has been an
appropriate one for Billy. From the comfort of a fish tank in the
reception at Brunton
Park he has overseen United’s return to the Football League, the League
Two title triumph, trips to the Millennium Stadium and the new Wembley
Stadium and even a club record run of 14 consecutive home victories in the
2007/08 season.' Rumour has it that rather than sack unsuccessful
managers for a while club chairman up and down the country took the cheaper option of buying a
tank of fish just to see if it would work for them!!
Whatever you think about the global warming debate there can be no
argument that the winter months of 2015/16 saw some extreme weather
conditions with tragic consequences in
various parts of the country. Sadly as far as League football was concerned
Carlisle United's Brunton Park was again badly hit by the waters. On this occasion the club was exiled from their home
ground in Carlisle-on-Sea to Preston, Blackburn and Blackpool (results)
to play 'home' fixtures, the pitch having to be
relayed and considerable
damage to the club buildings needing repair.
Salford City became well-known when
Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and Phil and Gary Neville took over
as owners but on October 28th 2017 they made the headlines for another
reason. Goalkeeper Max Crocombe was sent off during their National League
North match at Bradford Park Avenue - for urinating on the pitch! He was
caught short with minutes of the match remaining and did the business in
front of some very unamussed supporters. He later apologised saying that
he 'was in a very uncomfortable position and made an error of
It didn't take long for Gary Lineker
to have his say on Twitter...
Yes, that was our Gary recalling the
'most horrendous' moment of his life when he shit on the pitch (sorry, I
know that lowers the tone of the site!) during England's World Cup finals
draw against Ireland in Italy in 1990. Let's share that moment...
Mind you, it seems you can get
away with it if you have four legs! Liverpool 'keeper Ray Clemence and friend at a West Ham v Liverpool match
at Upton Park in 1972.
They say that groundsmen
would be happy bunnies if only they could
stop people kicking the ball around on their beloved turf. So when two
matches are played on the same pitch on the one day they must really get
upset. Only twice has a ground staged two Football
League matches on the same day.
The first occasion was at the end of the
1920/21 season. Stockport County were battling against relegation from
Division 2 when they entertained Sheffield Wednesday at their Edgeley Park
ground on Saturday April 2nd 1921. With County losing 0-1 referee Mason
rejected a strong Stockport appeal for a penalty, a decision which was
followed by serious crowd problems culminating in windows being broken in
the ref's dressing room.
As a result the FA closed Edgeley Park for
the final home match of the season. By then Stockport had been relegated
and just 13 spectators paid to watch County play Leicester City at Old
Trafford on Saturday 7th May 1921, the match kicking off at 6.30 after the
same ground had hosted Manchester United v Derby County in the First
Division in the afternoon. The paying attendance of 13 would be the lowest
ever in the Football League but in reality many of the 10,000 fans who
were at the earlier fixture stayed on to watch the second match for free.
The actual attendance for the Stockport v Leicester match was estimated at
between one and two thousand spectators (the match ended in a 0-0 draw).
The second occasion was at the start of the
1986/87 in the more humble surroundings of Hartlepool United's Victoria
Hartlepool's near neighbours Middlesbrough
were on the verge of extinction during the 1986 close-season. They had
been relegated to the Third Division, home crowds were regularly less than
5000 and they were heavily in debt. With literally ten minutes of a
Football League deadline remaining a consortium that included Steve Gibson
saved the day and reformed the club - as Middlesbrough Football and
Athletic Company (1986) - ensuring that they could start the League season
the following day. But not at their own ground!
Their Ayresome Park ground had been locked
by the Official Receiver forcing their first match, due to have been
played at home, to be staged at nearby Hartlepool. So on Saturday August
23rd 1986 the Victoria Ground hosted Hartlepool United's Division 4 match
against Cardiff City in the afternoon (1-1 draw, attendance 2800) which
was followed in the evening by the Middlesbrough v Port Vale Division 3
encounter (2-2 draw, attendance 3690).
With the reformed
Middlesbrough club playing their first 'home' match at
Hartlepool fate then decreed that the club played their first away
match at the same venue. So three days after the season kicked off at the
Victoria Ground, Middlesbrough returned there for the away leg of a
Littlewoods Cup tie against Hartlepool. Their first home match at Ayresome
Park was then in the home leg against Hartlepool with Middlesbrough
repaying their neighbours help by knocking them out of the competition,
3-1 on aggregate!
Town have had a problem with muddy pitches. Long before they dumped
Manchester City out of the FA Cup in the mud at the Shay ground in 1980
the club needed to lay a new pitch. The idea in 1968 was to play a giant
game of battleships with the pitch being plotted on a graph with punters
buying a square with the winner getting a couple of season tickets by
selecting a square with a penalty spot. Tickets cost just a shilling (5p)
a go with the proceeds going towards re-turfing the pitch. When they had
sold £200 worth (not bad - 4000 tickets) they realised that re-turfing
would not work as there was not enough time for the turf to knit so they
quickly changed the rules so that the proceeds could be used to re-seed
Fast forward 40 years and there has been a revolution in pitch science.
Nowadays with the need to have a surface which is able to support a
multitude of different users over 12 months of the year there are even
spare pitches which can be delivered to the main site as the photos of the
Millennium Stadium show. The groundsmen with just a fork has made way for
the fork-lift truck! How things have changed!
the most bizarre use of what is normally a football pitch was when Wembley
played host to the Race of Champions events in 2007 and 2008. The pitch
was transformed into a motor racing track with the likes of Michael
Schumacher, Jenson Button and David Coulthard treating the place like
Silverstone. Spectacular perhaps but not financially successful and the
event moved on to Bejing in 2009.
I did the tour of Craven Cottage once and
still remember the warning given - don't even think of stepping on the
pitch if you want to carry on living (well, something like that anyway!).
So I was surprised to see pictures of Fulham's first 'Picnic on the Pitch'
which took place at Craven Cottage in May 2015. OK it was after the season
had ended and was held to aid season ticket sales but people are walking
on the pitch and a tent has been erected on it!! I guess the ground-staff
were all the given time off to avoid the event or surely there would have
been palpitations all round that day. But a good idea I guess.
..1-5 down, just 10 players, less than half an hour left - but they win 7-6!
Full details of this Football League match and other great
fight-backs click on...