The UEFA European Football Championships are now well underway. This year’s “Euros”, as they are affectionately called, are unusual for two reasons. Firstly, due to the pandemic they are being held a year later than planned. Secondly, the games will take place across the continent in 11 different nations, as opposed to having just one or two host nations, as has been the norm.
Due to the sheer number of venues – and the huge geographical distances between them – the playing surfaces at the 11 different venues will, no doubt, become a talking point at some stage of the competition.
We spoke to Colin Corline, SAPCA Project Manager, about the surfaces used at the Euro 2021 venues and the use of natural grass, hybrid turf and synthetic surfaces in football.
- All three types of playing surfaces are available from SAPCA members. For more information, you can use the handy SAPCA “Find a Member” section here.
What kind of surfaces are this year’s Euros played on?
Like most major football finals in recent years, the matches staged across 11 venues will be played on a combination of natural and hybrid turf – a mixture of natural grass supported by artificial fibres. With the ever increasing use of hybrid technology at the elite level in football, this year sees eight of the 11 stadiums hosting matches using hybrid surfaces.
What exactly are hybrid surfaces?
The idea with a hybrid surface is that you stitch synthetic fibres into the base of a grass pitch to hold the root zone together. The natural grass then grows around the fibres, anchoring it and creating greater consistency and stability in the playing surface. The system allows an increased number of playing hours, along with faster recovery of the surface between usage. In England, the majority of stadium pitches in the top two leagues of English football (which are considered to be natural grass surfaces) actually have hybrid playing surfaces.
As well as increased endurance, another benefit of the hybrid turf system is its appearance.
There are no fully synthetic turf pitches being used at Euro 2021?
No, but synthetic turf is widely used at elite level. In the men’s game synthetic turf is used, to varying degrees, across many European leagues – including in Scotland, the Netherlands and a number of Nordic and eastern Europe countries. In many of these countries, artificial pitches have been used for more than 20 years.
Also, both FIFA and UEFA sanction the use of synthetic surfaces for their own competitions, such as World Cup qualifying games and both Champions and Europa League matches. In the women’s game, the 2015 FIFA World Cup was played entirely on artificial turf.
So a number of Scottish clubs, including those in the Premier League, play on artificial turf?
Yes, there are clubs in all four leagues in Scotland playing on synthetic surfaces, which the SPFL has sanctioned for 20 years and this does include currently four in the SPL.
What’s the situation in England?
In England, the four professional leagues have not yet sanctioned the use of artificial surfaces. However, synthetic pitches are allowed in the FA Cup and within the football pyramid up to the National League, but not above. In fact, both this season and last, the champions of the National League – Harrogate Town in 2020 and Sutton United in 2021 – have had to convert their pitches to natural grass ones, in order to join the Football League.
What are the major benefits for clubs opting for synthetic, rather than natural, turf at their venues?
Among the main benefits of having an artificial pitch is the considerable number of additional hours of usage it offers – and directly linked to that is the potential for significant income generation.
Due to the additional hours of usage, synthetic pitches can provide significant community use above and beyond a club’s match play usage, benefitting sports development at the facility. Also, in areas with inclement weather, synthetic pitches can offer a more consistent, year round playing surface.
In short, with the correct playing surface, a well-managed artificial pitch can provide a financially sustainable, heavily used facility for both the community and the club.
What about major tournaments? Is it likely that a World Cup or Euros will be, in future, played on synthetic surfaces?
Well, the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2015 was played entirely on synthetic surfaces. As for the men’s tournaments, never say never. With advances in both natural and hybrid turf technology, however, and the preference for having natural playing surfaces at elite level, it would appear unlikely in the near future.