There are unquestionably some adaptations to ease natural resource problems that people are more resistant to, for a myriad of reasons.
Certainly, for the football fan, the idea that synthetic pitches could make a comeback as part of the fight against water shortages is little short of anathema – as the majority of the comments on the Guardian article that suggested it attests.
After some of the shocking, bouncy bouncy fare seen at the likes of Luton and QPR in the 80s and early 90s, and that’s without considering injury risk, it’s fair to suggest that a return to the deeply tongue in cheek-dubbed ‘plastic fantastic’ could quite possibly cause a revolt.
But it’s an idea back in vogue nonetheless. The Football League is consulting on the reintroduction of synthetic turf to matches in England after it’s started to re-catch on already abroad.
Tough financial times for many teams at the lower end of the game and sustainability considerations are two driving forces that could see grass shunned in some parts if the consultation concludes affirmatively. But what are the facts behind this being brought up again?
Well, it’s not the kind of thing that you’d be able to tap into our Water Energy Calculator, but the water and energy required to both make grass grow and keep games on when severe weather hits are pretty steep. The article cites 15,000 litres needed to water Crystal Palace’s pitch – UV lighting at the top clubs can run costs into the hundreds of thousands, and that’s without considering the carbon footprint of heating grass in winter.
Scottish club Stenhousemuir has saved £1,000 on its water bills after installing a synthetic playing surface. Where water costs are higher, or the climate much warmer, these savings could be even bigger. Sure, Manchester City are probably losing wads of thousands down the back of corporate box sofas every match day, but for the vast majority of the game’s clubs, such savings are significant.
But its nigh-on essential that the sustainability movement is not simply viewed as a fun-crusher – public buy-in to all change is essential.
While synthetic pitches have undoubtedly moved on since the bad old days, it’s hard to see them matching the subtlety in ball movement and touch that grass provides, so it’s encouraging to note that if football does want to tackle its leaky defences (apologies for that one) it seems there are alternatives to synthetic pitches. Phew.
Pitch run-off water after a downpour can be stored and recycled for watering the pitch. Chelsea is an example on this front – but so far only on their training pitch – while it would come as a surprise to nobody that Ecotricity-backed Forest Green Rovers are getting really serious about water re-use:
For pitch irrigation we are collecting the water from under the pitch to recycle back. Next we will collect rainwater from the stadium rooftops, and sink a borehole to reach the local spring water. Our pitch will thus be irrigated by a mixture of rain, drain and spring water – and we hope this will make it independent from the water main.
But while it’s the rich clubs that should be taking the lead in more sensible pitch innovations, clearly mass roll-out will require grass-roots investment from football’s authorities elsewhere. It remains to be seen in this happens, but for the purists, the great hope will surely be for efficiency without draining the life out of the beautiful game.