TigerTurf UK: 'The installation of a 3G pitch has the potential to create new sources of income'
Paul Langford, Managing Director at TigerTurf UK explains how artificial turf has evolved by AtTheMatch
AtTheMatch Team Talk with Paul Langford
What are the main benefits of your sports turf?
At TigerTurf, we’ve developed a culture of innovation, whereby we produce bespoke sports turfs with the performance qualities necessary for top level training and competition, and the durability to ensure the surface stands the test of time when maintained correctly.
The vast majority of our synthetic sports surfaces have been approved and certified by international sports governing bodies, with many of our elite level football surfaces tested to FIFA 1 and 2 star standards. This means clubs coming to us with an interest in using an artificial surface can benefit from the reassurance that we have a product developed specifically for their players, and with the backing of the sport’s international governing body.
How have things changed in this industry in terms of the technology used to develop synthetic pitches?
Synthetic pitches are now expected to reach much higher standards than they were when they first became popular in the ‘80s, which is great news for players and coaches, and forces manufacturers to leave no stone unturned when it comes to delivering on quality. The latest generation of TigerTurf products give the player the same feel as if playing on natural grass.
Yarns – the man-made fibres that form the equivalent of blades of grass – need to be able to sustain the rigorous performance standards of modern football, and at TigerTurf we have an international research and development department tasked with making use of the most advanced yarns available.
How have attitudes changed towards synthetic pitches from coaches, players and other professionals in the game?
Anecdotes from younger players today suggest that contemporary 3G surfaces don’t just replicate the playing conditions of natural turf, but can in some cases exceed them. One of the facts that even the staunchest of critics shouldn’t ignore, is that natural pitches are subject to nowhere near the intensity of testing as that of their artificial equivalents. When I see pitches in the lower leagues cut up badly over the winter and seriously hamper the quality of football on show, I do wonder why there isn’t the same level of testing applied to both.
The popularity of small-sided football, which is almost always played on an artificial surface, now gives us a generation of players who have grown up playing on synthetic turf and are certainly open to playing on it competitively – both at amateur and elite levels.
From a coaching perspective, consistency is another major plus point, and having a pitch where the bounce and run of the ball replicates that of a natural surface means technical work at training grounds and academies can be done with quality. We’re seeing a growing number of coaches and groundsmen work together to ensure pitch usage is monitored, maintained, and ultimately plays consistently.
Is there a stigma attached to synthetic pitches in football because of the poor quality synthetic-turf pitches in the 1980s?
There is no hiding from the fact that those poor quality pitches that made the headlines for the wrong reasons in the ‘80s did create a stigma which has been difficult to shake off ever since. What we need to remember however, is that it is now 21 years since Preston North End – the last team to have an artificial playing surface in England – removed their pitch. Two decades is a long time in any industry and the latest generation of artificial grass used for sport is completely unrecognisable from the infamous ‘plastic pitches’ used by the likes of Preston, QPR, Luton Town, and Oldham Athletic.
Over the last 21 years, we’ve seen a number of manufacturers bring real quality to the market and the stigma is beginning to turn as a result. The last couple of years have been huge for artificial turf in the UK. Spring 2014 saw the FA take the bold decision to lift the ban on the use of 3G pitches in the FA Cup and by last summer, the Conference had made the decision to allow the use of 3G pitches in their respective leagues from the start of the 2015/16 season.
Perhaps the biggest signifier of a positive shift in the perception of synthetic pitches was the Football League’s vote on the future of 3G pitches for first team fixtures last November. While the vote may have ended in a tie – therefore meaning 3G pitches will remain outlawed for now – the Football League was forced to acknowledge a desire amongst clubs to find out more about artificial playing surfaces. This is a remarkable shift away from the negative opinions of synthetic playing surfaces we saw as recently as a decade ago.
Aren’t the costs of a 3G pitch for example too high for Football League clubs when many are struggling financially?
Like with any financial outlay, Football League clubs considering artificial turf will need to look at the payback periods and their return on that investment.
The wider use of 3G surfaces has three obvious benefits from the outset. Firstly, a 3G surface will allow a club to maximise playing time and address fixture backlogs, which is undoubtedly an attractive proposition for junior and senior teams at all levels. In addition, whilst artificial sports turf isn’t completely maintenance-free, it certainly reduces the amount of daily maintenance required and completely abolishes the need for heavy maintenance to restore worn surfaces. Both of these combine to make community clubs much simpler and cheaper to run.
The installation of a 3G pitch actually has the potential to create new sources of income and greater opportunities for people to get involved in sport at all levels. A wide range of sports can be played on the latest 3G surfaces in addition to football, which means community clubs can provide multi-sport facilities – creating central community hubs to meet the full demand of local sports players. Given that Football League clubs don’t have access to anywhere near the levels of television and commercial revenue of their Premier League counterparts, improving stadia to the point where they can be used to generate additional revenue is invaluable.
Other objections focus on the traditions of the game. Doesn’t synthetic grass remove a key tradition of the sport?
Whilst some of the Football League’s older players may have grown up playing on natural grass, the growth in popularity of small-sided soccer over the last decade or so means a huge proportion of the younger players will have developed their skills on synthetic pitches. As a result, many are used to the consistency that man-made surfaces offer and it is only a matter of time before tradition can no longer be given as a reason not to opt for 3G surfaces.
Are players likelier to get injured on synthetic turf – particularly the strain on joints?
Although there have been instances where coaches have blamed poor quality artificial pitches for a player’s injury, we are yet to see any research which proves that players are any more or less likely to get injured on synthetic turf. What we mustn’t forget is that poor quality natural pitches have the potential to put players at risk, yet we very rarely see them tested to any universally-accepted standards. Some elite level clubs are reporting that players are receiving less injuries when playing on synthetic surfaces compared to natural, especially ACL type injuries.
What are the main challenges associated with manufacturing synthetic sports turf?
The main challenge is avoiding complacency with the existing high levels of technical excellence of the product and continue to push boundaries and create the ultimate surface.
How can commercial stakeholders in sport capitalise on the services you offer?
We recognise that every club has its own particular requirements and challenges, which is why we place a great deal of emphasis on selecting the right sports turf for the project in hand. There really is no such thing as ‘one solution fits all’. As part of our overall offering, we also provide reliable advice on installation and maintenance, with after-sales support, which can extend the life of the surface in question.
How do you see your industry developing in the future? What are the latest trends in this sector?
The biggest hurdle for the industry to overcome is the perception of artificial pitches, but this is beginning to change, as we saw during last year’s Football League vote, where as many votes were in favour of 3G as against. With a higher number of synthetic pitches available to youngsters at schools and community facilities around the country, we will soon reach the stage where the players progressing through Football League and Premier League academies are far more accustomed to honing their skills on 3G. In fact, it is a requirement of Category One academies such as Wolverhampton Wanderers to have to 3G pitches in place already, which is sure to play a part in changing perceptions for the better.
One of the other major developments we will see from our industry in the not-too-distant future is a drive towards increasing sustainability. We’re now reaching a point where early adopters of 3G are seeing their pitches reach the end of their natural lives after 15 years or so of use. This brings about a need for products capable of making use of otherwise landfilled products such as end of life waste plastics and a rubber crumb infill. We’re expecting new systems to enter the market in order to deliver just that, and it is our intention to lead the way.
For more information on TigerTurf (UK) Ltd and its industry leading portfolio of synthetic turf, visit www.tigerturf.com.Click here to stay up to date with AtTheMatch