Speers Point pitches spark heated debate

Wednesday, November 21, 2018


STICKY UNDERFOOT: Maitland’s Harry Maguire playing against Cooks Hill in the FFA Cup at Speers Point on Saturday. Picture: Brock Perks

NORTHERN NSW Football will re-evaluate its policy on playing matches in hot conditions at the Lake Macquarie Regional Football Facility after concerns from coaches about extreme heat coming off the new synthetic pitches.

National Premier League teams played on the artificial surfaces in round three of the FFA Cup on Saturday.

For many players from the region’s top competition, it was the first time they had experienced the pitches, which were laid in December as part of the new $11.3million centre.

NNSWF implemented a FIFA-standard heat policy, which called for games to stop if temperatures reached 33degrees or a 30-degree wet-bulb reading was registered.

The maximum temperature on Saturday at Speers Point was 28.7, but a game at the centre was abandoned on Sunday due to the heat.

Charlestown coach Shane Pryce said some of his players had come away with blisters on their feet because of the heat coming off the surface.

‘‘It’s made for winter, and as a wet-weather ground or for catch-up games at night, it will be wonderful, but it’s not made for summer,’’ Pryce said.

Adamstown Rosebud coach Graham Law said ‘‘my players did not enjoy it’’.

‘‘I grew up playing on synthetic surfaces in Europe, but they are not made for this heat,’’ Law said.

Lambton Jaffas coach David Tanchevski said his players had suffered blisters during a trial game on the surface a week earlier, but they had used Vaseline on Saturday to prevent a repeat.

Weston coach Trevor Morris said his side had pulled up well, but ‘‘the boys said it felt like their feet were melting through their shoes’’.

Hamilton coach Michael Bolch, Edgeworth’s Damian Zane and South Cardiff boss Greg Asquith said their players had no problems with the surface and came through the games well. Maitland’s Chris Turner said his players had told him ‘‘it felt sticky underfoot’’, but he ‘‘wouldn’t mind taking the team there again’’.

Broadmeadow coach Robert Virgili, who lost midfielder Alex Kantarovski for the season with a knee injury suffered on the surface on Saturday, said ‘‘the heat coming off the surface was unbelievable and the feedback from players was that it was a concern’’.

Law and Virgili have experience with watered synthetic turf overseas and were among coaches who believed a wet surface could help cool the ground and create better ‘‘give’’ underfoot.

But NNSWF chief executive David Eland said: ‘‘The surface is not designed at all to be watered. It is not like hockey.

‘‘This is state-of-the-art technology and the drainage is so good that watering it is a waste of time.

‘‘The water will go straight through the drainage cells and leave the surface.’’

Eland said rain on the pitch created extra humidity and even more heat.

He said he was ‘‘absolutely comfortable with having pre-season games’’ on the surface, but NNSWF would consider feedback from clubs and look at potentially delaying early FFA Cup fixtures until later in March, starting fixtures earlier in the day, having breaks in the middle of the day, having more games under lights and decentralising matches.

The FFA Cup qualifying series for Northern NSW will be at Speers Point in June.

Eland said ‘‘heat coming out of the surface is the only disadvantage that we have discovered’’ and the pitches had been brilliant despite been ‘‘absolutely thrashed’’ since being laid.

He said NNSWF had invested in underlay rubber which was purported to be 20per cent cooler, but there was no escaping the fact that the surface, filled with rubber and sand, would be hot in summer.