Wembley Stadium operator Wembley National Stadium Limited (WNSL) has admitted that it will have to continue to regularly replace the pitch after accepting it cannot find a way to make grass grow inside the stadium bowl.
The admission effectively means that the stadium’s elaborate sliding roof - design to allow grass to grow effectively - has not worked.
The quality of Wembley’s pitch was widely criticised following the FA Cup semi-finals, which were played on consecutive days earlier this month. The problems were the latest to beset the stadium’s pitch since its belated opening in 2007. It will be the eleventh time the pitch has been relaid.
The stadium’s roof has a retractable element which was designed to ensure the health of Wembley’s ‘hallowed turf’. The new stadium has a steeply raked bowl ranged close to the pitch. The retractable roof was designed to allow air and sunlight into the ground so the grass will grow.
WNSL’s website makes clear the role the retractable roof is expected to play. “One of the key challenges of the design team was to keep the famously high standard of the Wembley pitch while, at the same time, designing a stadium with stands that are higher and closer to the pitch than the original stadium and give better uninterrupted views,” it says.
“Many new stadia have suffered from poor pitches as the stands in the stadia can leave large sections of the pitch in almost permanent shadow. Grass demands direct sunlight to grow effectively.
“For this reason, the sliding roof remains an integral part of the design for the new Wembley.
“Options such as a palletised pitch (moving a patchwork pitch in and out of the Stadium between events) or regularly re-laying the pitch were rejected as inappropriate for Wembley.
“Instead, computer models have been made of air movement and sunlight on the existing pitch and the unique moving roof designed for the new stadium,” it says.
However, this week the company said in a statement that it “appreciates we have to improve the quality of the pitch and we are determined to do so.
“We’ve enjoyed constructive meetings with a number of industry consultants who support our strategy and we will continue to liaise with them. “Under the current business plan there is provision for pitches to be changed over the course of a season, but there is no set number for this. “We will continue to review, monitor and work with industry experts to deliver a football pitch to the quality everyone in the country wants.”
Structural engineer on the stadium was Motts Stadium Consortium, consisting of Mott MacDonald, Connell Wagner, Sinclair Knight Merz and Weidlinger Associates. The consortia is still locked in a legal battle with contractor Multiplex over design changes to the stadium.
In a statement Mott MacDonald said it was the engineer for the building and that the client “employed specialists for the specification and construction of the pitch”. It declined to comment on the role played by the building on the ability for grass to grow on the pitch.
A WNSL spokesman said it accepted and understood the frustrations around the standard of the pitch at Wembley for the FA Cup Semi-Finals.
“The problems faced on the Saturday were due to the way the surface was prepared and the measures used overnight were unable to resolve the situation sufficiently for the match on Sunday.
“There is a unique challenge with the surface at Wembley and we are working with expert pitch consultants to get it right. Wembley Stadium is a multi-purpose venue and we have to hold other events as part of the business plan, which means regular pitch replacements each year.
“Football is the number one priority and we understand we have to find a way to deliver and sustain a consistent quality pitch and replicate the successful formula that we developed in the second half of last year,” he said.
Wembley Stadium said it would continue working with The Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI) to install and maintain the new turf.
The pitch will be the same type as was used in the latter part of last year.
“We will continue to refine the installation and maintenance regime to build on the formula that was successful during that period,” it said in a statement. “Wembley and STRI feel confident that we will be able to deliver and sustain a good pitch at Wembley for our busy football schedule in May.”
A number of the game’s leading figures have expressed strong concerns about the unsatisfactory condition of the playing surface during last weekend’s FA Cup semi-finals. Harry Redknapp, the Tottenham manager, described the pitch as “scandalous” after his club’s defeat by Portsmouth while earlier this season Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, claimed that it contributed to Michael Owen suffering a hamstring injury in the Carling Cup final.