Neil Doncaster's Blog - Fir Park
With Scotland experiencing its worst winter in over 30 years, it was never going to be an easy time for SPL groundsmen. Already this season, we have seen 10 SPL games called off, and one abandonment – in each case due to the exceptionally harsh weather that we have seen since the onset of winter.
The 12 head groundsmen of our clubs are struggling to battle the snow and ice. Having to juggle the competing demands of pitch covers, irrigation systems and under soil heating presents a huge challenge. And creating a match pitch that meets the requirements of the SPL’s rules is a far from simple task.
An adequate standard of pitch
Against that backdrop, the SPL Board has to determine whether clubs are maintaining an “adequate standard of pitch”. At each league match, the SPL sends an official match delegate. And part of his job is to assess the pitch and award it a mark out of five. These marks are collected and kept, to give the Board a complete historical picture of how each club’s pitch is performing over a season.
When a pitch starts to perform poorly, this is quickly picked up by the SPL and allows us to take whatever action is required. It is vital, for the integrity of the league competition, that each club is treated even-handedly and does not receive a competitive advantage by playing its home games on a surface that is not fit for Scotland’s premier football competition.
After the events of last season, when Motherwell’s pitch caused serious concern, the Fir Park pitch was ripped up. In conjunction with the SPL’s own specialists, a programme of reconstruction work took place, at huge expense to Motherwell, last summer. And, it is fair to say, up until the huge snowfalls in December, the Fir Park pitch was behaving well – on average it received a mark of 4.5 out of five.
But the last three games at Fir Park have made it clear that the surface has recently been inadequate for Scottish Premier League football. As a result, the SPL has to determine what to do about the situation.
We have inspected the pitch twice over the last week, since the Hibernian game there on Saturday. And we have met with representatives from Motherwell, including their head groundsman and pitch experts that have been brought in by the Club. Motherwell are undertaking an extensive (and expensive) series of remedial works this week. The Club have given firm assurances that the remedial works will give the pitch far more stability and will be safe for play this weekend. On that basis, we have decided to allow the match against Kilmarnock to go ahead at Fir Park.
However, we will be sending our pitch experts to review the state of the surface pre-match, during the game and post-match. If the remedial works prove insufficient to create a safe, stable, adequate surface, we will revisit the situation next week.
At a time when money is so tight and the winter so harsh, it is important that the SPL is supportive of its clubs and their efforts to get games on. But it is also vital that the integrity of the league competition is not compromised by playing surfaces that are inadequate. The decision to allow the Motherwell game to go ahead this weekend was a difficult decision – but one that we consider fairest to everyone in the circumstances.
Neil Doncaster, SPL Chief Executive
Start date 2010/11
Change: For the benefit of all
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