Suncorp’s surface the sign of a bigger problem

After Brisbane Roar took on Western Sydney Wanderers on a sub-standard pitch at Suncorp Stadium, Sebastian Hassett argues our game deserves better.

Brisbane v Western Sydney

Brisbane and Western Sydney played on a sub-standard pitch on Friday night. Source: Getty Images AsiaPac

When Yevgeny Kafelnikov walked off the court at the end of the Davis Cup semi-final defeat to Australia in 1999, he delivered a superb sledge of the sub-standard surface: “[It was] like playing on a potato field”. 

Maybe he was being a sore loser, but everyone knew he had a point. The court in question was in fact the Queensland Sports and Athletics Centre – the very same one used by the Brisbane Broncos. 

Most people remember that as the tie where a lanky Wayne Arthurs endeared himself to the Australian public for the first time, but it’s Kafelnikov’s quote that sticks in the mind for me. 

Fast forward 17 years (and 18 kilometres north) and you would sincerely hope that issues about pitch surface and grass quality would be a thing of the past. With Desso technology, heat lamps and so on, we could probably grow indestructible grass on the moon if we wanted to. 

But no. Clearly not.

Football might be the most regular tenant of Suncorp Stadium – yes, there are more games of football there than rugby league and rugby union – but ‘regular’ clearly does not mean preferential, as Friday night’s 1-1 draw with Western Sydney showed. 

Coldplay are (probably) the world’s biggest band, so it’s no surprise they are given top billing when in town. Having seen them live at another A-League venue, Allianz Stadium, I know how much of the field they take up (all of it – fans are on a plastic floor covering the pitch) and how long it takes to recover (at least a week). 

How this wasn’t factored into the schedule of all the key stakeholders is beyond belief. Big bands like that don’t arrange their tours the night before – it’s usually months in advance. So everyone knew this was coming.

Of course, what usually happens is that everyone is too stubborn to move anything, and that it’s simply easier to just “make do” with the original scheduling plan in the first place. If the game suffers, it suffers. What difference does the grass make, anyway? 

Well, quite a lot. An inordinate amount. Any football aficionado will tell you that. And Brisbane, who have played a passing and possession-based game since the day Ange Postecoglou walked through the door, need a pristine pitch to play their style on. 

After six years, it’s not as though the stadium management and the state government (who own the venue) aren’t aware of how the team wants to play and the optimal conditions required to facilitate that. 

Just take a look at some photographs from the night to see how bad it was. It resembled something of a golf hole, with a clean fairway down the middle and two patches of rough on either side, with the 18-yard box looking like a green at the end. 

Again, this is a problem that happens when football is not given the priority it both needs and deserves. Yes, we live in a country where football has to compete with various other interests and entertainment forms – even rock concerts – but it’s still not an excuse. 

The sooner we get to control the destiny of our venues, the better. Suncorp Stadium is a magnificent facility, one of the best in the country, but every year it struggles to cope with the amount of traffic from over-use.

The same is true of other stadiums in the same boat, although AAMI Park seems to cope (earlier this year aside, when a grass disease saw rugby union scrums churning the turf) better than most - and it has to deal with four teams wanting access. 

We have clearly made great improvement in turf management since the A-League began, when horror stories were dotted up and down the eastern seaboard. But it’s just something we can’t take our eye off, as this latest incident shows. 

It was interesting to see Tony Pignata, the Sydney FC chief executive, claim he would have asked for compensation from Suncorp Stadium for the pitch presentation. A bold statement but bang on the money. We can’t always be docile renters when the landlords fail in their obligations. 

Perhaps the PFA’s pitch ratings – which allows the players to objectively review every field each week - need to become part of future rental negotiations. 

If we’re not getting the best fields every week, it proves that if we look below the surfaces we play on, we’re still secretly considered as second class.

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5 min read
Published 24 December 2016 at 11:33am
By Sebastian Hassett