by Absolute Thai Football
In 2010 Aby Kurvilla became Arsenal’s Fan of the Year. With much fanfare he was flown from India to North London and presented with his award at The Emirates. Amidst the euphoria he made the deadly mistake of putting a foot on the hallowed Gooner turf. I can still see his shellshocked face as the groundsman barked simultaneously with his foot hitting the turf.
Of course in Thailand things are very different. The majority of pitches are in a poor state, but the general approach to the not so hallowed turf is also hard to figure.I once went to a TPL game between Army and Muang Thong which was rained off after five minutes but the lacrosse, that’s lacrosse, game started minutes after. Even expensively constructed surfaces often suffer from overuse partly due to a lack of attention to proper training facilities. If a local school is not available, pitches are often used for first team, second team and academy training, trial games and often, as was the case for Muang Thong with TOT, as venues for other clubs.
Many clubs don’t own their stadium. Some clubs have a robust relationship with their landlords, but others don’t. The 700 Year Stadium in Chiang Mai can, honestly, be booked for your children’s birthday party. If that party has a speedway theme then the customer is always right.
Groundsmen often have little idea of the needs of pitches, with little thought given to six yard boxes or seeding rather than slicing the turf. Equipment is also usually substandard with the area 30 centimeters around the randomly positioned sprinkler a flood zone and the rest of the pitch a desert. The FA should create a short list of basic norms to train pitch staff and regularly support their progress with seminars,trips to places of best practice like Terro or Suphanburi. This may seem a minor task, but the FA Cup semi final changed venues one day before kick off due to poor pitch conditions and the FA are,ultimately, responsible for delivering football.
Ironically, the Thai style of play is often a technical, passing game. If the surface was designed for a lump it and run pub team pitches would be perfect, but only enlightened clubs like Chonburi have created a surface that mirrors their playing style rather than undermining it.
As stadiums are upgraded pitches should improve, but the mindset needs to alter too. This is why a groundsman is a vital part of the club, not just a bin man with a pitchfork.
An English groundsman is part attack dog and part fan. He is almost resentful of himself for daring to cross the pitch threshold, his sullen expression resentfully acknowledging that, when Rooney scores, he will tear up his beloved grass with a raucous knee slide. We don’t need that level of manic possessiveness, but hiring experienced professionals who trains others in best practice would be a start. Who knows; it might even work for referees.