DID YOU KNOW.....23
     
 

 

 

Football has a million and one stories and just as many facts and figures. Here are a few of them - the record-breaking, unusual and bizarre.

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PITCHES, and what they have had to put up with........

Few would argue that one of the great improvements over the years has been in the area of pitch and turf technology. Even at the end of a season nowadays pitches look more like the surface of a snooker table than the mudbaths of old. Derek Hales, probably best known in his days as a Charlton player, recollected some of the pitches played on -

'I also played for Derby and West Ham and they had the two worst pitches in the country in the 70's when mudbaths really were mudbaths. It was like playing on a beach at Derby. The ball would be hoofed up in the air and just land with a 'plop' - it would never roll anywhere. A lot of the time there was so much sand on that Derby pitch it was like Margate beach. I was in the stand the day Gerry Daly was about to take a penalty and the pitch was so muddy and sandy that the groundsman had to come on and paint the penalty spot.'

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Frozen and waterlogged pitches have been the biggest cause of postponements over the years. The traditional cure for both was the cover the pitch in a thick layer of straw. Straw absorbed the excess water from a waterlogged pitch and protected the pitch from frost during freezing weather. The strategy was not always successful. Once Newcastle covered a frozen St James' Park pitch with straw and then set fire to it to try to melt the frost. It then started raining and to add to the mess a layer of sand was added. Probably not the best surface to play the beautiful game on!

Technology progressed and in May 1958 Everton's Goodison Park became the first League ground to have undersoil heating installed when some 20 miles of electric wire was buried beneath the pitch. It worked - in fact in worked too well! The extra water from the melted ice and frost was too much for the drains and waterlogged the pitch. In 1960 the pitch had to be dug up again to install extra drainage. Since then the wires have been replaced a more standard form of 'central heating ' - warm water pipes.

Leicester City pioneered an innovation in the 1970s which perhaps surprisingly didn't catch on. They inflated a giant balloon over the Filbert Street pitch which kept the playing surface frost-free and protected it from the snow and rain. The polythene balloon - or tent as it was sometimes called - was the largest of its kind in the world and was inflated to over 720,000 cubic feet by four propeller fans, weighed over a ton and could be erected by 15 men in two hours. The cost was £8000 but it paid for itself. Not only did it cut down on postponements (no system protected the terraces and approaches to the ground) but it also brought revenue from extra matches being played at the ground. In one week in January 1979 alone Filbert Street attracted over 70,000 fans to the Second, Third and Fourth replays of the FA Cup Third Round tie between Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday while the rest of the country was snowbound.

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'Chelsea bury Charlton in the sand' and 'Chelsea coast it' were some of the headlines that described Chelsea's 4-1 Premier league victory over Charlton at Stamford Bridge on Saturday January 11th 2003. The match was played on sand. Charlton manager Alan Curbishley said 'It reminded me of a piece of land about to have a patio laid on it'. And he wasn't far wrong. Chelsea had decided to re-lay their pitch immediately after the match and had removed the old grass surface leaving only the sand base on which the new pitch would be laid. After the match Charlton demanded a rematch stating that the rules banned matches being played on an 'artificial surface' although the rules do not state that the playing surface should be grass only that it is of 'adequate standard'. The Premier League let the result stand although they fined Chelsea £5,000 for not keeping Charlton informed about the state of the pitch prior to the match. With a little bit more information they could have had the correct beach flip-flops ready to wear!

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They say that groundsmen would be happy bunnies if only they could stop people kicking the ball around on their beloved turf. So when two matches are played on the same pitch on the one day they must really get upset. Only twice has a ground staged two Football League matches on the same day.

The first occasion was at the end of the 1920/21 season. Stockport County were battling against relegation from Division 2 when they entertained Sheffield Wednesday at their Edgeley Park ground on Saturday April 2nd 1921. With County losing 0-1 referee Mason rejected a strong Stockport appeal for a penalty, a decision which was followed by serious crowd problems culminating in windows being broken in the ref's dressing room.

As a result the FA closed Edgeley Park for the final home match of the season. By then Stockport had been relegated and just 13 spectators paid to watch County play Leicester City at Old Trafford on Saturday 7th May 1921, the match kicking off at 6.30 after the same ground had hosted Manchester United v Derby County in the First Division in the afternoon. The paying attendance of 13 would be the lowest ever in the Football League but in reality many of the 10,000 fans who were at the earlier fixture stayed on to watch the second match for free. The actual attendance for the Stockport v Leicester match was estimated at between one and two thousand spectators (the match ended in a 0-0 draw).

The second occasion was at the start of the 1986/87 in the more humble surroundings of Hartlepool United's Victoria Ground.

Hartlepool's near neighbours Middlesbrough were on the verge of extinction during the 1986 close-season. They had been relegated to the Third Division, home crowds were regularly less than 5000 and they were heavily in debt. With literally ten minutes of a Football League deadline remaining a consortium that included Steve Gibson saved the day and reformed the club - as Middlesbrough Football and Athletic Company (1986) - ensuring that they could start the League season the following day. But not at their own ground!

Their Ayresome Park ground had been locked by the Official Receiver forcing their first match, due to have been played at home, to be staged at nearby Hartlepool. So on Saturday August 23rd 1986 the Victoria Ground hosted Hartlepool United's Division 4 match against Cardiff City in the afternoon (1-1 draw, attendance 2800) which was followed in the evening by the Middlesbrough v Port Vale Division 3 encounter (2-2 draw, attendance 3690).

Having played their first 'home' match at Hartlepool fate then decreed that Middlesbrough played their first away match at the same venue. So three days after the season kicked off at the Victoria Ground, Middlesbrough returned there for the away leg of a Littlewoods Cup tie against Hartlepool. Their first home match at Ayresome Park was then in the home leg against Hartlepool with Middlesbrough repaying their neighbours help by knocking them out of the competition, 3-1 on aggregate!

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Halifax Town have had a problem with muddy pitches. Long before they dumped Manchester City out of the FA Cup in the mud at the Shay ground in 1980 the club needed to lay a new pitch. The idea in 1968 was to play a giant game of battleships with the pitch being plotted on a graph with punters buying a square with the winner getting a couple of season tickets by selecting a square with a penalty spot. Tickets cost just a shilling (5p) a go with the proceeds going towards re-turfing the pitch. When they had sold £200 worth (not bad - 4000 tickets) they realised that re-turfing would not work as there was not enough time for the turf to knit so they quickly changed the rules so that the proceeds could be used to re-seed the pitch.

Fast forward 40 years and there has been a revolution in pitch science. Nowadays with the need to have a surface which is able to support a multitude of different users over 12 months of the year there are even spare pitches which can be delivered to the main site as the photos of the Millennium Stadium show. The groundsmen with just a fork has made way for the fork-lift truck! How things have changed!

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Perhaps the most bizarre use of what is normally a football pitch was when Wembley played host to the Race of Champions events in 2007 and 2008. The pitch was transformed into a motor racing track with the likes of Michael Schumacher, Jenson Button and David Coulthard treating the place like Silverstone. Spectacular perhaps but not financially successful and the event moved on to Bejing in 2009.

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