Almanack: The answer lies in the soil . . .

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The Independent Online
A SAD story from Clitheroe FC of the Carling North West Counties League Division One. Strenuous efforts have been made since last season to improve the club's playing surface. But they have been in vain. To quote from the club's programme: 'The work was completed within two days of the season finishing and at the end it resembled a dessert (sic) . . .' Almanack has a suggestion to make. Clitheroe should follow the lead of many top clubs and contact the Sports Turf Research Institute, the Bingley-based boffins who have revolutionised the ground, as it were, on many of our grounds.

'Remember the seas of mud that used to prevail on football grounds not so long ago?' asks the Institute's Mike Canaway. 'There's been a great transformation in pitch surfaces for winter sports in recent years - a great deal of research into things like construction and drainage.'

For instance, the only area where Liverpool and Everton can at present compete with Arsenal and Manchester United is underground: all four clubs have pitches with sand-based construction to benefit the grass's root zone. 'It allows water to get away from the surface,' Mike explains, 'and avoids those old mud-baths.'

The institute's 55 staff advise more than 1,000 UK golf courses, as well as researching surfaces for bowls, rugby, and football. They are even rumoured to advise on the sacred sod of the Centre Court at Wimbledon. But there is one sport which has, so far, declined the advice of the Grass Sages. 'The cricket authorities in this country are reluctant to apply science,' Mike says, 'although there are things that can be assessed: uneven bounce and pace, for instance.' Predictably, the Australian authorities are forging ahead with cricket turf research, financing national ground surveys and assessing pitches by 'firing' balls at them. Mike is disconsolate: 'We're falling behind . . .' he sighs. And no doubt the thought of facing Shane Warne on a pitch designed specially for him will make our players sigh along with him.

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