England's World Cup stars could miss the tournament through injury because of the Wembley pitch, according to one of Blackpool's victorious Football League play-off team who had to come off with a badly twisted ankle on Saturday.
The Blackpool midfielder Gary Taylor-Fletcher, who left Wembley on crutches because of an injury when his studs were caught in the turf, said that Fabio Capello's players could be at risk in their send-off for the World Cup against Mexico tonight.
Taylor-Fletcher, who said that he twice twisted his ankle because of the unpredictable playing surface, said: "The England players have got to be careful – there is a big World Cup coming up for them all. One slip and it could all be over for them."
His words came just after Rio Ferdinand became the first senior England player to speak out against the state of the Wembley pitch and ask the Football Association to explore the possibility of using the surface exclusively for football. The FA stages other events at Wembley in order to finance the debts it has on the £757m stadium. The current playing surface is the 11th laid in less than three years
Ferdinand said that Wembley "should [just] be a football stadium". The England captain said: "That's what it was built as. I believe that, if there are things going on there that make it a bad pitch to play on, that hinder the spectacle that is the football match – the FA Cup final, the play-offs – [then] maybe a decision needs to be made in that sense. But I think there are stadiums all around the world that are used for different things and they seem to get it right, so we need to look at it.
"I'm looking forward to [the game tonight] and, hopefully, from all the reports and the comments made, there's an improvement in it. We've just got to deal with it. Who knows, there could be a couple of bad pitches out in South Africa. You've got to deal with what's put in front of you."
In addition to the pre-tournament friendlies against Mexico and Japan next Sunday it emerged yesterday that England are planning one more warm-up game on 7 June, against the Platinum Stars. They are a South Africa ABSA Premiership side owned by the Royal Bafokeng nation, which also owns the training complex at which England will stay during the World Cup.
There is no likelihood of the FA being able to alter its business plan to make Wembley a football-only venue. On Sunday it will stage a summer ball for a commercial radio station that drew 7,000 people last time it was held. Between those events and the end of October there are two more music concerts, rugby league's Challenge Cup final and the American football NFL international series game, plus at least three England matches.
Asked about Wembley before Saturday's game, Capello said he did not want the surface watered because he feared that could contribute to players falling over, adding: "I think people are working very hard at Wembley. It's impossible to have a perfect pitch after the play-off and all the games that have been played. I was happy after the FA Cup final because I could see the players didn't slip during the game. This was the most important thing. If the pitch is not so good they can get injured."
The FA said that it was close to a solution. "Those involved with the pitch are considering a variety of approaches," a spokesman said. "Light and air circulation [in the stadium means] we have encountered difficulties, but we are determined to get it right."
Taylor-Fletcher, one of Blackpool's goalscorers, said that his injury was "the fault of ground". He said: "The studs got caught. We were told they were going to water it, but I kept changing studs and it didn't make a difference. I am another victim of the famousWembley pitch."
Capello's 30-man squad returned from their Austrian training camp at the weekend to prepare for tonight's game with the manager mulling over an international debut for Adam Johnson and starts for Ledley King and Jamie Carragher. The Italian has decided to rest his four-strong Chelsea contingent and goalkeeper David James, who played in the FA Cup final.
The Sunderland striker Darren Bent has a hamstring injury and is out of tonight's game. Robert Green and Joe Hart and will play one half each in goal.
That means a potential start for James Milner in midfield, alongside either Michael Carrick or Tom Huddlestone, with Theo Walcott on the right wing and either Aaron Lennon or Adam Johnson on the left wing. At their Austrian training camp on Saturday, selected players including Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Adam Johnson, Joe Cole, Carrick and Huddlestone practised penalties at the end of the session.