Wembley pitch is a 'global embarrassment'

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The Independent Football

Former Millennium Stadium groundsman Dave Saltman has branded Wembley's pitch "an embarrassment on a global scale" and called for those in charge of the national stadium to reduce its "appalling" schedule.

The playing surface came under scrutiny after the weekend's FA Cup semi-finals, not least when Tottenham defender Michael Dawson slipped to allow Frederic Piquionne to score Portsmouth's extra-time opener on Sunday.

The pitch has been relaid 10 times since the stadium was opened in 2007 and Saltman, who was head groundsman at the iconic Cardiff venue for part of the time it was used for FA Cup finals, admits that is a key factor in the recent problems, but also an inevitable consequence of Wembley's necessarily lucrative calendar.

And with the FA Cup final, Coca-Cola Championship play-off final and Saracens' rugby union match against Harlequins to come at the stadium before England's friendly against Mexico on May 24, there is little scope to address the issue in the near future.

"It's never going to be perfect because there will be times when the timescales between different events are so tight that you have to hold your hands up and say 'That is going to have to do for the next game'," Saltman said.

"It cannot ever be viewed like one of the Premier League grounds, unless Wembley look at reducing the amount of different events that are on there."

Problems underfoot have dogged the new Wembley, much to the frustration of Saltman.

"For our industry, it has been a major thorn in our side," he said.

"British groundsmanship and greenkeeping right across all grass sports is revered the world over.

"Unfortunately our iconic stadium, the home of football, has been an embarrassment on a global scale for the country, for the football team and for the grounds industry.

"In some respects there is no getting away from this appalling events schedule that they have.

"It's all very well managers quite rightly standing up and saying 'How are we expected to put our £100million squads out on this pitch?', but Wembley have to make a decision about whether they are going to upset the bank manager or upset the English league."

Geoff Webb, chief executive of the Institute of Groundsmanship (IOG), called for an inquiry into the state of the pitch.

He said: "The IOG believes UK grounds management leads the world and, therefore, the expertise to overcome and solve the Wembley problem does exist.

"We would suggest that an independent inquiry would be in the best interests of everyone to understand the nature and cause of the ongoing issues concerning Wembley's playing surface and the IOG would be a willing partner in facilitating a possible solution.

"We would welcome the opportunity to lend our expertise to solve the problem."