2015 saw a major football tournament held on artificial grass for the first time. The 2015 Women's World Cup saw teams from 24 countries compete in six stadiums, all fitted with the very latest artificial grass technology.
Artificial turf has been on the market for more than 50 years. This article explores where these futuristic surfaces came from, and where they might be heading in the future.
The first artificial turf is created in North Carolina by David Chaney, Dean of North Carolina State University College of Textiles. The relatively simple surface he invented was quickly used to create indoor baseball fields and "millions of welcome mats" according to popular magazine Sports Illustrated.
It took four more years before the first instance of artificial grass was installed in a school in Rhode Island.
The first full-sized artificial pitch is installed in the Astrodome, Houston Texas, which is why the surface is commonly referred to as "Astroturf'! It seemed to be the perfect answer to creating a playable surface under the stadiums painted glass roof. The new material could be used indoors, unlike its natural counterpart. Because artificial turf was still in short supply at this time, the pitch wasn't fully completed until the following year.
Artificial turf sees its second generation hit the market. This advancement featured more fibres, which replicated natural grass more accurately. It used sand infill to provide a more stable playing surface and performed to a much higher standard than anything that came before. Gradually, more and more sports clubs began to install artificial surfaces.
QPR is the first professional football club in the UK to install an artificial pitch. Several other clubs also adopt them soon after: Luton Town's Kenilworth Road, Oldham Athletic's Boundary Park and Preston's Deepdale. These second generation pitches do not impress the fans or players, prompting widespread calls for their removal.
QPR pitch is removed due to popular demand. The other clubs soon followed, with Preston being the last to switch back to natural grass in 1996.
3G is created. This technology revolutionised the artificial grass market. As the most accurate representation of natural grass to date, made of either polyethylene or polypropylene, its fibres were softer and less prone to absorbing heat than anything that had come before. Combined with rubber infill, the 3G technology provided a surface that players could use without the fear of injury that had accompanied older artificial pitches. It was these developments that finally made artificial turf a serious option for many sports clubs, football especially.
European football giants Real Madrid is the first major club to invest in artificial pitches for its training facilities. 11 pitches were installed with a total area of over 1.2 million square metres.
Dutch club Heracles Almelo receives a FIFA two-star certificate for the new pitch at its stadium.
A full international fixture for the 2008 European Championships is played between England and Russia on an artificial surface.
Arsenal invest in 1400 square metres of artificial grass for the Arsenal Training Centre.
Women’s World Cup is played entirely on artificial pitches.
Third generation (3G) pitches remain the ultimate in terms of performance and durability. New surfaces and systems do exist which are being referred to as ‘fourth’ or even ‘fifth generation’ (4G or 5G). However the number installations of these types of pitches to date is small and at present they do not enjoy the same performance characteristics as 3G.
Also, due to the infancy of these systems, none are yet proven in terms of the longevity of their safety, comfort and playing performance. With this in mind the preferred surface type of the Football Association remains 3G.
FIFA secretary general, Jérôme Valcke
The use of third generation pitches in a major tournament shows just how far artificial grass technology has come.
Speaking about the decision to experiment with artificial surfaces, Fifa secretary general Jérôme Valcke said: “It could well be that sooner rather than later the men’s World Cup will also be played on artificial pitches.”
The climate of Canada played a huge part in this choice, with natural grass pitches being difficult to maintain to the highest standard in the cold climate. Further commitment to 3G could see football at the highest level brought to new markets around the world, including the Middle East and South America.
With more and more top European clubs investing in artificial training surfaces, they could be coming to a stadium near you very soon.
Thornton Sports have over 35 years experience in sports surfacing. We are very proud to research, develop and manufacture our own artificial grass surfaces in-house, within the UK. As a result, our facilities are renowned for their performance and longevity and our team can provide a complete service from design, through to installation and maintenance.