An interesting debate might be developing in the next few weeks or months in this country concerning one aspect of football that is rarely talked about. Coincidentally though at the same time in the Conference League in the UK, just over two months ago this debate was rife; it had to be taken through a ballot.
Best case example for those who might not have an idea of what one looks like is City Stadium along Jogoo Road in Nairobi. Once deemed unplayable, a little magic in the name of a carpet spread over it changed its status to one of the best surfaces in this league.
Just last week, Moi Stadium Kisumu followed suit after a FIFA project that saw the laying of an artificial turf came to a completion. For now the tweets from the governor on this ‘auspicious achievement’ will not stop filling our timelines, the images clouding our screens and the blind praises even without mentioning the name FIFA won’t stop any soon.
Away from the politics though and to the main source of worry- Can artificial turfs be a source of celebration for Kenyan Football? Are artificial turfs good for the development of our game? The debate might go on and on, with the oppossers and proposers each finding solace behind their points in equal measure.
Whereas artificial turfs are known to save lots of money on pitch maintenance and a cheaper option when compared to grass cutting, the truth of the matter is that they are not a perfect replacement.
Footballers will tell you, grass in its natural state provide the best surface for a game of football. Football managers on the other hand though will try to explain the financial burden involved in maintaining a proper grass pitch doesn’t reason well with the financial state of clubs and pitch owners.
The general agreement though comes in the sense that in both cases, maintenance is needed but performance relatively different.
Today in Kisumu, a town that is lucky to share the 2nd largest fresh water lake in the world with other East African town an artificial pitch is well celebrated. With a proper water system, devolutionised leadership; it shouldn’t be a problem having to nurture a natural grass pitch. Having in mind what Machakos Stadium has done in such a considerable amount of time, should we point a few fingers towards a certain direction?
In all honesty, today a small stroll on the City Stars pitch best describes our fears and uncertainties when these pitches are introduced into this country. Already showing signs of wear and tear just less than five years since it was laid, it just does not pose a risk to the players- it’s a hazard, an accident waiting to happen.
While the contractors who lay it predicted a decade (or close to that) durability period, the signs are all here for us to see, it might never take place.
On the other hand, we cannot shift blame from the bodies meant to maintain it, but in amazement wonder at our levels of accountability and responsibility.
Moi Stadium Kisumu has got a very rich potential for growth and sits on a very popular soccer fan base, the other question then would be- will the Kisumu crowd be disappointed before the predicted ten years comes to a close?
Drawing back to an argument raised by many oppossers of the artificial turf movement- the Kisumu weather and the hard surface will more than often do damage to play especially when the weather is at its element.
With very few matches postponed due to bad weather or very few pitches unplayable after a heavy downpour- my best bet would be an improvement in natural grass management in various pitches around the country. While maintenance might seem expensive, the truth of the matter is that nothing comes cheap- if cheap was the way to go, maybe the World Cup could have already been played on an artificial pitch.
So now even before a ball is kicked on the Kisumu pitch, will anyone stand up and ask a few questions? Is there a cause for celebration?
DID YOU KNOW; Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Elis Park Stadium; one of the grounds that hosted the 2010 World Cup Matches and home to Orlando Pirates in South Africa has a turf covered by pennisetum clandestinum also known as Kikuyu Grass which is native to the country, Kenya. (FYI- Thika United can’t play their home matches in Thika because the ground there is unplayable, what a shame).