Praise surfaces for pitch as stadium turf wins approval

Malaysia's Shahrul Saad (left) fails to get the better of Faritz Hameed during the Causeway Challenge match that ended in a 0-0 draw last Friday. Hameed said the lush surface was the "best pitch I've played on".
Malaysia's Shahrul Saad (left) fails to get the better of Faritz Hameed during the Causeway Challenge match that ended in a 0-0 draw last Friday. Hameed said the lush surface was the "best pitch I've played on".PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

While last Friday's Causeway Challenge between Singapore and Malaysia did not produce a winner, there was a significant breakthrough for the playing surface.

The lush green pitch was praised by players and fans alike for both its condition and aesthetic appeal, a sharp contrast to the repeated criticism from numerous parties since the $1.33 billion Singapore Sports Hub opened its doors two years ago.

Singapore right-back Faritz Hameed, whose tireless running meant he probably covered every blade of grass on his side of the field, called it the "best pitch I've played on".

He said: "It was in great condition and allowed us to play at a fast tempo, which was what coach (V. Sundramoorthy) wanted us to do. I hope the next time I play here it's as good as it was tonight."

The much-maligned turf was slammed as recently as May, when Tampines Rovers battled Selangor in the Asian Football Confederation Cup. Sandy patches were visible across the pitch and players slipped and lost their footing when they changed direction, leading to calls for improvement.

The complaints were nothing new. When the National Stadium reopened in June 2014, its original $800,000 Desso GrassMaster pitch - a hybrid surface made up of synthetic fibres and natural cool-weather grass - failed to grow evenly or to take root properly.

While Singapore's heat and humidity were a stumbling block, this was compounded by the stadium's dome design, which did not allow sufficient sunlight in.

The surface was panned for falling short of international standards by top visiting football teams, including the Brazil national team and Italian Serie A champions Juventus.

The Sports Hub spent $1.5 million on special lighting machines to stimulate grass growth in October 2014 before abandoning the synthetic and natural grass pitch two months later in favour of a "lay-and-play" all-grass surface. This was grown at a Kranji nursery and transported in rolls to the Kallang venue.

While the new pitch coped with the SEA Games, Asean Para Games and Barclays Asia Trophy last year, problems resurfaced at the AFC Cup in May.

These issues appear to have been finally resolved. Sports Hub's senior director of corporate communications and stakeholder engagement Chin Sau Ho told The Straits Times: "The Eclipse Stabilised Turf - commonly known as a "lay and play" surface - was laid just before the OCBC Cycle (Oct 1-2) in readiness for more sporting activity in the National Stadium from October to December. This includes last Friday evening's Causeway Challenge and the upcoming Battle of Europe 2016: England Masters vs Germany Masters.

"We have learnt much since the Eclipse Stabilised Turf was first laid in the National Stadium (in June 2015 ahead of the SEA Games) in terms of maintaining it vis-a-vis environmental and physical challenges such as a hectic schedule, and continue to work on improving our processes to ensure it is in optimal condition from playability and safety perspectives, for multi-sport use."

The public seem to agree. Facebook user Jaxon Lee wrote on ST's page hours after Friday's match: "The field looks amazing. Looks like Sports Hub finally got it right."

Besides the Nov 12 Battle of Europe football friendly match, other major sporting events to be held at the 55,000-seat National Stadium next year include three Super Rugby matches involving Japan-Singapore co-based team the Sunwolves (against South African teams Southern Kings on March 4, Stormers on March 25 and Sharks on May 20) and the HSBC World Rugby Singapore Sevens on April 16-17.

National footballer Faris Ramli also hopes the Lions will return to the world-class venue soon.

"Everyone was very excited when they saw how the field looked," he said. "Hopefully there will be more football matches played here and we get a chance to come back."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2016, with the headline 'Praise surfaces for pitch as stadium turf wins approval'. Print Edition | Subscribe