The grass isn’t greener at some football fields

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The grass isn’t greener at some football fields

Some K-League football fields are in terrible condition after suffering through a dry and humid summer followed by unexpected heavy rainfall in August. The conditions at some of the stadiums are so bad that more than half of the fields are barren and void of green grass.

One of the biggest reasons for the problem is due to the type of grass used - European-imported grass, which is supposed to be fit for all four seasons but does not actually hold up well in sweltering hot weather conditions combined with the heavy rains common during Korean summers. The lack of proper groundskeepers at many stadiums exacerbates the problem.

The poor field conditions have also wreaked havoc on the quality of recent games.

The Posco Cup final match between Jeonbuk Motors and FC Seoul at the Jeonju World Cup Stadium on Aug. 25 was a prime example of the problem that has been plaguing the K-League lately. The groundskeepers at Jeonju placed patches of new grass on its pitch, which created disastrous results for the players. Due to poor field conditions and uneven playing surface, players failed to connect on passes in many instances.

The field at Seongnam Tancheon Sports Complex during a recent match between the Seongnam Ilhwa and the Suwon Bluewings was worse and both sides played to a scoreless draw.

“Even recreational league players don’t play on such field conditions,” said Suwon manager Yoon Sung-hyo. “What we played out there today wasn’t football - it resembled rugby.”

Things aren’t any better at the Pohang Steelyard, the home field of the Pohang Steelers and the country’s first-stadium built specifically for football.

In preparation for Wednesday’s match against FC Seoul, desperate Steelers officials purchased green-colored sand for 2 million won ($1,690) and spread it on the field. It was visually passable to spectators but didn’t solve the problem at hand.

Seoul World Cup Stadium and Suwon World Cup Stadium each have four groundskeepers tending to their fields but other stadiums around the league are tended to by regional facilities management corporation employees. Other than Seoul and Suwon, proper groundskeeping crews are sorely lacking.

To add to the trouble, each stadium hosts several events other than football matches. Tight scheduling throughout the season makes it tough for team officials to take proper procedures to maintain field conditions. Jeonbuk team officials submitted a formal complaint to Jeonju city officials. A new pitch is to be placed in time for the Sept. 15 Asian Football Confederation Champions League match against Al-Shabab Riyad of Saudi Arabia.

For Seongnam, which is in first place in the league standings, there is no clear-cut solution.

“The city’s facilities management team seems to be tending to our stadium like any other sporting facilities managed by the city,” said a Seongnam Ilhwa official.

But Gangwon FC is a prime example of how city-managed stadiums can boast pristine conditions - in this case, Gangneung Stadium.

“We focus on watering the field and sprinkle nutritional supplements and herbicide periodically,” said the Gangneung official responsible for the field.

Said Lee Kang-gun, a Suwon groundskeeper: “The grass imported from Europe, which is supposed to be suitable for all four seasons, does not hold up well during the summer months. One needs to focus on a proper stadium drainage system and constant care.”


By Choi Won-chang, Kim Hwan [jason@joongang.co.kr]
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