Football is one of Britain’s greatest exports. And while England, Scotland and Wales have lagged behind other nations on the pitch in the last 50 years, the UK has led in using technology to change how people play and watch the game.
It is important to understand how exactly pitches have changed over the past half a century, as the way our stadiums are now built are highly considered by many to be a poignant reflection of the society in which they exist.
Unfortunately, the progress doesn’t all come from positive places. The Hillsborough Disaster in 1989 has had a huge impact on how stadiums are now designed and built. There were a variety of factors that led to the stadium becoming extremely over crowded, causing the death of 96 fans.
Since this, all the major sports stadiums have become all-seating models with no standing around the pitch. After the disaster, a raft of legislation was introduced to formalise the obligation that football clubs had to their fans. This change has so far been successful and has prevented another awful tragedy from occurring.
The Modern Pitch
The first ‘modern’ pitches started arriving in the late 50s and 60s, as clubs began to understand the importance of a good pitch for players and fans. Later on, innovations in irrigation, undersoil heating and even grass types were made by some of the richer clubs – although many pitches would resemble potato fields in the winter months. Later on, as more money entered the game, smaller clubs were able to ensure their pitches were up to the same standard as the biggest in the country.
During the 60s, the first artificial football pitch made an appearance, although it was soon after banned, as teams who played on these surfaces gained an unfair advantage. Before re-allowing them into the game, the FA took steps to standardise measurements and ratios to ensure that players would be comfortable playing on any pitch. However, the majority of all matches are still played on traditional grass.
Football pitch markings are no longer painted on by hand, which, as you can imagine, would take up a lot of time. Lines today are painted on by line-marking companies such as BowCom who focus on improving not just football pitches, but rugby and tennis too.
Another concern for the safety of football fans, was that they were often in the same section of the pitch as their rivals. The laws surrounding ticket sales also changed, in 1994, in order to prevent this and tickets were now only sold through the clubs themselves.
Now, fans of different teams are segregated resulting in less violence, hooliganism and verbal abuse. Stands are safer, while still retaining that unique atmosphere that makes going to the football so fun.
If you look at a football pitch 50 years ago and look at a football pitch today, they look identical. However, the way that the pitch has improved around the pitch in the stadium, and behind the scenes, has definitely had a huge impact and has evolved from the improvement in technology.
Nowadays, a modern football pitch will have underfloor heating, state of the art drainage systems and advanced irrigation, as well as goal-line technology which can make a call as to whether the ball crosses the goal line or not. All of which helps to make the beautiful game even better than ever.