The development of Indian football has long been hurt by the poor quality of playing surfaces in grounds across the country. But the vexing problem of sub-standard fields may soon be a thing of the past — at least at the major centres — with the advent of the Indian Super League.
Australian Greg Gallin, the pitch expert who visited the ISL venues last year, was instrumental in putting together a renovation programme after finding that most of the playing surfaces were poorly maintained. The aim of the programme was to improve quality to the level prescribed by FIFA for professional football.
Chennai, the home of Chennaiyin FC, appears to have ben efited. SystemRex Turf Solutions, a Mumbai-based company, has been entrusted with relaying the surface at Nehru Park, which will be Chennaiyin FC’s training facility, and the Nehru Stadium.
A visit to the new-look Nehru Park ground on Poonamallee High Road reveals the quality of work that has gone into the renovation. Bright green patches of Bermuda grass (from Hyderabad) adorn the field which was earlier marked by red soil.
Pitch in-charge Milin Shah says: “We have finished our work at Nehru Park. Now the grass has to grow and that will take around six weeks.”
The Nehru Stadium has been witnessing hectic activity of late, with more than 100 labourers working against the clock to ensure that the opening ceremony and the first ISL match (October 3) take place without a hitch.
“We were given access to the ground (Nehru Stadium) by the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu on July 14. Our first and most important concern was to take care of the athletic track. We had to work within the domain. Moreover, the Chennai heat proved challenging,” says Milin. “The grass requires a lot of water and in this heat it requires more water. So we had certain issues with the water supply initially. With the help of club authorities and the SDAT, we solved them.”
Milin elaborates on why it was such a race against the odds. “To start and finish a football pitch, it usually takes two to three months. On an average it takes four months. Our challenge was to complete it in about 20-35 days. More important was the opening ceremony where we expect a huge turnout of stars and spectators. We want the pitch to be one of the best,” he says.
Milin says his team is committing double the time and man-power otherwise required. “More machines, more grass and extra fertilisation. Minute details were followed. There were regular inspections,” says the 37-year-old, whose company was involved in relaying the cricket pitch at the Wankhede Stadium in 2011 and football pitches for ISL teams in Guwahati and Pune.
Milin says Gallin saw the pitch and was satisfied with the work done, given the constraints under which his team had to work. Describing the process of relaying, Milin says: “Earlier, a tuft dwarfed (grass) variety was used, which was soil-based. Now it is sand-based. We have installed sub-surface draining systems. In the case of a heavy downpour, the pitch will be ready within the next 30-35 minutes and there will be no flooding. The sand-based turf has been recommended by FIFA as it does not retain water and helps the root of the grass.”
The work at Nehru Stadium, Milin says, is expected to finish over the next few days. “The grass will take another six weeks to grow to its potential. We will be just in time for the opening ceremony,” he says. “One month from now, you will see a different pitch.”
This feature is part of a weekly series on the sporting scene in Chennai