BCFC: Pitch Less Than Perfect

News broke on Thursday that Coventry City were close to agreeing a return to the Ricoh Arena having shared St Andrew’s with Birmingham City for two seasons. The return would end Coventry’s second recent spell in exile away from their home city – and more importantly for Blues give the St Andrew’s pitch a chance to recover.

St Andrew's taken 26 December 2018

A lot has been said about the St Andrew’s pitch in recent weeks.

QPR Boss Mark Warburton blamed the pitch for his team’s 2-1 defeat to Birmingham City, saying

“I felt the pitch was really poor. It was tough for both teams, hence you didn’t see a nice game of football.

While I’m sure Warburton would have been less critical had his team held onto their lead to win, there is no denying that the pitch at St Andrew’s isn’t a carpet right now.

It hasn’t always been this way.

Back in 2017 Blues proudly announced that the club would have a state-of-the-art hybrid pitch, following a six-figure investment. The pitch was bought from SIS Pitches, who installed the pitches for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and which offered better pitch stability and longer playing hours than natural grass surfaces.

The installation was the end of a year-long project and took five weeks to complete, with the sand and the soil underneath the grass cleaned out and replaced and a new gravel carpet installed to aid drainage.

The last couple of seasons have been tough on the pitch, and it’s shown this season with the turf looking cut up and offering no incentive to an attractive passing game.

Although Blues and Coventry are the only teams in the EFL to share a ground, seven other EFL grounds have multiple tenants.

Two Premiership Rugby teams are tenants of EFL clubs, with Brentford hosting London Irish at the Brentford Community Stadium while Bristol Bears share Ashton Gate with Bristol City.

Over the border in Wales, Ospreys of Pro14 share the Liberty Stadium with Swansea City.

Three Super League teams share pitches with EFL teams; Huddersfield Giants and Huddersfield Town are at the John Smiths Stadium; Hull FC and Hull City both play at the KCOM Stadium, while Wigan Warriors and Wigan Athletic both play at the DW Stadium.

AFC Wimbledon are the seventh team in the EFL to share a ground with a rugby side, sharing Plough Lane with the London Broncos of the RFL Championship.

However, while both codes of rugby are pretty hard going on pitches, the coronavirus pandemic has pretty much ensured that far fewer games have been played on those pitches.

The RFL Championship was abandoned last March and the London Broncos are yet to start the new season, while the Super League was abruptly brought to a halt in October and is only just returning.

This means that those clubs who host Rugby League sides have barely seen (or in Wimbledon’s case haven’t seen at all) their rugby club tenants play on their pitches, which makes it a damned sight easier to keep in good nick.

Likewise, Premiership Rugby has also been affected by the pandemic.

London Irish have only six home games so far this season and Bristol Bears seven. Again, that has to make it far easier to help the pitch recover and stay in decent shape.

In Wales, Swansea City decided that the pitch needed help, replacing it over the Christmas period with a hybrid pitch to ensure that things remained to a high standard. At that point, Ospreys had played just five games at Liberty Stadium.

Contrast that with the situation at St Andrew’s.

When Coventry City host Derby County in B9 on Saturday, that will be the 36th game this season played there. Furthermore, due to the late start of the campaign those 36 games have come in a much smaller timeframe than could usually be expected.

It’s only thanks to the curtailment of the League One season last year that the number of games played at St Andrew’s last season was kept below 50.

Assuming Coventry do go back to the Ricoh, for me it’s imperative that the club do what they can to make things better. While Coventry’s results at home show that the pitch isn’t the sole problem with Blues’ form, it can’t help having a pitch that needs so much TLC.

More importantly, having a carpet-like pitch is conducive to playing nice football, and isn’t that what we were told the owners wanted? One can’t help but wonder what the elusive Mr King thinks of things when he flicks on Blues TV right now.

I get that the money from Coventry was probably helpful but it’s time to invest that now to make Blues better.