Nowadays, you’d be hard-pressed to walk through a town or city without stumbling across the beautiful game in one form or another. Whether it’s a park kickabout or a Sunday league final, you don’t need to go far to experience the ways in which football has ingrained itself in our nation’s culture. Of course, it hasn’t always been this way.
First originating in the mid-1800s, football has evolved significantly over the years. Every aspect of the game, from rules, kits and balls to sports technology and boots has been continuously improved and developed, forming the game that many know and love today. Of course, the element that has experienced the most significant change is the pitch on which the game takes place. From muddy parks and uneven ground to great floodlit stadiums and expertly engineered grass, football pitches sure have come a long way.
Here at Sportsmark, we’ve taken a look back at football pitches through the ages, exploring how they’ve changed and what it is that makes them great.
Read on to discover the story behind the stages of champions.
During the sport’s formative years, football pitches were significantly different from what they are today. Most notably, there were no pitch markings. That’s right, owing to the lack of specifications from the Football Association regarding line markings, pitches consisted of goal posts, rough boundary fences and corner flags. Aside from these primitive elements, the form of the pitch was rather unkempt.
Moreover, the ground on which the players ran was equally unpredictable. Owing to the lack of drainage technology and modern groundskeeping, pitches were often incredibly uneven, covered in mud and rather dangerous to play on. In fact, it was the introduction of better pitch maintenance that enabled the sport to evolve as it did. We’ll discuss this in further detail, but it is important to understand that many contemporary styles of play are made possible by the quality of modern pitches.
It is important to note that the early days of football did not demand the same attention to detail as the sport does today. Many aspects of the pitch were left to the discretion of those setting up the game or maintaining the grounds. In fact, even the size of the pitch was unspecified, with early regulations allowing pitches to vary quite dramatically in length and width.
In 1863, the Football Association stated that the maximum length of the ground should be 200 yards (183m), while the ‘maximum breadth’ would be 100 yards (91m). These outlines were vague and meant that pitches were often vastly different from one another, making it difficult to maintain a level of consistency in play and matches. Modern regulations governing UEFA’s competitions allow for fewer surprises, with pitches required to be 100–105m long and 64–68m wide.
Today, regulation football pitches must conform to much stricter rules. Almost every aspect, from grass length and soil type to pitch watering is controlled, leading to a fairer game across the international stage.
As previously mentioned, early football pitches had no markings and varied greatly in size. Aside from the specified 8 yards that separated the goalposts, the rest was left to personal choice. However, as time went on and the sport developed, the need for stricter regulations became apparent.
From the introduction of line-marking paint and grass-marking machines to groundbreaking technology designed to regulate moisture content and heat, a number of significant changes led football pitches to become what they are today. Below, we’ve outlined a handful of innovations
In the late-1800s, a change in the rules introduced the idea of goalkeepers only being able to handle the ball in their own half. Therefore, a halfway line was introduced to pitches alongside the centre circle that is familiar to most today. The purpose of this 10-yard circle, also known as the ‘smith circle’, was to prevent players from getting too close to the ball at kick-off. These early markings made it easier for referees to be sure that the rules of the game were adhered to.
It may come as a surprise to discover that during football’s primitive stages, the goals were no more than two posts, 8 yards apart. Of course, this design posed a number of problems; most notably, there was no limit on the height of a shot.
Owing to this obvious flaw in pitch design, goals with crossbars and nets became mandatory in 1882.
Shortly after the introduction of the halfway line and centre circle, penalty kicks were brought into the game. These disciplinary measures, aimed at those who committed a foul within 18 yards of the goal line, allowed players to take a penalty kick from anywhere on the 12-yard line. The penalty spot, as we know it today, was not yet introduced. In fact, the goal area and penalty marking underwent a number of somewhat obscure periods before settling on well-considered boxes and a penalty spot in 1902.
Fast forward half a century and football pitches began to experience some real technological advancements. The most notable of these developments was the introduction of undersoil heating in 1958. At Goodison Park football grounds, around 30 km of wire was laid below the surface, designed to prevent freezing on the pitch. Although this cost the club over £16,000, the technique was incredibly effective.
Following the introduction of undersoil heating, football pitches were granted another game-changing upgrade. In 1960, the first-generation artificial turf was introduced. Of course, this was far from the lifelike artificial grass we are used to today; the turf was constructed from stiff nylon fibres set on asphalt or concrete bases. After a number of adjustments, second-generation turf was introduced by a number of football clubs here in the UK.
As fans of the sport may already know, modern pitches utilise a hybrid combination of natural grass and artificial turf. This design enables the advantageous characteristics of a natural surface, such as moisture retention and cushioning, alongside the durability of man-made fibres. New pitches will typically feature a surface made from 97% natural grass and 3% synthetic turf.
By incorporating a small percentage of polyethene fibres into the natural grass, the pitch becomes significantly more durable without sacrificing any of its beneficial properties. For example, these hybrid pitches remain consistent all year round, no matter the weather conditions or temperature. What’s more, the natural grass roots latch onto the synthetic fibres, making the ground far less vulnerable to damage from boot studs.
It’s safe to say that football pitches have come a long way since the days of mud and ambiguous sizing. Nowadays, well-kept grounds, crisp white lines and striking green grass are expected, and groundskeeping teams across the world pride themselves on this level of excellence.
Of course, for a pitch to look its best and withstand play, it is essential that high-quality equipment is used during its maintenance. Here at Sportsmark, we have been trusted by clubs and sports grounds across London and the Southwest to provide high-quality groundsman equipment for over 60 years.
Whether you require top-of-the-line football pitch equipment, grass-marking machines or turf maintenance tools, you’re sure to find what you need with us. Our friendly and experienced team are always happy to discuss requirements and offer advice. Don’t hesitate to get in touch today.
Call us on 08000 197 733 or send an email to email@example.com.