Former Blackburn striker, owner of one England cap and honorary non-league pitch connoisseur (a title seemingly awarded to himself after once playing the last 30 minutes of a 3-2 defeat for Wroxham) deemed it right to compare an extremely scruffy Wembley pitch to a surface from the lower tiers of the game.
As an ex-professional, Chris Sutton has no doubt seen the day to day efforts of groundsmen at various football clubs and training complexes. These professionals made it their business to prepare a surface they would never get to play on, to make it good (as instructed) to suit the individuals that would be playing on it and facing up to whatever challenges the weather threw at them to achieve this because it’s what they are paid to do.
In contrast, every weekend, thousands of volunteers wake up early to make sure their respective games can go ahead. Many of them will have just finished a 40+ hour week, and in some cases will have arrived at the ground straight off the back of a night shift. There will be heated discussions as ancient tractors and mowers are started with hammers and jump leads, a few swear words as tools that were “definitely there yesterday” have magically disappeared and the inevitable coin toss to determine who has to go on the butty run.
A final cut and brush, then all the pitch markings are completed from strategic markers left when the pitch was cut, the goalmouths are taped off to prevent teams warming up in them, and any divots will be repaired by hand. There are so many jobs to do, right down to the grass around the base of each post is trimmed with scissors to provide a neat finish, leagues ahead of that Wembley pitch.
Come 2 o’clock on a Saturday, there is just time to nip home for a quick shower and a bite to eat, before returning to pay £12 to watch someone else play on their hard work. The club secretary now looks a new man in his shirt and tie instead of his overalls!
The self inflicted state of the pitch boils down to the fact that Wembley has been let out as a multi-sport venue, that Tottenham’s new, multi-million pound, stadium is still incomplete and that the game wasn’t played at 3pm on a Saturday because of the money it could generate as a televised game at another time. How does that make it anything like a non-league pitch?
Non-League pitches are the way they are due to hundreds of hours of dedication and effort, often with substandard or dated equipment, and as a collective, we do not appreciate the comparison.
Apologies on behalf of all of football’s fantastic volunteers if this isn’t quite good enough for anything except a cheap shot at the monopoly that is modern football. Feel free to join us one Saturday morning Chris, I’m buying breakfast.