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Wembley Now More of a ‘Home Away From Home’

Posted by Scott Kegley on October 31, 2010 – 7:49 AM

Previous NFL international games held at Wembley have turned muddy do to wet weather, but the hope is that won’t be the case today when the 49ers play the Denver Broncos.

Roger Maslin, the Managing Director at Wembley National Stadium, oversaw the installation of a new playing surface since last year’s game.  The field is now roughly three-percent synthetic and should hold up very well with all the various sports that are played here.

“We want Wembley to be a home away from home for the teams when they play here,” said Maslin.

Below is the transcript of my interview with Maslin just a few hours before kickoff.

Q: How did you decide on this blended playing surface?
A: There are a variety of different field surfaces weather you go from purely artificial to just grass and variants in between.  What we’ve done here is remove the top 10 inches of the old surface, replace it with sand and then put in seeded grass so it is a properly seeded pitch.  We then strengthened it with a little bit of fibers.  It’s called a Desso GrassMaster system.  It’s similar to an extent to what the Denver Broncos have.  You can imagine the size of your hand of sand.  It’s strengthened by fibers about an inch in either way that go about 6 to 8 inched deep.  In each hole, you have about six fibers that go down.  It gives extra stability and playability.  When the guys want to turn or accelerate, it holds very well.  At the moment, it’s arguably the best surface for the variety of field sport – whether it’s soccer, American football or rugby union.  Since we’re a multiuse stadium, we then want to use the surface for other events like concerts where we have to cover up the surface for a limited period of time.   We need two to three weeks after a concert for the grass to recover.  With this product, there is so much fiber in there (only three percent in actuality) it gives it extra stability.  You can play on that surface without there being any grass at all.  The grass itself just gives the aesthetic quality to the field of play.  With American football, with the fantastic logos on the field of play, you want the grass on there to receive the various logos.  This is a 49ers home game so it’s great to see their logos all over the place and it looks fantastic.

Q: Will those logos the take two to three weeks to fade out?
A: We’ll have an England international game in just a few weeks. The grass will grow out.  Through a natural growth period and a bit of washing, we’ll either cut or wash it out.  There might be a little shadow in a few weeks time, but in about ten days it’s usually all gone.

Q: Are there any other stadiums that have looked into this type of surface?
A: You tend to find them in our Premiership football where they’ve strengthened the grass with some sort of fiber.  Man City, Arsenal and Tottenham have a similar technology because it’s the most robust technology at the moment.  The soccer athletes’ movement differs from that of American football where more people run up and down in the center of play.  In football, there’s more acceleration from side to side and backwards and forward.  In order to accelerate or turn quickly, you want a surface that can accept a stud but then it holds it.  That’s the beauty of this system.  The sand drains very well but it can receive the various sides of studs.

Q: Have you received interest about this technology from American football teams?
A: Yes.  We’ve had our challenges in the last four years with the pitch.  We traditionally had what they call a lay and play surface where you roll out a new field.  That gives you maximum flexibility but not the same strength and the same versatility as the field we have today.  The guys have been practicing on it and the surface hardly moved in contrast to what we had three years when it poured with rain and you had large divots taken up.  That won’t happen on this surface or if it does, it will be a rare phenomenon.

Q: If there is rain today, is that a good test for it?
A: Rain is actually better on this surface.  When you go to a beach, the san near the water is more compact and is a sturdier surface.  The sand up the beach is looser.  When it rains the sand drains very quickly so you don’t have the issue of flooding that might have been a problem with some of the older surfaces.  From that point of view, it’s a real bonus.

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