The pitch and its dimensions, the effect of weather conditions and the ability of opponents to exploit them are as important to the game of football as the surface of a tennis court, the preparation of a test match wicket or in some extreme cases even the design of a golf course.
That fact isn’t always either obvious or apparent for armchair fans, watching at home. Or is it much of an issue at the standardised Premier League and Champions League venues where the UEFA match delegate scrutinises every last blade of grass pre-match and is seldom seen without a trusty measuring tape.
But at every other level the heady cocktail of pitch + weather is a very potent mix. And indeed, the context of unusual surroundings can be a consistent source of some advantage for home teams with a team set up to exploit the conditions – either of their climate or their literal back yard turf.
So, if you are watching games, I would always encourage you to pay close attention to the local weather conditions, the type of surface (and how it is prepared and maintained) and also the dimensions of the pitch in combination if you are watching a game.
The width dimensions of the pitch and even the proximity of the crowd to the action also add an additional layer of depth to this topic – and interestingly also, as an aside, for football betting too with a direct impact on goals and match tempo.
As a matter of course, you would expect a new manager at a club to have a detailed discussion about the qualities of the home surface, how it is to be prepared and its dimensions, with the groundsman. It may even play a part in the manager applying for jobs in the first place – or in their declining a specific job offer.
At lower grades, managers will actively use local conditions to inform their style of play, their team selection and even their ongoing recruitment policy.
What we don’t yet know of course is what the long-term exposure to increasingly popular artificial playing surfaces will be.
Certainly, the older scouts at a game I attended recently were involved in quite a detailed conversation about how modern players careers will be shortened if they consistently play on plastic pitches – 4G or not. Good players and good teams would always choose to play on grass.
And of course, there are all sorts of gradations in between of terrain and playing conditions – from howling gales and fog, to rutted pitches and bottomless bogs.
In truth pitch condition is a topic worthy of a massive study. Consider this a taster. It is something I wholly intend to return to in depth at How To Watch Football.