Will the grass cut it?
That's the big question hovering over the upcoming A-League Grand Final this Sunday between Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory at Allianz Stadium in Sydney.
Nobody wants the A-League's annual showpiece played on a surface any less smooth than a billiard table, but the problem is this. Allianz hosts regular NRL games from March to September, as well as home matches for the NSW Waratahs in the Super Rugby competition in autumn. All that footy cuts up the grass.
That's why Melbourne Victory defender Daniel Georgievski called the Allianz Stadium surface "dreadful" as he watched Sydney FC beat Perth Glory 3-0 to qualify for the grand final last Saturday night. Perth players also reportedly slammed it in private.
So whose fault is it that the blend of couch and rye at Allianz Stadium is not up to scratch? The HuffPost Australia contacted the SCG Trust, which also manages neighbouring Allianz. The Trust explained that:
- Five fixtures took place at the Stadium in the seven days leading up to the A-League semi-final, including four rugby league matches. None of these could be moved.
- Curtain raisers for super rugby matches at the stadium have been abolished in a deliberate grass-protecting measure. This is important as rugby scrums are the number one grass-wrecker.
- Painted-on ads have also been done away with, in favour of the digital ads you see on TV which look like they're painted on. Paint doesn't necessarily kill grass but it does retard its growth to a degree.
- After a super wet March it got cool suddenly in Sydney in the past couple of weeks, which makes it hard to grow grass.
So in other words, the Trust is doing what it can.
Who's the bad guy, then? Could not, perhaps, the NRL or super rugby schedule have been amended ahead of the A-League Grand Final? After all, Sydney FC has been leading the A-League all season, and has looked extremely likely to host the grand final for some time now.
The Waratahs sat down with Football Federation this week after the Trust offered to release them from their contractual obligation to play this Saturday night at Allianz, but they refused to budge.
Moving the A-League grand final to ANZ Stadium, aka the former Olympic Stadium, was another potential option. It has a much larger capacity (83,500 to Allianz's 45,500), and right now it also has a smoother playing surface.
But despite a push from Melbourne Victory, that was never going to happen. Allianz is the spiritual home of Sydney FC. They are unbeaten there this year, in a season in which they lost only one game. That loss? It was at ANZ. Nuh-uh, no way the grand final was ever heading there.
"These things are always more complicated than perhaps first envisaged," FFA CEO David Gallop said on Tuesday.
"The fact is our grand final deserves a world-class surface and the traffic on Allianz Stadium makes this a challenge.
"The standard of the pitch last Saturday night had a noticeably detrimental effect on the play and we implore the Trust to work hard on minimising the impact of the rugby match to ensure the Hyundai A-League grand final is played on a surface that befits the occasion."
What exactly will the Trust do to try to ensure such a surface?
The first thing will be to break out the lawnmowers. Rugby union, rugby league and soccer all require grass to be cut to different levels. After the late Saturday night mowing, lines will be washed out and general repairs done. This will involve levelling out clumps like the one in the image at the top of this story.
Then hopefully on Sunday, the A-League Grand Final will happen and everyone will talk about the football, not the pitch. But don't bet on it.