The census of 2012 of the Italian Football Federation recorded n.13.205 of football fields, but what is most important is that most of them are natural grass (about 8907 to 67.50%) of which largely are sown in natural soil, clay courts (about 2698 to 20.40%) while the synthetic grass are fewer (about 1600 to 12.10%). This numbers are similar to other markets as well.
The number of new fields is increasing, but in recent years, probably due also to a limited budget, there is a greater return to natural grass fields.
A natural grass field cultivated on natural soil often does not exceed 400 hours of play for good quality standards but what is often more important it's sufficient to play one game under heavy rainfall to form mud on the surface and/or compact the ground. Very often damages in these conditions are irreversible until the end of the season and require expensive extraordinary maintenance.
Nowadays, to limit the risk of suspending a game, are applied various methods to optimize the drainage of water and reduce soil compaction as for example:
In both cases the time for the development of the natural grass is well over the three months of the summer break and generally are made during one season to get ready for the next one. Alternatively very often we see that investors chasing the use of natural grass sod pre-cultivated on sand in nursery for at least 6 months before, while increasing the cost of construction and subsequent maintenance required for several years to integrate the sod of grass with thatch to the new growth medium.
The hours of play are usually limited to about 400 hours a year for good quality standard but do not guarantee the absence of divots or the playability of the a field under all weather conditions. The fieldin antural soil, although sandy loam, becomes muddy and is compacted easily if you play when it rains while the field in sand has a low tear resistance of sods especially during the winter when the roots are weak.
On the other hand, playing on natural grass field, when the anchorage of roots is insufficient that often occurs on sandy mediums during the winter and/or the player's action exerts excessive pressure on the surface, the turf tends to raise and forms dangerous divots. The evenness of the field is irregular and the safety of the players becomes questionable. At the same time restoring the turf sods after every single game is very expensive.
The artificial turf is an alternative for investors who want to make the most of the playing field. Some are buying a synthetic field thinking to a use of 24/24 hours a day, 7/7 days per week maybe for all the weeks of the year. Many often still calculate a potential use of about 2000 hours.
However, taking advantage of the field about 220 days a year for 6 hours a day we have a potential of about 1320 hours per year and actually for a variety of reasons political, climate, lack of users, time preferences or excessive presence of fields in nearby it is almost impossible to fullfill all schedule hours and when it exceeds 75% is already a success. In fact in most cases we have always registered actual use of up to 1000 hours per year even in those clubs with many members.
Said that, it is good to understand that even the fields in synthetic turf are subject to thorough maintenance. The fields of the latest generation in fact use the granules of rubber to infill the upper layer of the synthetic grass and make the surface softer for the players.
The rubber gives elasticity to synthetic turf but often the return of the energy to players make them feels back pain, higher risks of ankle sprains and knees but what constitutes the greatest danger often occult is the accumulation of excessive heat on the sport flooring that causes a precosius fatigue and risk of heat exhaustion and of course the abrasions on the skin in case of falls.
In recent years in Italy the problem of excessive heat has been reduced using the cork and coconut mixed with the rubber to retain moisture and achieve a more stable infill offering a better interaction of players on the surface with more natural feeling compared to just rubber, but some crossed the line of common sense and professional integrity.
The industry has introduced a 100% organic infill made from natural materials such as coco fibres, cork, rice husk, cob of corn, pine bark, peat moss, etc., in complete replacement of rubber in an attempt to simulate a natural feeling playing surface with the combination of artificial turf and 100% organic infill. In some cases, the playing surface is nice but there are strong limitations on the duration of organic infill.
At the same time consumption of water is relevant, higher than the consumption of water for a natural field, since the evaporation in bare soil in combination with higher temperatures on the synthetic surface is much greater than natural grass evapotraspiration. This contrasts with the one and main advantage of artificial turf that should reduce the costs of the maintenance.
And as if that were not enough, some argue that a synthetic field with 100% organic infill, end-of-life, if economic resources are scarce to replace the pitch and take the old one in authorized landfill, is possible to grind the synthetic grass together the infill (all in defiance of the rules for the environment) and reseed the surface with natural grass. We have no comment on this idea and hope that customers are sufficient informed before making any choice.
This last statement, in the spring of 2011, brought forth an idea to Dott. Niko Sarris: "why not build a natural grass field from the beginning, sowing grass in a synthetic turf, special designed to promote natural grass growth, creating a real strong Natural Grass reinforced with synthetic turf, capable of withstand up to 6 hours of play per day, enough to meet the needs of most of the sports club, which is about 1200 hours per year."
A few months later, in July 2011, the first opportunity appeared in the Italian market: a Rugby field in natural grass reinforced as an alternative to synthetic turf, but had to be less expensive.
The budget was limited and we studied different solutions to contain costs, but eventually we've reached the desired balance and the interest increased exponentially: a hybrid system, at low installation and maintenance costs, is a great opportunity to provide the system both to professional players as well to amateurs.
We had no choice but to begin a process of experimentation to identify the type of synthetic grass suitable and the type of mixture for the growth medium above and below the backing. After numerous tests in the company, Dott. Niko Sarris reached the initial conclusions. He studies the problems and the limits of the existing systems and he finally found the suitable technical solution to ensure the coexistence of natural grass with synthetic turf:
In February of 2012 Sarris was ready, he deposited a European Patent Application and started up promotional activities to find out the market reaction and achieve the first pilot fields.
The best surprise was customer's reaction. Being fed up by artificial turf, they really appreciated the features and their expectation were high. Later, in the summer of 2012, two pilot areas were ready to be installed:
The results were better than his expectations and the customers were satisfied, to confirm the idea and the project value.
Regular monitoring of the football field is meant about the entire surface of the lawn. The Association of Sports Turf Manager stated that a natural field must have at least 75% of grass cover, no water paddles, divots or dangerous obstacles.
Limit of drainage of the field in natural soil
From one hand, the field in natural soil even if it's sandy has a limit of water drainage
Limit of stability for the field in sand based growth mediums
On the other hand, the stability of the natural grass field is limited
The control of the seams, the thickness and eveness of the infil are essential for the synthetic grass field. On warm days you have to pay attention to prevent heat exhaustion due to excessive temperature of the playing surface.
In the fully synthetic turf fields with the rubber infill, the same is splashing at every bounce of the ball.
The organic infill tends to float and moves to the side of the field
In artificial fields, the bulk density of the organic infill is too low and often it floats to the surface, then is transported to the sideline, especially if the background is not very draining.
Trials in Germany
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Results in Germany
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All fields are mandatory
POWERgrass hybrid turf field
Synthetic turf field