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Wembley's pitch battle not over
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Football Association (FA) officials admitted Monday that the much criticised pitch at Wembley Stadium needs improvement.

The 'old' Wembley was renowned for the quality of its playing surface but the state of the pitch has been a talking point ever since the rebuilt stadium opened two years ago.

Debate intensified during last weekend's FA Cup semifinals, where the top surface gave way under the players' feet.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger called it "a disaster" and "laughable" while fellow losing manager Sir Alex Ferguson said the soil looked "dead" and withdrew several senior players because of concerns the pitch might cause injuries at a key time of the season.

It was just such an issue that prompted the Australian Rugby Union to investigate whether the pitch was responsible for injuries to two Wallabies during a November international against the Barbarians.

Although the rebuilt Wembley cost some 750 million pounds, the pitch has had to be relaid five times in just two years.

"Whilst recent changes to the surface have seen improvements in player traction, we accept there are still further improvements to be made," an FA statement said.

"Wembley Stadium will continue to work hard to address these issues for our next matches," the governing body added.

"The grounds team has made continual improvements to the pitch since opening in 2007, however, the stadium's unique environment continues to prove challenging."

Before the end of the season, three Football League play-off finals plus the Blue Square Premier play-off final, the FA Cup final, the finals of the FA Trophy and Vase will be played at Wembley as will England's World Cup qualifier against Andorra on June 10.

Aside from football, there is an ACDC concert on June 26 and, in July, three Oasis dates and four Take That concerts.

The turf will be re-laid again for the Community Shield in August.

However, David Saltman, formerly in charge of Millennium Stadium pitch and now the managing director of www.pitchcare.com, said the pitch at Wembley will never be as good as a Premier League club's surface because of the need to stage other events there in order to make the ground pay for itself.

"This pitch is the most spotlighted pitch in country if not the world," he told BBC Radio Five Live.

"The number of events on the grass and off it is staggering.

"One of the problems with Wembley and the Millennium is they're not just pitches for football.

"Managers such as Ferguson and Wenger are used to playing on pitches which are just prepared for football week in, week out and the levels are superb. The pitch is cut short and the players know what they are going to be going on to.

"At Wembley and the Millennium the pitches are turfed - they have to be because of the other events - so you're never going to have the same sort of perfect level you have with an in-situ pitch you get in the Premier League and the Championship."

(AFP via China Daily April 22, 2009)

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