Since its inception in 2006, the UEFA HatTrick programme has helped the Football Association of Finland (SPL-FBF) to lay 91 of its 207 full-sized artificial pitches. In an abridged version of an article that first appeared in official UEFA publication UEFA•direct, SPL-FBF head of infrastructure Tero Auvinen says synthetic surfaces have given a massive lift to local football.
How did you get started?
Tero Auvinen: With the support of the UEFA HatTrick programme, we decided to channel the interest from other areas towards a national development project. Once UEFA had endorsed the plan, we joined forces with the government, numerous local authorities and football clubs, and together we have achieved unprecedented results. Finland now has 207 artificial pitches, 44% of which exist today because of this programme. Next year we are looking at a further 21 projects, so we are moving full steam ahead.
What is your selection process?
Auvinen: It is very straightforward – it is about building football pitches in the right places. We build artificial pitches only and focus on grassroots facilities, clubhouses and training centres. Certainly we look at both privileged and underprivileged areas. For example, a popular club in a busy town can benefit by drawing more players and more supporters into football. Obviously, less prosperous areas need the pitch just to be part of the game – it's essential.
What are the main benefits you have seen as a result of this project?
Auvinen: There are so many. To start with, the clubs' attitude to infrastructure has been transformed. Now that they are more proactive, they can build and run their own grounds while at the same time becoming partners with the local authorities and community.
Investing in nationwide development is also about accessibility. Some clubs have reported up to a 50% increase in membership just thanks to a pitch being installed. Because of these new facilities, we can simply offer more football in a safe and modern environment. And this is football for everyone – children, women and seniors alike.
We have also developed an excellent relationship with the ministry of education and culture. Once we had the green light from UEFA, they also stamped their approval on this project. As well as being financial partners, we work together to ensure that the benefits are evenly spread.
Why only artificial pitches?
Auvinen: They offer much more practical use: for every hour on natural grass, we can get ten on artificial turf. We can use an artificial pitch for 2,500 hours a year. Under-pitch heating can increase that to 3,500 hours a year, which is actually a record set by one of the new HatTrick pitches. Natural grass pitches in Finland offer about 250 hours of use a year, so it is easy to understand our choice.
Is under-pitch heating essential in a cold climate?
Auvinen: Currently we use three methods to protect the pitches – under-pitch heating, air domes and daily maintenance. Twenty-six pitches have under-pitch heating. It is highly effective but expensive to install and operate. We have eight air domes for use during the winter months, which is just like having a heated inflatable balloon over the pitch. The maintenance is a perfectly manageable option, but still includes chemical treatment and the daily removal of snow.
Sustainable development will, of course, unlock the future. We have seen projects where the energy used to heat a pitch is geothermal or bio-energy, but it is early days yet and only new innovations can lead the way.
How important is pitch maintenance?
Auvinen: Crucial – a pitch can be destroyed in just a few years if this is not taken seriously. We hold regular groundskeeper seminars to share dos and don'ts. We also communicate with local authorities and clubs through a monthly information bulletin – the topics are always changing but the principle is to keep people alert and aware. For example, we have a new idea in mind at the moment – to install an asphalt area immediately next to the pitch specifically for snow removal. Each time snow is removed, it is inevitable that you will also take some pitch infill. With the asphalt, this rubber can be recovered in the spring and reinserted into the pitch. Like anything else, it is all about constantly looking for ways to improve.
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