Yet another artificial-grass Football pitch has emerged in Metro Manila. Only this one is unlike any of the others.
The Gatorade-Chelsea Blue Pitch, as its name suggests, features plastic grass in a shade of blue found on the kits of Chelsea FC, the storied English club. That's because Chelsea Soccer School Philippines will be co-managing the venue along with Ayala Malls.
With the addition of this pitch, there are a total of at least nine artificial Football fields in Metro Manila that I am aware of, the others being International School Manila, Turf BGC, Emperador Stadium, De La Salle Zobel, FEU Diliman, The Camp, Kick-off Indoor Football Center, and King's School near MOA. The conversion of Rizal Memorial to plastic seems to be in limbo.
The field is located in the Ayala development known as The Circuit, on the grounds of the former Santa Ana racetrack in Makati. Measuring 64.5 meters by 100 meters, it is right smack on FIFA's minimum dimensions for International play. That is bigger than the 60m by 97m Emperador field, but not as big as FEU Diliman, which is 68m by 105m, a very common dimension in top clubs worldwide.
While Ayala and Chelsea are managing the project, Gatorade is also involved, as evidenced by the massive “G” logo that is painted on the center circle.
The field was launched last Wednesday in the presence of officials from Ayala, Chelsea Soccer School, Gatorade, and other members of the Football community, including Azkals Phil Younghusband, James Younghusband, and Chieffy Caligdong. Ayala Corp's President, Fernando Zobel de Ayala was also in attendance.
The surface is branded Prograss from Australia and is manufactured by a company called by Team Sports. The installation was done by Advantage Sports and Leisure, the same folks who fitted Prograss turf into De La Salle Zobel last year.
The Zobel field used a surface with more affordable 40mm fiber yarn, unlike the Blue Pitch which is made up of costlier 55mm monofilament fibers. The estimated cost of the entire pitch is P18million, about three million more than the Zobel installation, says Jeremy Rollin, the CEO of Advantage. Zobel saves up to P220,000 a month on water by having an artificial field, he says.
Work on the “base course” or foundation of the field began in November. The base course is composed of ¾ inch-sized stones, then 50mm of compacted sand, then the carpet of the fibers filled up with the rubber infill. Rollin says there is adequate drainage underneath to keep the field playable during rain.
Rollin also affirms that Prograss and Limonta, which did the BGC and Emperador fields, are the only FIFA-certified brands of artificial grass present in the Philippines. The Blue Pitch is categorized as being a “FIFA Recommended 1 Star” field, meaning it is suitable for recreational and public use but also for competitive play up to preliminary rounds of FIFA competitions. The “Two Star” surfaces are considered good enough for FIFA competitions up to the final rounds.
Advantage is giving a seven-year warranty on the field.
The infill on this pitch is unusual. The rubber granules are extremely tiny, far smaller than in any of the other turfs I've seen. In fact, the rubber is almost soil-like in appearance. This may indicate that the field could play more like natural grass, which still “gives” more than synthetic surfaces. The granules are so tiny that they can cling to the blades of plastic grass, which does not happen in the other fields.
The pitch certainly feels nice and springy, much softer than the Zobel pitch, the surface in The Camp, and of course the plastic grass in FEU Diliman, which is the firmest I've ever encountered. It is comparable in softness to the Emperador and BGC fields, which to my knowledge are Limonta 2-Star pitches.
According to Rollins his company will allow for the field to settle and level for a month, with frequent play helping out that process. Then they will dribble in another layer of infill to make the field even cushier.
On both sidelines are two pairs of yellow semicircles, which act as penalty areas for small-sided play. Supposedly a partition may be made available to separate the two small-sided pitches if needed.
The goal frames are made of lightweight steel and are products of the Advantage workshop in Parañaque. There are wheels under the supports to make it easy to move them around.
There are six light towers surrounding the field. They are a bit low, but Football coach Butch Mondoñedo, who was at the launch on Wednesday, noticed that the lights seemed diffused and not bothersome to him, unlike in Emperador.
There are low bleachers along the east side of the field, but there are plans for a grandstand on the west side which could include commercial establishments as well.
The Blue Pitch will be open for rental to the public, and in fact some UFL teams are already booked for training sessions there. But a priority tenant for the field will be Chelsea Soccer School.
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Adrian New of Chelsea Asia-Pacific was on hand at the launch, and he says that as a successful club, Chelsea feels an obligation to give back to the community. CSC Philippines is committed to assigning a portion of its resources to give underprivileged kids a chance to learn the game and develop as Footballers.
“We believe it's important to leave a legacy wherever we go” says New. The Englishman says that there are already ten Chelsea Soccer Schools in Asia Pacific. Cathy Nazareno, the Managing Director of CSC Philippines, says there are already Chelsea Soccer School Blue Pitches in Hong Kong, Malaysia, and South Korea.
The Blue Pitch has plenty going for it. It's not too small, unlike BGC, Emperador, and Zobel. The location is very good, and the venue is easily accessible via public transport, since jeeps ply the Pasong Tamo and JP Rizal routes. There's all sorts of parking. The surface is swell and there is excellent lighting and decent seating. Once the Circuit is developed, there will be no shortage of places to eat, drink and be merry nearby. There's even a Go-Kart track and a skate park just a stone's throw away.
But the Blue Pitch comes with one major caveat: FIFA Law 1 very clearly states that “the colour of artificial surfaces must be green.” That means the Azkals will never play a competitive match there. Perhaps a friendly exhibition, but certainly not a FIFA “A” International. In fact, technically, even league matches cannot take place there.
But it seems that the facility is envisioned as more of a recreational/training pitch and not necessarily a place for serious senior competition, which is perfectly fine.
The plastic grass revolution is certainly in full swing. Rollin says that they are working on three more possible projects, including pitches in UP Diliman, a La Salle school, and the British School. Ateneo's Ocampo field is also slated to be converted to artificial grass.
It may not be the color we're used to, but the Gatorade-Chelsea Blue Pitch nonetheless is a huge boost for Pinoy Football.
Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH.