AstroTurf: Blessing or curse to Nigerian football?
By EMMA NJOKU
Saturday April 28, 2012

The introduction of artificial pitches, otherwise known as AstroTurf, was intended to save Nigerian football from continued embarrassment before the international community. Years of total neglect and lack of maintenance culture had left the facilities at most stadia in the country, particularly the playing pitches, non-conducive for good football.

In recent times, the parlance, ‘television unfriendly’, has become the commonest expression in our football lexicon used to describe the horrible state of our pitches. Few years back, to watch the Nigerian League on television could be nauseating.

It was little wonder therefore, when the Nigeria Premier League board ordered clubs to ensure that the venues for their home matches were made television friendly or be forced to move their home fixtures away from their home grounds and fans. The call, however, gave rise to the advent of artificial pitches in the country.

The world’s football governing body, FIFA, as part of its effort in developing the round leather game around the globe, provides technical support to developing nations, particularly, in Africa, in ensuring that football and its attendant facilities are ever improved upon.

However, the recent trend of events shows that the prevalence of artificial turfs at stadia across the country, is fast turning to a curse rather than blessing to Nigerian football. Only recently, Super Eagles’ Coach, Stephen Keshi, raised the alarm that he would never play his games on artificial turfs again after losing several players to artificial turf-induced injury. Keshi confessed that he would have loved to return the Eagles to their traditional home at the National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos, but the former national team captain would want the natural grass on the pitch in Lagos to be in good condition for better result.

“I want to take the team (Super Eagles) back to Lagos because that’s where I started my football career as a child. Lagos is the home of the national team. But I cannot take the team back to Lagos except something is done about the pitch at the stadium,” the coach said.
“I will never let my team play on an artificial turf again because I lost many players to injury the last time we played on artificial turf,” he added.

Meanwhile, one man, who has raised his voice strongly against the continued laying of artificial turfs in stadia across the nation, is respected ex-international, Segun Odegbami. The former Green Eagles’ captain regrets that the national team is now looking for where to play its Nations Cup qualifying home fixtures when there are stadia scattered all over the country.
“I weep for Nigerian football. We have abundant talents in the country but where would they display their talents?” Odegbami lamented. “Businessmen have killed Nigerian football. The whole idea about AstroTurf is to make money and not to develop the game in the country,” the former Green Eagles’ characteristic winger said in a recent chat with Saturday Sunsports in Lagos.

“The truth is that you cannot play football well on artificial turf. Football is best played on natural grass. The chances of curbing injury on artificial turf are very high. It aggravates any small injury, especially when the player is not young, as it puts a lot of pressure on the knee.

“As a player, you cannot express yourself well on artificial turf and if I may ask, how many artificial pitches do we have in Europe?” he queried. “Nobody has ever asked questions on why our foreign-based players don’t play well when they come home for national assignments.

“By the way, what does it take to maintain natural grass compared to the huge amount of the taxpayers’ money being wasted in laying AstroTurf on the pitches of our stadia? Unfortunately, the businessmen who pretend to be developing Nigerian football would prefer to spend billions of naira laying AstroTurf on our pitches to spending a little in maintaining the natural grass,” the ‘Mathematical’ said with high level of disgust.

Another ex-international and former Lagos State Football Association boss, Waidi Akanni, made startling revelations on the matter. According to him, the much-talked-about Arsenal of England playing tour to Nigeria was truncated when the advanced party of the club discovered that the pitch at the Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos, where they were supposed to play was not natural grass.

“The reason Arsenal cancelled the proposed playing tour of Nigeria was because of the AstroTurf at the Teslim Balogun Stadium. The moment the advanced party, which came to inspect the facilities discovered that the pitch was artificial, they left the country.

“It was the same reason that made Michael Essien to refuse playing during the Nwankwo Kanu Testimonial Match. Immediately he stepped on to the pitch at the Teslim Balogun Stadium and found out that it was artificial, he simply pulled off his pair of boots and left immediately,” Akanni revealed.

The multi-billion naira Abuja National Stadium cannot host the Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match between Nigeria and Rwanda due to the poor state of the pitch occasioned by poor maintenance of the facilities. Meanwhile, the National Stadium in Lagos has since become a monumental disgrace for the same reason.

It is almost certain that in the years to come, the AstroTurf pitches, which were constructed with millions of dollars, would as well go the way of the Lagos and Abuja national stadia. What would become of Nigerian football then? One hopes it wouldn’t be too late before we learn our lesson.

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