Hearts are to make a significant investment in the summer with a new hybrid pitch to be installed at Tynecastle Park.
Head coach Craig Levein confirmed the venture on Wednesday with the club parting with nearly £1 million for the surface.
What is the issue with the current pitch?
The Tynecastle Park pitch has not been of great standard for a number of years. However, last season it deteriorated to the point a new surface had to be laid in February 2017.
The club had hoped the pitch would last until the new stand was complete but such was the condition it had to be replaced. It was designed as a short-term solution until a longer term option became feasible.
This season it has cut up badly, namely the Edinburgh derbies in December and January, especially when it rained. Players are often slipping on the surface and Levein has noted the affect it has had on how the team can play.
Chairwoman Ann Budge said in March that there are “deeply underlying problems in terms of drainage”.
Why are Hearts doing it now?
Budge had stated previously that with the development of the Main Stand she could have left the pitch to somebody else but it has reached a point where a definitive decision was required for the long-term benefit of the team and the fans watching on.
With the bulk of the stadium work completed the club are able to look towards fixing the pitch issue.
What were the options?
Hearts could continue investing around £120,000 into relaying a new surface when required. In time there was every likelihood the club would be back to a similar position as now.
The hybrid pitch comes at a cost of nearly £1 million. It would require more work, possibly over two summers, but it is something which is designed to last a long time.
So, what exactly is the hybrid pitch?
It is a surface which is used by at BT Murrayfield and a number of Premier League clubs. Scottish Rugby invested more than £1.25 million in their surface in 2014.
According to Mark Laidlaw, who was then Scottish Rugby’s Director of Management Services, four years ago it’s “widely recognised as the best grass surface in the sporting world.”
Murrayfield uses a Desso Grassmaster hybrid pitch which is essentially a natural grass pitch which is then reinforced by millions of artificial turf fibres.
Is it like Hamilton Academical and Kilmarnock’s pitch?
No. It is better. Tynecastle Park will likely be 95 per cent grass turf and five per cent synthetic.
What are the benefits?
This will be a “high-specification pitch providing the feel and performance of natural grass with the stability of an artificial pitch” said Laidlaw.
To put simply, it is more robust. It artificial fibres which are stitch into the surface helps the pitch recover faster than grass on its own. It can also be used more intensively so will hold up much better when games are played on it in quick succession or through inclement weather.
Back in 2014 Murrayfield had been heavily criticised with the pitch which had been ridden with nematode worms. The Daily Mail had branded it ‘MAGGOTFIELD’ ahead of a Calcutta Cup clash.
Before the decision to replace the surface ground staff had even sprayed garlic on the pitch to drive out the worms.
Now the Murrayfield pitch is highly-regarded, hosting a variety of events.
Is it just a case of switching one surface for another?
No. There is a more extensive work to completed. The under-soil heating hasn’t been changed in 20 years with Budge telling fans’ forum Jambos Kickback that it is “now like concrete”. As well as new under-soil heating work also includes a new irrigation system.
Levein says the company are “fairly confident” the pitch will be ready for the start of the Betfred Cup group stages in July.
Work could be spread across two summers which will aid both cost and timescale.