How important is the football field to African football?


By Segun Odegbami

You can discover a young and gifted football player anywhere – whilst playing on the streets, in the park, on the school ground, at the beach, on any open field, rough or smooth. Once there is enough space for the beautiful game to be played and enjoyed by children, on any kind of football surface, no matter how good or poor, raw talent can always shine through the process and barriers of discovery. However, in order to take this raw talent to the next levels of development, some additional basic ingredients are needed. The most important is a higher-quality football ground. In football, you cannot be the best that you can be, and play at the highest level of football unless you are trained in facilities that make the impartation of the required skills, techniques, and strategies possible and meaningful. You can only get better in the game through constant and repetitive training sessions on the better ‘theatres’ of football. At the ultimate level, this means training and playing matches on flat, lush, well-tended, natural green grass. No more, no less! It is as simple as that. Think about it. In addition, you cannot also market football maximally unless it is covered properly by television. Meanwhile, the best coverage by television can only be achieved when the game is played on very good football fields. The higher the quality of the field, the better the quality of coverage. That’s why Europe has invested and continues to invest, more than all others, heavily in research and providing the best playing surfaces – so that television can provide the highest dividends. I repeat, for clarity, that the key ingredient that makes all the above possible is a great playing turf. There is no alternative and no shortcuts. Believe it or not, it is as simple as that, almost too good to be true! Yet, it cannot be just any grassy turf, astroturf, artificial grass, hybrid, or any such imitation. The king is natural grass, on flat ground, with good drainage and irrigation systems, managed by a team of dedicated, trained groundsmen and other hands working the field ’25’ hours every day of every week, unfailingly, each equipped with the right tools and treating the field as delicately as a newborn baby.

Three decades ago, I witnessed how one of the best stadium turfs in the world, that of Liberty Stadium, Ibadan, was destroyed by ignorant Nigerian administrators that never played football, and never appreciated what late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the Premier of Western Nigeria had put on the ground in 1959 designed to remain -start-of-the-art and functional for a hundred years.