At the end of January 2001, the Ajax fans had had enough of the state of the Amsterdam Arena grass and released two cows onto the grass. Less than five years had passed since the inauguration of the first stadium in Europe with a retractable roof and the club had already had to change the grass 24 times. The Bernabéu is going at a similar pace. After this afternoon’s game against Almería (6:30 p.m., Dazn), and before the Champions League semifinal against Manchester City on May 9, Real Madrid plans to install its fifth field of the course. About a million and a half euros of grass already.
The Reuters agency teletype on the protest by Ajax fans details that “one of the cows contributed to improving the quality of the grass with some of its own natural fertilizer.” In the La Castellana stadium, what was grazing on Thursday afternoon was a small army of pigeons. They swallowed the seeds of a recent planting and revealed the problem. They took advantage of a common method of making up fields in poor condition, according to a source in the sector: fast-growing seeds are spread, which in five days may have germinated almost two centimeters. If you put yourself on the field, it still looks thin, but on television the effect is very convincing.
The state of the grass at the Bernabéu is one of the most discussed issues these months in the circles of those who are dedicated to golf and football sports facilities. Last week many of the greatest European experts met for three days in Toledo, who shared a feeling of perplexity. “It is a mystery for the entire sector,” says one of the attendees.
The club attributes it to the dust generated by the stadium remodeling works. “We knew this was going to happen,” they say. Madrid is building an overwhelming venue without stopping playing in it. As a civil work, the challenge is formidable, unique in Europe. For the grass, a very delicate living organism, the alteration of the balances is proving too stressful. Although its state does not depend on a single factor, as explained by Professor Carlos Gilarranz, from the Higher Technical School of Agricultural, Food and Biosystems Engineering of the Polytechnic University of Madrid: “I would not be left alone in the effect of dust, which is truth that influences; but I would look at more factors.” The dust, for example, was already present last season, when they also played under construction, and the grass endured.
So? A source who knows the problem directly justifies the mystery label that the sector has placed on it: “If you’re not inside, it’s easier to hit the Euromillions than this.” The various external experts consulted coincide in pointing to the factors that have changed from last season to this one. During these months, the stadium has become a fundamental aspect for the pitch: the work on the roof has advanced and the opening has been closed more. “The scenario is completely different,” explains a source from the sector, who points out that the grass now receives a little less natural light and that, in addition, the progress of the construction has altered the air circulation circuits that worked last year.
There is another aspect that has changed since the summer: the grass is already installed on the plates that will transfer it to the greenhouse of the hypogeum, the enclosure excavated under the stadium, to preserve it during other events once the work is finished. One could suspect the effect of the plates on the temperature of the grass, or an insufficient amount of sand under the turf, but the experts consulted rule it out. They are inclined to point to the transformations in the volumes of the building, a matter that has already been studied in other fields, beginning with that Amsterdam Arena inaugurated in 1996, at a time when lamps for the care of the grass did not yet exist.
A portion of the south end roof of Wembley Stadium is removed to improve light when the venue is not in use. In other fields the architectural project was altered for this same purpose, such as Manchester City, where the ends of the stands are lower than the central part. This field also has a system of adjustable slats that allow more light when the field is not in use and improve ventilation.
The greenery and perfection of the grass in football stadiums is a fiction, built from a multitude of artificial aids: lights, fans, fertilizers, anti-plague substances, hybrid compositions, support meshes… These more or less closed and with very significant shady spaces do not constitute the ideal setting for grass, which does not thrive in the shade of a tree either. Even less surrounded by a growing mammoth work.
The situation is devilish, but it has a hopeful horizon to which the same source with direct knowledge points, sure that the causes are indecipherable from the outside: “Next year the grass is going to be spectacular.”
The solution lies in the 25-meter-deep cave excavated under the west side of the stadium where a highly sophisticated laboratory is being completed in which the grass will live between matches, separated into six sheets stacked on two different levels. The grass will be better in that hole than outside, as engineer Gilarranz explains: “In the hypogeum it will be in parameterized conditions. There everything is controlled, like in the UCI ”. The temperature, humidity, nutrients, ventilation, cutting and lighting with a spectrum adapted to the needs of the plant at all times.
Until then, the unresolved mystery of the imperfect herb that intrigues the sector will continue. “But it is the type of work of which it will be said: ’20 years ago Madrid began something that is now normal’, according to one of the attendees at the Toledo congress.
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