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History

A Brief History of Synthetic Turf

The original third-generation synthetic football field in the Netherlands was laid in 1996.  Of course, there is a history leading up to this event.  What are the origins of synthetic turf and what is the state of affairs now?  What do players think about synthetic grass?  This section will answer these questions, as we discuss the history and evolution of synthetic turf.

History and Evolution Synthetic grass worldwide

The problem of covered grass fields in stadiums was addressed for the first time in the Houston Astrodome (Houston, TX) in 1965.  This stadium had a coverd baseball field of natural grass that needed to be kept nice and green.  Natural grass needs sunlight to thrive, which was why the Astrodome had been build with a transparent roof, but the glinting of the sun on the roof impeded the players when catching fly balls.  It was then decided to paint the roof to solve the problem but then the grass would not grow properly.  Another solution had to be found.
Stadium owners and engineers decided to lay an artificial playing surface, the first of its kind.  This was a grass carpet made from nylon fibers.  The surface was first installed in the summer of 1966.

First Generation

The synthetic grass carpet was introduced to Europe in 1970.  This carpet was not made of nylon fibers but of a different synthetic fiber called polypropylene.  Not only was this cheaper, it was also more comfortable.  The advantage of polypropylene was that it was softer than nylon so the players had a smaller risk of injury.  We now call these carpets with closely packed tufts (both nylon and polypropylene), first generation synthetic turf.

Second Generation

The second generation of synthetic grass was developed in the late 1970's.  It had longer tufts that were spaced more widely apart.  Sand was spread between the fibers to create sufficient firmness and stability for the players.  Second generations synthetic turf pitches provided a flatter playing surface than natural grass, which gives better ball control and prevents balls from shooting off in unexpcted directions.  This was a great improvement, especially for field hockey.  Acceptance of artificial grass for field hockey was slow in coming; artificial grass as a substitute for natural grass was still completely unknown.  It was to take 10 years before the adoption process really got going.  Today, there are few hockey clubs that do not have an artificial field.  The second generation artificial synthetic turf is less suitable for soccer and football however.  The playing characteristics and behavior of the ball on these fields is not comparable to natural grass, and sliding tackles can result in painful abrasion injuries from the sand.  Nevertheless, some football clubs did try to play on these pitches in the 1980's.  It was to take until 1996 before a surface was developed that was really suitable for soccer and football: the third generation.

Third Generation

After the arrival of the fields spread with sand, scientific and technological advances led to the third generation of turf.  A third generation synthetic field is in a class of its own and cannot be compared with earlier generations.  This grass has longer fibers (2 - 2 1/2") which are spaced even further apart in the backing.  They are not usually made of polypropylene but with polyethylene, which is even softer and kinder to the skin.  These fields can either be spread with different mixes of sand and rubber granules or just rubber granules.  The combination of fiber and infill ensures a comfortable playing surface; even sliding tackles are no longer a problem on these fields.  As there is plenty of space between the turf blades, cleats sink well into the surface much like the do with natural grass, which puts less stress on the players joints and also allows the foot to get under the ball.  These developments have made third generation fields excellent for soccer.

 

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