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The Story

April 2010

“Wembley - £757 million for a ‘scandalous’ pitch”

The FA must decide whether to re-lay the pitch - at a cost of £100,000 - for the eleventh time since the stadium was rebuilt in 2007.
Concerns rose from the very first game

After Tottenham were beaten by Portsmouth, partly due to defender Dawson’s slip presenting Portsmouth with an easy goal, Harry Redknapp, the Tottenham manager, described the pitch as “Scandalous … I wouldn’t run horses on it”.

Redknapp is the latest in a succession of football managers who have criticised the playing surface since the stadium reopened in 2007. Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United manager, claimed that it contributed to Michael Owen’s hamstring injury in a final in February. And Arsene Wenger, Arsenal’s manager, called it a pitch nobody wants to play on.

What’s the problem? The Wembley pitch is said to be hard underneath and spongy on top. When wet it cuts up and is very slippy. This is despite relaying the pitch ten times, replacing the head groundsman, and changing the turf supplier and composition.
What are the causes? The pitch seems to have fundamental drainage and growing problems. Replacing the top surface with instant turf does not solve the core problems. Water doesn’t drain properly and turf growth is hindered by lack of sunlight in some areas.
What’s the main cause? Money. The main cause is commercial. The surface gets too much use. Potentially 25 events between February and November – football matches, rugby, American Football, and concerts. There is no time to prepare and grow a good pitch from seed. Constant relaying of turf looks like a sticking-plaster solution

Analysis and Lessons

Design Thinking ... Concept Thinking ... Consequence Thinking ... Imagination Thinking ... Creative Thinking ...
Contingency Thinking Process ... Problem Solving Process

What are the root causes? There are three root causes of this huge problem with no easy solution. They involve at least five crucial Thinking Styles that it seems the planning teams failed to engage sufficiently when they designed and planned the new stadium.
Design Thinking error

The stadium was designed to be impressive from both outside and inside. The towering stands place spectators close to the action. However, this has created its own microclimate at pitch level and limits the amount of sunlight reaching the grass. Lighting rigs have to be used for week-long periods to provide artificial sunlight, like a sun-tanning system but just to keep the grass green.

Concept Thinking

and the
Contingency Thinking Process

… a process needing Consequence Thinking
+ Imagination Thinking

The FA believed that it could replace the old Wembley stadium (which had a fantastic atmosphere that I witnessed at a cup final) with a multiple-usage commercial venture. The concept of sweating assets was fine in theory but the huge cost of construction (£757 million) gave the FA a debt and interest payments so onerous that it left little room for error if things went wrong. Too ambitious?

Did the planning teams really think through “What could go wrong?”  This is Contingency Thinking. Some experts believe the FA and Wembley failed to take sufficient advice at the design stage. Getting an external perspective is invaluable for stimulating Imagination Thinking – a key Thinking Style that teams should engage in the Contingency Thinking process (Consequence Thinking is another).
The ‘solution’

… another re-turfing job, to cope with eight matches in May

The concept of multiple usage means that the venue must be fit for all those varying purposes. As we now know, this has proven impossible. In order to have a chance of a good football playing surface the grass needs to be grown from seed and boosted with artificial fibres intertwined with the roots (the seeded Desso pitch, as at Arsenal’s new stadium. This usage concept, with its pressure to hold many events, means that there is no time available to lay a proper pitch, which takes many months. Which means lost revenues they can’t afford.

The real Solution?

The only viable solution we can see is refinancing to get a pitch fit for purpose. Even this is going to need a fair slice of Problem Solving (a stagewise Process) and Creative Thinking.

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