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Rapid is on its way to a surprise title win in Austria, while Feyenoord appears to successfully defend its Dutch crown of having the best pitch in the league, rated by the players.

Similar contests arranged by FIFPro member unions in Australia, Bulgaria, Denmark and Norway are helping improve the quality of playing surfaces.

After each match day, these unions receive a rating from the captains of the away teams for the home side’s pitch based on criteria including smoothness, pace and overall quality. At the end of the season, the unions present an award to the winning groundsmen.

“The groundsmen are very competitive,” said Danny Hesp, chairman of Dutch player union VVCS. “They all want to win.”

In Norway, the competition is so intense that club groundsmen regularly contact player union NISO to find out the ratings of their pitches, according to NISO project manager Peter Werni.

Austrian player union VdF, which launched their competition in 2012, has seen a significant improvement in the quality of pitches.

On a scale from 1 (poor) to 10 (magnificent), the average score increased from 6.1 in 2012/2013 to 8.1 for the current season.

“We are delighted that we cannot only see the qualitative development of the pitches, but can also prove it with these numbers,” said VdF chairman Gernot Zirngast.

The current leader in Austria is Rapid Wien, who moved into a new home last season and initially had problems with their pitch. But not this season, according to the 8.9 average.

Dutch union VVCS, the first to introduce such a competition, said the overall quality of pitches has increased, with Feyenoord currently top of the standings.

“When we started in 2008, only the clubs at the top of our list had great pitches, but now also the teams further down the rankings have a good field,” said Hesp.

However, seven Dutch premier league teams use artificial turf, which are unpopular and consistently finish at the bottom of the rankings with low grades.

Aalborg's pitch is Denmark's number one field this season

In Norway, most games are played on unpopular artificial turf, while the main gripe in Australia is that the playing surface is badly damaged when stadiums are used for concerts or other sports.

All the unions agreed that the introduction of the competition has realized that groundsmen are more engaged and more in touch with them.

This, in combination with new technology around pitch construction, has improved the quality of playing surfaces.

Norway’s NISO also informs the local football association, who receives a mid-season and end- of-season report of both the men’s and women’s league.

Last season, when one of the women’s premier league clubs was awarded the lowest rating possible (1 out of 5), the FA immediately demanded that the club improved its pitch, NISO’s Werni said.

“The next three home games they had an average of 3.”

 

Wellington Phoenix' home ground, Westpac Stadium, won last season's PFA Australia competition

 

Photo: VVCS chairman Danny Hesp (left) present the 2017 Best Pitch award to the groundsmen of Feyenoord. Then captain Dirk Kuijt assisted at the ceremony.

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