Thursday 03 August 2023, 07:45

Eden Park grounds staff living and breathing their pitch

  • Ground maintenance staff have produced ten world-class pitches for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™

  • Quick turnaround between nine matches has been a new challenge for Eden Park staff in Auckland/Tāmaki Makaurau

  • “Groundsmanship is about owning your pitch and living your pitch.”

As the knock-out stage of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™ gets underway, football of the highest calibre has been played on some of the best pitches on the planet by combining local knowledge, with decades of FIFA expertise. Blair Christiansen and his ground maintenance team at Eden Park in Auckland/Tāmaki Makaurau are one of ten crews across Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand who have provided a world-class football pitch over the past fortnight. Staring across the immaculate green surface at Eden Park, Christiansen spoke with justified pride about the demanding work his team have put in over the past two years and the effective partnership with FIFA’s experts.

Speaking of the Eden Park surface, he praised the team of eight staff who while delivering at a previously high standard, have seen “FIFA lifting that standard even higher. People have enjoyed moving up to the next level.” FIFA Pitch Venue Manager Keith Kent described the Eden Park ground crew as “exceptionally good” which only required a watching brief from the FIFA experts who provided the guidelines to get the pitch ready for the FIFA Women’s World Cup. “Blair is a very talented groundsman, very knowledgeable and he knows the climate, which is fantastic,” said Kent.

Blair Christiansen of the Eden Park ground maintenance team

Eden Park is traditionally used for rugby and cricket, so Christiansen explained that he had to produce a turf with different characteristics to facilitate world-class football, focusing on surface firmness, ball roll, and consistency of evenness across the field. “We really wanted the field to be consistent, end-to-end and side-to-side,” said Christiansen, who added that his team have been using light rigs, aeration tools and spray rigs to deliver this consistency. Prior to the knock-out phase starting, Eden Park had already hosted six group matches, with a Round of sixteen game, plus a quarter final and the first semi-final, on 15 August to look forward to. The frequency of games has created a fresh challenge for Christiansen and his team who usually host around thirty-five events each year, swapping between rugby, cricket, concerts, and the odd football match.

An aerial view of Eden Park by night

“We are particularly busy in the winter with our rectangular codes, then in the summer, we have cricket and concerts, so, we’re constantly busy. Some months of the year, we’re chopping and changing between codes and concerts pretty quickly,” continued Christiansen. “We’re challenged to flip the field from one event to another in a short space of time. But, at the moment, the beauty of this event with FIFA is that we’re locked in that football sequence, which we’re really enjoying. “This is a tournament style that we don’t often get and we’re at an extremely high level for a much longer time. It’s about keeping the field in top condition, but also the people in top condition, so they can deliver that day in, day out.”

Keith Kent, FIFA Pitch Venue Manager at Eden Park

Kent says the FIFA knowledge bank continues to grow as the tournament progresses, interacting and learning from local experts around the globe. “We learn at every tournament, at every stadium. They have a history of working with the surface and live and breathe their work. Groundsmanship is about owning and living your pitch.”