The Socceroos will have a pristine pitch when they open the Asian Cup against Kuwait. Meet the man whose job it is to ensure the surface is pitch perfect for Friday night's tournament opener.Here’s something you probably never knew about a professional football pitch: when you stand in the middle of one, its checked pattern changes colour.
It’s not magic, but science, and the science of grounds-keeping is something Justin Lang has mastered.
Lang is the head groundsman at AAMI Park, designated Melbourne Rectangular Stadium as host venue of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup’s opening match, one if its quarter-finals and a number of group-stage matches.
“[Getting the pitch to look like that] is all about the direction of the grass when being mown or rolled,” he told Goal.com.
“The light stripes are always laying away from you as the light reflects off the back of the plant. The dark pattern is always laying towards you as it creates a shadow.
“In effect, if you were to stand in the middle of a pattern it would change colour depending on what direction you look at it.” While grounds-keeping is most definitely a science, pitch patterning is more of an art. “There was a sporting event a couple of years ago that had a map of Australia mown into the pitch,” says Lang.
Will he be rolling out something similar for Australia’s first match, against Kuwait on January 9? Unfortunately for the Socceroos, he’s not even able to prepare the pitch to the home side’s advantage (unlike every cricket oval curator in the world).
“Like every other international team, the Socceroos have their ideal requirements. But with a big tournament like the Asian Cup, this is all regulated by the governing body.”
So will he also have to invoice Tim Cahill for repair costs every time he punches out one of your corner flags?
“If it means that Tim keeps on hitting the back of the net for the Socceroos, I will personally pay for any damaged corner flags at AAMI Park!”
Lang and his team - which bats ten deep - are responsible for a stadium that hosts football, rugby league and rugby union over the course of the year. It can make things tricky.
“This can be a juggle when both codes overlap seasons. Soccer requires a lower mowing height for good ball speed. With rugby they need a greater length for better pitch protection as they can do some damage.”
He’s also working in a city where the summers can be hot enough to kill a lawn or wet enough to bury it under inches of water. Yet the surface at AAMI Park never seems to wilt, no matter what challenge Mother Nature dishes up.
“With a free draining sand profile and a state of the art watering system this pitch will withstand anything that Melbourne’s unpredictable weather throws at us.”
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