Hong Kong Stadium mudbath blamed on poor management

Turf expert says pitch drainage system may have been blocked by the use of cheap sand as Manchester United cancel training session

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 July, 2013, 12:37pm

Poor management has been blamed for the waterlogged pitch that has turned the city's top sports arena into an international laughing stock.

Manchester United called off an open training session at Hong Kong Stadium last night ahead of tonight's match against local champions Kitchee.

And there were even fears fans may be denied the chance to see the English Premier League Champions due to the appalling state of the playing surface.

Dryer weather expected today, however, will hopefully ease concerns.

Hong Kong Stadium manager Wong Ying-ming admitted that there had not been enough time to sieve the sand provided by the contractor and separate impurities, such as pebbles and shells.

He added that a large quantity of sand was needed to patch up the pitch after the heavy rain.

Stadium staff, assisted by Tottenham Hotspur's groundskeeper, worked to pick out impurities before the Barclays Asia Trophy matches on Saturday. A source close to the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, which manages the stadium, said about 50 staff were deployed from its contractors to work on the muddy pitch at the weekend.

Dr Eric Lee Yin-tse, a turf specialist involved in football pitch and race course design, believed the drainage system under the stadium's pitch was blocked.

He said the blockage was probably caused by the use of cheap sand usually used in construction and which contains impurities such as shells and pebbles.

"Good sand particles are of similar size. It reduces soil compression. Grass will only grow stronger and denser in well-ventilated soil," he said.

He added that the same problem was causing the deterioration of the pitch at Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground, where the 2009 East Asian Games were held.

The source added that the local climate was a challenge for the department's consultant from New Zealand, adding: "Hong Kong requires a very different way of handling the turf. Because of the very wet weather, we need to create more holes in the soil to allow better evaporation, in addition to covering the botched pitch with more sand."

A Leisure and Cultural Services department spokesman confirmed its consultant was from New Zealand, but provided no further details.

The government has blamed the weather and the frequency of matches - with two Barclays Asia Trophy matches played on both Wednesday and Saturday - for the state of the pitch.

It led to United's planned training session being moved to the Tseung Kwan O ground yesterday morning. United boss David Moyes said of the playing surface: "I hope it will be OK … players have been brought up playing on different pitches."

He added: "I'm disappointed we could not let more people come in to watch [the training]. We wanted to try to give the pitch an opportunity."

And while there have been worries players could get injured, defender Phil Jones assured supporters: "No matter what's presented to us, we'll be ready and hopefully put on a display."

But the chairman of the Hong Kong Football Association, Brian Leung Hung-tak, said fans might be deprived of the chance to watch Premier League sides in future if the standard of the pitch cannot be assured.

And Kitchee captain Lo Kwan-yee said fans may be left disappointed by tonight's game.

He said: "I believe [United] won't make a full effort in the match as they don't want to be injured. Fans may be disappointed if they only send second-tier players on to the field."

Match organisers are likely to net HK$18 million in receipts, with the government receiving a 20 per cent levy.