Hong Kong Stadium pitch faces 'new storm threat'

Turf experts say rushed repairs to soccer field may not hold up to another drenching, as Typhoon Usagi approaches city

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 September, 2013, 2:06pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 September, 2013, 3:06am

Downpours from approaching Typhoon Usagi might further damage the repaired pitch of the Hong Kong Stadium, which has just been pronounced ready for the local soccer season starting today, soil and grass specialists have warned.

At least nine first-division league soccer matches are scheduled at the stadium for this season, starting with South China and Kitchee today, and followed by two more matches on the next two Saturdays.

Today's match will be the first played on the pitch after 53 days of intensive repairs, which were made necessary when a game between Manchester United and local team Kitchee was almost called off in July because of its poor condition.

The pitch, sodden and muddy after days of torrential rain, with bald patches in the centre field where grass had been kicked off, became an international laughing stock.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department said yesterday that the pitch was now ready for use, after a "special priority maintenance programme" was carried out to meet the "very tight" schedule.

However, landscaping experts warned of a repetition of the damage to the pitch as Usagi - now a super typhoon but expected to weaken to a severe typhoon - is expected to hit the city with heavy, squally showers.

University of Hong Kong soil specialist Professor Jim Chi-yung said the repair measures had only a "cosmetic effect".

"The key is to improve the compacted soil and the drainage system. The grass will be weakened and die if the roots are soaked with rainwater."

A turf consultant, who declined to be named, said that the newly transplanted turf needed three months for the roots to adapt to a new soil environment. But the pitch has been reopened after a closure of less than two months.

Hong Kong Football Association chief executive Mark Sutcliffe, who inspected the field a few days ago, said the pitch was "good enough".

"I would not say it is perfect," he said. "It still needs some further improvements."

The programme included transplanting thick sods of turf, which were cut out from the peripheral turf areas and used to replace the more seriously damaged areas in the central part of the playing field.

The bare areas at the edges were then refilled with newly procured grass.

"For the less damaged areas, we have adopted more frequent and enhanced cultural practices, such as mowing, fertilising and aeration to stimulate growth," the department said.

The spokesman added that the newly replenished turf might turn yellow in the first few weeks due to the change in growing environment from its origin.

But the turf would turn green again if the roots took hold well, he said.

The department also set up an expert group in late August, which will advise on medium- and long-term improvement measures for the pitch.

The expert group is said to have only held one meeting so far, and it was not consulted on the repair work that has been carried out.