The new hybrid pitch which was installed at the National Stadium is ready to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup European Qualifier between Malta and Scotland on September 4th after three months of work – at times, day and night. SISPitches was entrusted with the project which cost around €1.5 million – funds coming from UEFA and FIFA as well as the MFA coffers. The most advanced re-enforced natural turf system, called SISGrass has been selected and installed at Ta’ Qali. The same system which will be installed at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow – the stadium which will be hosting the final of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Details about the project were given by MFA General Secretary Bjorn Vassallo, MFA Head of Infrastructural Projects Manuel Cassar, SIS Group Chief Executive Officer George Mullan and SIS Group Director Natural Grass Projects Carlos Reis during a press conference which marked the handing over of the pitch to the Malta Football Association.
Bjorn Vassallo said the pitch was replaced after over thirty-five years. He said the Malta Football Association invested heavily in club infrastructure over the past years and is fully committed to continue upgrading and enhancing facilities on the island. In the next three years, the focus will be on the infrastructure at Ta’ Qali and the first two projects were the floodlights at the MFA Training Grounds and the pitch of the National Stadium. Vassallo said that Malta was attracting several top-level teams to carry out training camps here and therefore the association will continue to invest in order to have the best possible facilities.
The MFA General Secretary thanked SISGroup for their professional approach and the work done throughout this period. He said the new pitch of the National Stadium is not only aesthetically a much better pitch but also in terms of playability and performance. Vassallo that while three decades ago, pitches were all about soil and clay, now these were based on peat and sand.
Vassallo said that the World Cup qualifier against Scotland was the right opportunity to inaugurate the new pitch.
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SIS Group Chief Executive Officer George Mullan thanked the Malta Football Association and in particular, Bjorn Vassallo, Manuel Cassar and president Norman Darmanin Demajo for giving the company the opportunity to build the pitch. He said the pitch is 95% grass and 5% fibres and these artificial fibres were injected 20 centimetres deep.
Mullan said that the SISGrass recently installed pitches at Besiktas’ home stadium – Vodafone Arena in Turkey, Olympiakos’ home stadium – Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium in Greece and Derby County’s iPro Stadium apart from around twenty-five training pitches around Europe. The next project for the company is the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow which will be followed by the stadiums of 1860 Munich and Fulham and The Football Association’s St. George’s Park.
SIS Group Director Natural Grass Projects Carlos Reis explained that underneath the turf is a 10 cm layer of gravel, a 20 cm layer of pure sand and a mixture of sand and peat on top. He said that the drainage system allows the pitch to drain very fast, even in case of a storm. The pitch has a fully automatic irrigation system. The natural grass is of the Bermuda 419 type which has been on the market for several years, giving very good results.
Reis said the biggest hurdle in this project was excavation where they had to go 1 metre down rather than the 40 cm they had planned due to the fact that the base was too soft.
Bjorn Vassallo and George Mullan insisted that especially during the first year, the association needs to take good care of the pitch for the roots to develop and strengthen. Vassallo said that there will still be the need for a period of re-seeding in October/November but this will be for a shorter period. In fact, this year, this will be a period of three weeks rather than the usual five.
MFA Head of Infrastructural Projects Manuel Cassar revealed that the new pitch will be three metres longer than the old pitch – 105 metres by 68 metres. He said that as regards to maintenance, after going through all options, it was decided that this will be outsourced to the Royal Malta Golf Club. Cassar concluded by saying that hopefully the new pitch will improve the quality of football.