Picture the scene: a tiny amateur football club has battled their way into the third round of the FA Cup, where they have been drawn against the mighty Manchester City. They have been drawn as the home team, though, so will enjoy a fantastic payday whatever the result. But this sport, and most people involved at the business end of it want to win – whatever the cost.
What is stopping the amateur club from reducing the pitch to such a small size that it would be impossible for the Premier League giants to find the space to play their passing brand of football? Alternatively, if the minnows had the space, why couldn’t they make the pitch absolutely huge; again diminishing City’s advantage?
The answer, as boring as it is, is that there are rules in place that prevent teams from doing funky things to their pitches in order to gain an edge. A crying shame for those of us who would like to see a game played on a mile-long football pitch.
Are Football Pitches Different Sizes?
All of the above being said, there is some leeway in the rulebook that allows clubs a certain amount of freedom in determining the size of the playing surface. In English football, a pitch can be anything between 90 metres and 120 metres long and between 45 metres and 90 metres wide, as per the Football Association’s rulebook.
That does leave plenty of scope for ground staff to be ‘imaginative’ in their preparations – a 90m x 45m playing surface would promote a different brand of football to one measuring 120m x 90m. Of course, there are some complications in the professional game – namely, clubs are unable to move the stands that make up their stadiums! Therefore, the size of their pitches is pretty much set in stone; albeit there might be a couple of metres of flexibility on each side of the playing surface.
Crucially, the markings on the pitch that inform the penalty area and centre circle cannot be tweaked. The six-yard and 18-yard boxes that make up the penalty area get their names from their size, while the centre circle must be of a 10-yard radius.
Some leagues and tournaments in professional football have stricter rules on pitch size than the generalised measurements outlined above. The Premier League has fallen into a standardised regimen where pitches are generally in the 100m x 65m to 105m x 70m range, although as mentioned as long as they fall into the Football Association’s measurements they are considered legitimate.
But things get a little stricter still when talk turns to competitions governed by UEFA. To be allowed to play in, or host, a game in the Champions League or another continental competition, the club’s pitch must measure between 100-105 metres long and 64-68 metres wide. No more, no less.
But for international tournaments, the rules are even more set in stone: 105m x 68m is the only permissible pitch size – an inflexibility that has led to controversy at times. The pitch at Anfield is too small, as per UEFA’s regulations, to host international football, meaning that one of the most atmospheric stadiums in English football will miss out on hosting games at Euro 2028.
FIFA have adopted similar guidelines, although as per their rulebook the ‘recommended field of play dimensions are 105 metres x 68 metres’. The word ‘recommended’ at least suggests there’s some wriggle-room for those clubs and stadia with an ambition of hosting a World Cup game.
Does the Grass Have to Be a Certain Length on a Football Pitch?
Remember our hypothetical example at the start of this article, which pitted the plucky amateur heroes against one of the most successful clubs in modern football? We know that, to some extent, they can customise the size of their pitch to make life awkward for their illustrious opponents. But what about the length of the grass? Could they grow it really long so that the ball moves slowly across the surface?
The answer, in short, is no. The Football Association and Premier League have taken a leaf out of UEFA’s playbook, stipulating that the height of the grass ‘may not exceed’ 30mm. There’s also a tacit agreement that the grass will be the same length consistently across the pitch – a rule that prevents clubs from deliberately leaving the grass long in chosen areas, such as in the corners of the pitch.
Are Artificial Pitches Allowed in Football?
We know that the length of the grass on football pitches needs to be a certain height, but what if the surface has no grass at all? In the 1980s, there was a short-lived switch to ‘artificial’ pitches, made up of synthetic materials that were supposed to be weather-resistant. QPR and Luton Town were amongst those to embrace the new idea – the first time that English Division One clubs had kicked the grass to the kerb.
However, that came crashing to a halt in 1995 with a simple rule change, with artificial pitches banned from the English professional football. But that’s not the case in Europe, where ‘plastic’ pitches are allowed. Indeed, Champions League and even international games have been hosted on artificial surfaces in cold countries where the grass readily freezes – the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow has switched from a fully artificial pitch to a ‘hybrid’ surface made up of 95% grass and 5% plastic fibres.
Others have embraced the 3G pitches that are commonplace at the amateur level in England. Andorra are one of the nations to host matches on the surface at their Estadi Nacional, while one of the most iconic stadiums in world sport – the Parc des Princes in Paris – has a hybrid pitch made of grass and some 3G technology.
How about this for an innovation: a stadium that has both grass and artificial pitches? That is the case at the remarkable Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, where the grass pitch used for Spurs games can be alternated with an artificial surface – the grass pitch sits on a tray which can be retracted back into the stadium, revealing the artificial surface below that has commonly been used for hosting NFL London games.