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In this study, researchers from the Cardiff School of Sport have been investigating the effect of playing surface in football. Specifically, is the development of fatigue different between grass and artificial surfaces?​

Seasonal and climatic variations have a marked effect on the state of sports pitches. The advent of artificial pitches has been seen by many as an attractive alternative to natural surfaces, which are inherently variable in their quality and difficult to maintain. The adoption of ‘3G’ pitches in football is increasingly widespread, although concerns remain that the artificial pitches affect injury rate, tactics, techniques and the intensity of the sport. In response to these concerns, the sport’s international governing body, FIFA, has commissioned a research team from the Cardiff School of Sport to investigate whether the development of fatigue in men’s football differs between the grass and artificial pitches. For FIFA and the turf manufacturers fatigue is a vital issue due to its links with injury risk and the need to maintain the characteristics of the sport at all levels of play. 

The research team, led by Dr Michael Hughes, were first commissioned to complete a preliminary study with players from Chelsea FC at their training ground. This work showed that 20 minutes of a controlled football simulation led to similar physiological responses in the 16 players tested, suggesting that the development of fatigue was not different between the two pitch-types.

Fatigue in football matches develops throughout the 90-minutes of the game, so to address the issue of fatigue beyond the 20 minutes of the previous work, a longer period of football activity was needed. Therefore as part of a bigger multi-institution investigation into the impact of playing surface in different regions, the researchers completed a series of 90-minute controlled, simulated football matches at the training grounds of Valencia FC (Spain) and the Norway national team (Oslo). This major study showed that the effect of playing surface was negligible on the development of fatigue. Indeed, the impact of climate was far more influential than the effect of playing surface.

These studies have been used to inform future refinements in the design of artificial pitches and as foundations for subsequent research. Current research in the School of Sport includes an investigation of the effect of variability of grass pitches and a larger project, also funded by FIFA, which combines biomechanical and psychological assessments of the players’ responses to running and turning on different surface types.

This research was led by Dr Michael Hughes, a senior lecturer in Sport & Exercise Physiology at the Cardiff School of Sport, in conjunction with Professor David Kerwin (CSS) and Professor Len Nokes (Cardiff University). The research team are all members of the Physiolo​gy and Health in Cardiff School of Sport and included Drs Jon Oliver & Paul Smith, Mike Stembridge, Robert Meyers and Keeron Stone.