Football coaches and their teams would always seek to exploit anything that might give them an advantage over opponents. The sizes of football pitches is one of such things that can come into play. Regulations state that a pitch must be 90-120 metres long x 45-90 metres wide. As expected, this flexibility of range is ripe for manipulation.
Graeme Souness, the hard-nosed former Liverpool captain, turned hard-nosed manager, and currently a hard-nosed pundit, smelled an opportunity to gain an advantage over an opposition team in a 1987-88 European Cup tie. Souness was managing Rangers of Scotland and they were 1-0 down from the first leg of their tie against Soviet champions, Dynamo Kyiv.
Souness noted the expansive play of Kyiv and the effectiveness of their two wingers in the first leg. He then ordered for the pitch at Ibrox to be narrowed a few metres on either side, bringing the width down to minimum requirement. However, he did not have the pitch narrowed until after Dynamo Kyiv had trained on it.
On the Tuesday afternoon, Kyiv’s players trained and went away satisfied. On Wednesday night, they came back to play the match and were confronted by a narrow pitch which dis-orientated their play. Rangers won 2-0 and advanced to the next round. Kyiv protested but no wrong-doing was found to be committed. As Graeme helpfully pointed out after his team’s victory, the width of the pitch complied with the regulatory dimensions.
Mark Hughes did something similar in May 2000. He was manager of Wales at the time and they had a friendly against Brazil at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff. Hughes asked for the pitch to be narrowed to help counter the threat of the Brazilian wingers. His order was carried out but these are Brazilian football players we are talking about here. Narrow pitch or not, their skills and close control would always shine through. Wales got smashed 3-0.
Generally, it’s obvious that expansive, attacking sides usually thrive on large pitches. More defensive teams and long-ball teams, on the other hand, invariably favour smaller playing surfaces. A recent example might be that of Chelsea’s match against Barcelona. On the smaller pitch of Stamford Bridge, Antonio Conte could set up his defensive tactics to stifle the spaces Barcelona could attack in. Doing exactly the same on Camp Nou’s bigger and wider pitch in the return leg, might prove a bit more difficult to do.
Speaking of the Camp Nou pitch, surprisingly, it is not even the biggest in Spanish football. It is certainly still a big pitch which does comply with the recommended measurements by FIFA (105m x 68m). Spain’s largest playing field, however, is at Elche measuring 108m x 70m.
And in England, which club has the largest playing surface ? Old Trafford? The Etihad? Spurs at Wembley? None of them. Hull City and their KCOM Stadium possess the biggest pitch measuring 114m x 74m. Not that it did them much good last season when they got relegated.
Spurs do currently play on the biggest pitch in the Premier League with Wembley’s green pastures measuring 105m x 69m. They effectively went from playing on the second smallest pitch last season (White Hart Lane’s 100m x 67m) to playing on the biggest this season. After teething problems earlier in the season, Pochettino and his men have fully adapted to their temporary home. Everything is now Pitch Perfect.