PFA CEO John Didulica hopes Saturday night’s SCG pitch debacle will be a turning point when it comes to sub-standard surfaces in the A-League.
The SCG surface for Sydney FC’s 2-1 win over Big Blue rivals Melbourne Victory was slammed, and magnified when Terry Antonis sustained a knee injury by falling on the edge of the stadium’s cricket pitch.
Though Antonis has now been cleared of any structural damage, his rehabilitation process has begun and there is no set time on his return to action.
It was Sydney FC’s second home game at the venue, which was serving as a temporary home while Allianz Stadium – just a stone’s throw away – is being bulldozed and renovated.
The stadium’s surface has come under significant scrutiny in 2019 as it feels the pinch from hosting at least four codes: A-League, AFL, NRL and Super Rugby.
Victory coach Kevin Muscat called the surface a “disgrace” and said it was time for the A-League to begin rejecting surface that did not meet expectations.
For their part, the SCG Trust defended its surface having been deemed as playable upon inspection.
“As is normal practice, the field has been inspected by independent experts in the past two weeks, with satisfactory results recorded for all codes,” a statement read.
“Hardness levels are consistent across the entire field and well within acceptable levels. No issues were raised during inspections of the field of play by match or team officials before the recent training sessions and fixtures.”
While Saturday’s incident served to intensify the light on player wellbeing, it is not the first time this season the A-League has been forced to make do with a sub-standard field.
Earlier this season, Ernie Merrick described Spotless Stadium’s surface for his Newcastle Jets’ match against Western Sydney Wanderers as a “car park”. Fragments of plastic were found scattered across the pitch.
Didulica told Monday’s Daily Football Show that something has to give, all the while acknowledging the complicated nature of Australia’s stadium situation.
“I think we’ve reached a tipping point. If we haven’t reached it on Saturday, we won’t,” he said.
“The reality is there’s no quick fix to this because you can’t click your fingers and get a stadium overnight, but what it does do is it will embolden people to take drastic action when they’re not satisfied with what a surface looks like.
“That’s why we called for an independent investigation into what happened on Saturday night.
“We need a process so we know what the sign-posts of success look like and if the stadiums can’t come up to speed, they’ve got to allow the clubs to switch the games and allow them for doing so.”
Daily Football Show panelist Tony Persoglia served as an FFA match commissioner to A-League games for three years and offered insight into that role.
He explained that on matchday, match commissioners – who can call matches off – are highly unlikely to do so due to commercial obligations.
“I know the power that a match commissioner has on matchday itself is very limited because of the commercial responsibilities with FFA,” Persoglia said.
“It’s one of the reasons why I pulled the pin after three years because I felt that ultimately, it was always slanted in a way that the commercial responsibility – the responsibility to the host broadcaster – almost seemed to be put ahead of the players’ welfare.”
Didulica agreed with those comments: “If you’re a match commissioner, or a referee … it’s just inconceivable that that person, even if they were vested with that power, that they would have the wherewithal to push back on a game going ahead.
“You’re not only impacted on that game itself … you’re then impacting on the entire competition. When does that then get played next?
“We need to be able to present, in a really objective way, what the proper process for assessing pitches and rescheduling games needs to be, and that’s what we need to be giving to stadium operators to say, ‘if you cannot deliver a surface in line with this process, you cannot host the match’ and ‘if you commit to hosting the game and cannot meet our benchmark, you need to compensate us’.”
Didulica and the PFA have called for FFA to launch an independent investigation into the issue.
FFA’s Head of Leagues Greg O’Rourke said that while the surface was deemed playable, the process that led to that decision would come under scrutiny.
“The processes we have in place approved the surface last night as playable and safe. These processes include pitch inspections in the days leading up to the game and on game day by Sydney FC, SCG, the match commissioner and the referees,” he said via a statement on Sunday.
“We will sit down tomorrow and review the decision leading up to last night’s game. If we are not comfortable with the process undertaken, we will have no hesitation in finding a better way for next season.”
Sydney have moved their potentially vital match against ladder leaders Perth Glory on 18 April from the SCG to Jubilee Stadium.