Games called off at new £308,000 all-weather pitches at Stanley Park - because of the rain

Football matches were called off on Stanley Park’s new all-weather sports pitches – because of the rain.

Wednesday, 20th March 2019, 2:02 pm
Updated Wednesday, 20th March 2019, 2:03 pm
Workmen laying the new pitch at Stanley Park last year, before they were opened by Man Utd defender Rio Ferdinand

The £308,000 artificial grass pitches were opened to huge fanfare in November after a major overhaul but, just months later, they were shown the red card by concerned junior footie league chiefs.

Blackpool Council, which carried out the work with a grant from the Premier League and FA Facilities Fund, insisted the pitches were safe on Saturday morning, despite admitting the drainage system couldn’t keep up with the torrential rain.

Games on similar pitches elsewhere, including at Blackpool and The Fylde College’s Bispham campus, went ahead despite the weather, though grass pitches right across the Fylde coast were left waterlogged and unplayable.

The old surface was notoriously tricky to play on over the winter months and was replaced last year, though it is still is used on adjacent pitches

In a statement, the council said: “During a torrential downpour on Saturday, the Poulton and District Football League made the decision to cancel their matches, which were due to be played on the new pitches at Stanley Park that morning.

“For a brief period the drains could not keep up with the heavy rainfall. While the pitches were still safe to play on we understand why the league decided to cancel.

“This is the first time this has happened since they opened last November. The rainwater quickly drained away once the rainfall eased and the pitches have been in use ever since.”

The cancelled games, which affected a number of grassroots clubs, were fixtures in the Under-10s Coulton Plate competition, The Gazette understands.

The Poulton and District Football League said it would not be commenting.

But managers were understood to be frustrated by the cancellations. One, writing on social media, described them as a “joke”, saying the pitch also used to suffer from standing water when it was sand-based pitch rather than the newer third generation (3G) surface. He added: “Nice to see they have sorted the problem.”

This is not the first time revamped sports pitches at Stanley Park have caused issues in recent years.

In 2017, netball players were told they could not play indoors at the adjacent Blackpool Sports Centre because cash had been splashed on six outside courts – despite concern over their safety in poor weather.

The council spent thousands of pounds on anti-slip surfacing on courts in the park and said it wanted teams in the Fylde Netball League to 
use them.

But bosses there said they wanted to continue playing indoors from October to March because of worries over maintenance and floodlighting – leading to an unusual standoff that left some teams threatening to quit. Resort sport bosses later backed down.

The new football pitches, opened by former England and Man Utd defender Rio Ferdinand, were to be used by 86 teams according to an announcement, and Coun Maria Kirkland, the council’s leisure boss, said in November: “It is fantastic to see this level of investment into modernising Blackpool’s football provision.

“There is clearly the demand for such facilities that will continue to support and develop grassroots football in the local area.”

But Coun Tony Williams, leader of the Tory opposition at the council, said: “I don’t see how these all weather pitches can actually deliver what it says on the tin.

“Obviously the drains are not capable of handling our local rainfall and this should have been sorted out when they were developed.

“If they [the pitches] are not fit for purpose it’s been a complete waste of money.”

The pitch must be hired for a minimum of one hour, with the cost ranging depending on the size of the pitch needed – five- or seven-a-side games use smaller pitches – whether it is for training or match play, and whether the club hiring it is a partner club from the likes of the Lancashire FA.

The council said the cost can range from £100 for an hour of training on a full pitch to £19.80 for a five-a-side game.

A spokeswoman said using a full pitch for two hours is £200 without concession, which one local assistant manager, enquiring in a bid to avoid their grass game being axed, called “absolutely disgusting from a council-run facility.”