How to conduct Pitch Inspections

As referees our primary focus re: players and ourselves is the chance to participate in the game safely and that, in the first instance, means ensuring that the playing surface upon which the game will take place is going to be a safe one for the whole of the game.

With this in mind, can we remind you that it is imperative that you carry out a full pitch inspection prior to the start of ANY game that you referee… but especially at times when conditions are unusual.  This may mean extremely dry and hard pitches in the summer, or frozen and/or waterlogged putches in the winter. 

If for any reason you have any doubts about the safety of players and yourself to take part in a game following any such inspection, and these cannot be rectified prior to the start of the game ie: the pitch is frozen and the temperature is not going to rise, then you must discuss this with the home club (and away club if in attendance) and advise them that the game will have to be postponed.

It is far better to have a few differences of opinion with your decision expressed to you, than be pressured into allowing a game to take place that ends in a broken limb or maybe worse.

Please see below a small guide to pitch inspection procedures and protocols. These guidelines are there to assist you in coming to a decision if it is within your power to do so; quite often the decision will be out hands of the referee as some pitches ie: council pitches, will have a blanket decision made at a certain venue(s) re: their playability. If this is so, you must as a referee respect this and not contradict it to get a game played. If the council have decided the pitch is unplayable, it is unplayable. That said, you can still decide that a pitch maintained by a council isn’t safe to play on if you believe it to be so based on an inspection… even if the council have said the game can go ahead. In this instance the final decision rests with you.

Pitch Inspection Procedures & Protocols

For advice in respect of pitch inspections, please be advised of the following that would be considered best practice and should be adopted wherever possible.

Pre-Inspection
• Be proactive re: the weather and its’ potential impact on your up-coming game(s) – keep an eye on the forecast in the days leading up to your game(s)
• Be positive and as proactive as your availability allows towards any requests to attend a ground slightly earlier than usual if asked to carry out a pitch inspection where there is a doubt about the safety of a playing surface due to the weather
• When carrying out a pitch inspection, seek to wear suitable footwear so that you can make as accurate an assessment of the playing surface as it would be in a game… get your football boots on if you can. In addition, it is also great to get a football that you can take onto the pitch too… to see the effect any potential surface problem will have on a rolling/bouncing ball

The Inspection
• On your own and without vested interest opinion (if possible), inspect the field of play
If a groundsman is available with local knowledge, seek that first & then inspect the field of play
• Inspect all areas of the field of play but pay specific attention to areas of high traffic ie: goal/penalty areas, the central third of the pitch from goal to goal/penalty area to penalty area… this is where the majority of the game will be played. Look to see that the playing surface is safe and/or playable ie: not frozen/icy, not waterlogged, not covered in snow:
• If the pitch is frozen/icy, are there ruts from previous games that would be dangerous ie: they could cause twisted ankles etc if stepped into and/or could cause cuts to legs/arms if slid over
If this is so… postpone the game
• If the pitch is waterlogged, does the ball run feely and/or bounce true ie: does it gets get stuck in puddles/not bounce back up having hit the ground
If this is so, postpone the game
• If the pitch is covered in snow, are the pitch markings visible and/or does the ball run feely and/or bounce true ie: are the lines covered in snow and /or does the ball get stuck in the snow or gather snow onto it as it rolls/not bounce back up having hit the ground
If this is so, postpone the game
• Take your time to assess the current weather conditions and be fully aware of the local forecast for the next few hours
If, as an example, the pitch is close to being waterlogged and heavy rain is falling & will continue to do so… will you be able to finish the game if you were to start it
• If a delay to kick off is possible, consider this if it means the game can take place ie: if kick off is 10.00am but a delay to 10.30am to allow the temperature to rise will allow to pitch to become safe then consider this (be mindful though of games that might follow yours… this might not be an option available to you). This is especially pertinent in respect of fog-bound pitches; a small delay could allow the game to take place safely
Having said that, frozen or icy pitches will not become playable in a short space of time… they will need a substantial increase in the temperature to unfreeze – if the weather forecast doesn’t support this happening, postpone the game
• If snow can be removed from the pitch and/or lines in time, consider this as an option. That said; still ensure that the remaining snow (if any) doesn’t prevent the ball from rolling true etc (as above) & that the ball can be seen!
A different coloured ball (yellow/orange) should be used in this circumstance as a white ball will not be visible

Post-Inspection
• Take some time to consider all that you have seen and heard (if relevant)
• If you are in doubt about whether to play the game or not – postpone the game
It is better to postpone the game & be wrong, than play the game & be wrong!
• Make a decision in your mind & stick to it (unless something really drastic occurs that would need you to change it ie: the weather completely changes in a very short space of time)
• Discuss the situation as you see it with the club(s) & explain your decision as to whether the game can go ahead or not. Refer to the evidence you have ie: weather forecasts/actual things you have seen whilst inspecting the pitch
Do this on the pitch if possible to add weight to your decision
• Be positive in your approach to people who are seeking your opinion and show a degree of empathy if the game cannot go ahead, especially if others disagree
• If the game can go ahead, ensure you remind all those concerned that if for some reason things do change that cause you a real concern for the safety of players and yourself… you do reserve the right to reverse your decision to preserve the safety of the players and yourself
This is just a caveat in case of need; if you are in doubt about whether to play the game or not – postpone the game
• The reference point for your decision is always the safety of the players and yourself
If this cannot be guaranteed for the whole of the game re: the playing surface/pitch conditions then postpone the game
• If you don’t think you will finish the game… don’t start the game
• Make a brief note of your discussions and who with… so that you can accurately report the circumstances around your decision. This will be required by the competition the game was due to take place in if the game is postponed

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