Western Sydney Wanderers have little choice but to endure their three remaining A-League fixtures at Spotless Stadium despite the venue's inferior and potentially dangerous surface.
Professional Footballers Australia, the union for A-League players, released a statement on Saturday condemning the pitch which was offered up for Western Sydney's clash with the Newcastle Jets.
The Jets prevailed 2-0 on Friday night, but the match failed to hit any real heights as players continually lost their footing and attempts at passing were often foiled by the bumpy turf.
It was a wonder it went ahead at all given what unfolded before kick-off, with shards of broken plastic cups and even a metal screw found on the pitch – supposedly remnants from a music festival held at Spotless Stadium last weekend, which officials explained had been blown onto the surface from the stands by strong winds during the day. It's understood several nails were also discovered.
The debris was cleaned up and the match proceeded on time, but Jets coach Ernie Merrick suggested after the match that the uneven ground – which he labelled a "disgrace" – may have caused defender Daniel Georgievski to tear his groin.
The PFA confirmed numerous players had contacted them to raise "serious" concerns and claimed the health and safety of both teams was compromised.
“In our game, the quality of the playing surface afforded to the players is critical. It is impossible for any player to play to their capacity when a fundamental component of the game is hijacked,” PFA chief executive John Didulica said.
“Through our discussions with the clubs and FFA since the match we accept the extreme weather leading into the fixture in Sydney contributed to the dangerous conditions. However, this does not change the heightened risk of injury that players were exposed to nor the overall inadequacy of the surface for football.
"I think everybody in the game – players, administrators, coaches and fans – deserve higher standards of care from our stadiums if they wish to host football matches.”
The Wanderers are understood to be privately furious with the situation but their hands are tied. They have three more games at Spotless Stadium this season – two against Central Coast (December 7 and February 9) and one against Perth Glory (February 24) – and they cannot be moved due to contractual issues. The best they can do is hope the pitch improves by then.
The remainder of their home fixtures will be played at the nearby ANZ Stadium as they await the completion of Western Sydney Stadium, which they will move into next year.
It's a case of short-term pain for long-term gain, but a third A-League campaign as footballing nomads is taking its toll on the club. There was a hollow atmosphere on Friday night with only 10,458 supporters turning up for the Wanderers' first proper home game of the season.
They will be lucky to surpass that figure again at Spotless Stadium – particularly given the erratic form displayed by the team, with only one win to come from Markus Babbel's first five games as coach. The Red and Black Block, once the jewel in Western Sydney's crowd, was also sparsely populated compared to the group's heyday.
Vince is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.