Does Size Matter? Pitch and Goal Dimensions

Running the rule over the grounds to see who measures up!

Big and LittleIt is a misconception that all football pitches are the same size. They are not. Can you imagine this applying to some other sports? What if the distance between the stumps was different at Lords compared to the Oval? But the distance between the goals at the London Stadium is greater than it is at White Hart Lane.

The FA has followed the lead of UEFA and FIFA in recommending standard pitch dimensions. I wonder how many people know what the recommended size is? The Laws of the Game permit quite a big variation in the size of the pitch. The length of a pitch can be anywhere between 90 and 120 metres. The permitted width has an even greater range, and can be between 45 and 90 metres. These dimensions came into force in the 1897 draft of the Laws of the Game.

For “official matches” the length should be between 100 and 110 metres, whereas the width can vary between 64 and 75 metres. In an attempt to achieve consistency, the recommended dimensions are 105 metres x 68 metres. The Premier League wants all teams to have a pitch of this size, but does allow exceptions if it is impossible to comply due to the construction of the ground.

The pitch sizes at Arsenal, Hull, Manchester City, Manchester United, Southampton, Sunderland, Swansea, West Brom, Middlesbrough, Watford, and now West Ham, are all identical at the recommended size. Wembley is the same, as are all the major stadiums throughout Europe. But that is only eleven of the teams in the Premier League. The pitches at Burnley, Chelsea, Liverpool, Leicester, Crystal Palace, Everton, Bournemouth, Tottenham and Stoke are all smaller than the standard size. In fact depending on which teams are in the Premier League at any given time, there can be up to 9% difference between the areas of the largest and smallest pitches.

Stoke has the smallest pitch of the current Premier League teams at 100m x 66m, and I guess this relates back to the Tony Pulis days when they wanted the pitch to be as narrow as possible for the benefit of Rory Delap’s long throws. The Tottenham pitch is the same length as Stoke but just one metre wider. The Upton Park pitch measured 100.58m x 68m.

Now I have a problem with the size of pitches. Bearing in mind that they have remained unaltered for around 120 years, the size, speed and power of human beings has increased significantly in that time. If you consider the average height of men, the 100 and 1500 metre running times, and high jump and long jump distances, to take just five examples, then we have seen increases in size and performance between 7% and 20% in those five categories. The same is true for females. So in relative terms the pitch was much bigger in years gone by. With the size, speed and athleticism of modern man (and woman), the pitch is now relatively congested compared to the past.

To allow for this, pitches should probably be at least 10%-15% bigger than they are. In order to compensate for the increases in human performance then the length of pitches should be increased to around say 115-120 metres, and the width to 75-80 metres. Of course most stadiums could not cope with this (although ours could possibly get close!). The authorities could, perhaps, order clubs to increase the size of their pitches to the maximum possible that their ground would allow. They could, alternatively give clubs a period of time, say ten years, to construct new stadiums that the revised pitch sizes would fit into. With the billions of pounds of TV money around then this shouldn’t be a problem.

The alternative is to reduce the number of players on the pitch from 11 to 10 to achieve the same effect. 11 may have been appropriate some years ago, but 10 would now allow for the human performance increases. We’ve all seen games where two players have been sent off leaving 10v10 on the pitch. There is more room for everyone to express themselves, and less congestion. I urge the authorities to move to a 10-a-side game if they don’t proceed with an increased pitch size.

And while we are at it, the size of the goals has not changed in the period either. As a result I believe we should increase the height of the goal from 8 feet to 9 feet, and the width from 24 feet to 27 feet. Modern goalkeepers must find the goals relatively small to defend when compared to the custodians of years gone by, and these increases will mean that the number of goals scored will perhaps return to the levels of 100 years ago.

Like other aspects of life, football needs to adapt to the times. It has never recognised the increases in human size and athleticism throughout the history of the game, and these changes would undoubtedly be beneficial to the entertainment value.