SAFC 10 YEARS AGO: Stadium of lights!

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Here’s what the Echo was reporting 10 years ago today.

STADIUM OF LIGHTS

SUNDERLAND have invested in a lighting system that could help make the Stadium of Light pitch into one of the best in the land.

The Black Cats pioneered the system six years ago with the aid of its Dutch inventors, SGL, the Wearside arena being the first football ground to use it.

Now the six new lighting rigs are helping to solve a problem suffered by many clubs in new grounds, which is that the grass does not grow because it doesn’t get enough natural light.

SAFC facilities manager Peter Weymes believes the investment has already produced results.

He said: “We did a trial in 2001 with a lighting rig that was able to cover the whole penalty box.

“We used it through the winter in the south end of the ground and that area was by far the best part of the pitch for grass coverage. It was proof that the lighting system worked.

“We have still got the original lighting rigs and they’re stored behind the south stand outside some business units.

“The technique has been continuously developed and improved since our trial and we have invested in its fifth generation. We decided to hang on for the best system that suits football pitches.

“We have had the lights since the end of November and now we are starting to see massive results. The pitch is far better than it was at this time last year.”

There are four large lighting rigs and two smaller goalmouth rigs. The lights can cover a quarter of the pitch down one with, the head groundsman Adrian Partridge and his men moving the rigs progressively over the pitch at three-day intervals.

They are rolled into the stadium car park during games.

“The rigs simulate sunlight, which is obviously where the growth is generated,” said Wymes. “The only down side is that you still have to irrigate and feed the pitch all the way through the winter, and cut it.”

The lights replicate the elements of the sun’s rays that grass absorbs for growth.

“Everyone wants the perfect pitch and everyone wants to do as little as possible to achieve that,” added Weymes.

“The lighting system generates a few more man hours because you have to get them in and out of the stadium for matches.

“There were some complaints from some players after the Barnsley game in October about the pitch being bobbly. The weather forecast after the previous home game was for a lot of rain and we spiked the pitch to allow the water through. When you do that, you lift the pitch a bit and it makes the surface slightly uneven.

“As the grass cover get better all of those issues go away because the ball is running on grass and moves more smoothly.”

STEPH AIMS TO HAMMER THE SCOTS

SUNDERLAND Ladies Captain Steph Houghton aims to build on her senior England debut when the national team tackles Scotland tomorrow.

Eighteen-year-old Houghton, from South Hetton, won her first senior cap in England’s 6-0 crushing of Russia in Milton Keynes on Thursday.

And now she’s keeping her fingers crossed that Sunderland goalkeeper Carly Telford, also in the squad, will follow suit soon.

England are preparing for September’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, which is held in China, and challenge the Scots at Wycombe’s Adams Park tomorrow before hosting Holland at the County Ground, Swindon, on Wednesday.

Houghton is enjoying her second senior England call-up and was delighted to be sent on as a 73rd-minute substitute against Russia.

She said: “I think I did OK. I was only on for about 20 minutes at right-back and it was a great experience.

“I kept it simple and concentrated on not making mistakes.

“I got my first call-up in October when we player Germany, but didn’t get a game that time.

“The World Cup is definitely my target and I just have to train hard and take every opportunity I get.

“I’m not as experienced as some of the players and this has been a steep learning curve for me.

“The senior England cap has come a bit sooner than I expected.”

Sunderland are battling to stave off relegation from the Women’s Premier League and Houghton is hopeful of survival.

She said: “We’re third from bottom, one point ahead of Cardiff with two teams to go down. It will probably go to the last game of the season, but we’re a young team and battle for each other so we’re going to give it our best shot.”

Goalkeeper Telford, from Stanley, is part of the senior squad for the first time and says a senior debut would be a huge boost after a year of injury problems.

She said: “ I dislocated my right shoulder and had an operation on my left shoulder. But England looked after me well by organising the operation and rehab and I’ve come back feeling stronger than ever.

“There are three goalkeepers in the squad and it would be nice to be involved and keep myself in with a chance of the World Cup.

“Just training with the England coaches and players is great and can only make me better.”