Life in plastic is fantastic
Umeå's long turf war seems to have reached a happy end, when FIFA on Wednesday approved Gammliavallen's artificial turf as "FIFA One Star", which makes it possible for Umeå to play their international fixtures at their home arena. "It's a great joy to be able to call Gammliavallen our home arena for all occasions", Umeå's happy manager Roland Arnqvist said. The certificate, that was confirmed by UEFA the same day, is valid for 3 years.
Umeå and plastic has been a long running story, ever since the first UEFA Women's Cup season 2001-2002. The local newspaper Västerbottenskuriren printed a long story about how Umeå managed to play 4 UEFA Women's Cup seasons without an approved field, a story about negotiations, threats and bribes, hope and despair.
The first seasons Umeå's Gammliavallen actually had grass, but that doesn't help when UEFA's schedule forces the team to play in March. The deep snow and frozen ground left no alternative but Umeå's artificial turf reserve field, Sandåkern, for the 2002 quarter-final against Ryazan. Initially Ryazan wasn't happy with the idea, but Umeå paid for a three day extension of their stay in Sweden to give them time to get used to the turf. In april 2003 Frankfurt refused to play on the artificial turf for the semifinal. Umeå offered to change dates with Frankfurt, playing the Umeå home game later and thus being able to use the grass on Gammliavallen. Frankfurt refused this too. There was no solution until the Swedish Football Association contacted their German counterparts. Frankfurt then agreed to play on Sandåkern's artificial turf in order to keep their home field advantage for the last semifinal leg.
In 2003 Umeå city renovated Gammliavallen and put artificial turf on the field. Umeå IK wasn't thrilled by the idea, but there were a process in UEFA towards recognizing field turf on certain conditions and the city promosed the turf would be state of the art. But the UEFA rules still stated that artificial turf could be used only if the guesting team agreed to it.
Negotiating the November 2003 quarterfinal with Russian Voronezh, the Russians, initially unwilling to play on Umeå's field turf, offered a deal including a change of dates with Umeå, since a late November match in Russia could be hard to carry out. Umeå agreed, and then Voronesh walked out of the agreement, again refusing to play on field turf. Umeå went to the Swedish FA, that got in touch with UEFA, that appearently used harsh words with Voronesh. The Russian club complied and played at Gammliavallen.
2004 Frankfurt was the opponent in the final. And no way Frankfurt was ready to concede to play on field turf again. Umeå, seeing no way to even finance a home leg away from home, threatened to leave with a walk-over. The Swedish FA called to negotiations in Stockholm. "There wasn't really any negotiations at all", Roland Arnqvist remembers, "The match should be played at Råsunda in Stockholm and the Swedish FA would take the costs. If we refused we would be fined 100,000 swiss francs and expelled from Damallsvenskan."
The Women's Cup final against Frankfurt was probably from a football point of view Umeå's finest hours - they defeated Frankfurt 8-0 over the two matches, but it took a great toll on the club, both financially (a home final would have been a big money-maker) and on the management. The 2004-2005 season Umeå was eliminated already in the quarter-finals by Djurgården, a club that just like Danish Brøndby never had any qualms about playing on field turf. And after the UEFA decision this week nobody else should for the next three years.
Västerbottenskuriren: Gammlias konstgräs äntligen godkänt
Västerbottenskuriren: Ett fem år långt helvete i plast
Since nobody took the bait last time I tried to make a funny reference in the title, I don't expect anyone to do now either. But I love comments.
Aqua with Barbie girl?
Well... Life in plastic will be fantastic for the next couple of years. I wouldn't have minded another game at Råsunda, I loved the Frankfurt match. And it's closer than Gammliavallen too.