New Brunswick

Poor field conditions plague Saint John Soccer Club

The City of Saint John will start including provincial fields in its pre-season inspections, after a coach was injured on rough terrain and east Saint John soccer groups were forced to move practices to a field outside of the neighbourhood.

City of Saint John to start pre-season inspections of school fields used by Saint John sports groups

Poor field conditions kicked off a challenging season for the Saint John Soccer Club. (Facebook)

Poor conditions at an east side playing field kicked off a challenging season for the Saint John Soccer Club.

The club, which has players ranging in age from three years old to adult, had been using a school field at Forest Hills for large group practices, until the coach of a U4 team was injured during a warm-up.

"He kind of jumped over the ball and landed in a divot or hole," said club president Isabelle Logan. "We thought he just dislocated his knee, but when he got to the hospital, it was much worse."

Logan said it turned out the coach had broken three bones in his ankle and dislocated his kneecap — resulting in surgery and a six-day stay in hospital.

"He's in recovery, but it's going to take him at minimum three to six months before he's back to himself," Logan told Information Morning Saint John. "Then there'll still be some physiotherapy and stuff like that afterwards."

She said repairs were then made to the field, which was used by the club four nights per week, but a contractor carried out work on the entire field instead of just fixing problem areas, which made it like a "dirt path".

"There's no way you can play soccer on dirt," Logan said. "So we had to cancel that field."

High demand for playing fields

Sporting clubs of all types book time for each season with the City of Saint John, for use of both city-owned and school fields. The city does share some maintenance of the provincial fields, and must divide their use up between sports such as soccer, ultimate Frisbee, lacrosse, football and rugby.

Logan said the city helped find a new location for the club, and eventually had to re-open a previously decommissioned field at Barrack Green Armoury in south end Saint John. However, the change of venue meant some families couldn't continue with the soccer season.

"A lot of our families are low income, and therefore walk to the field [at Forest Hills]," she said. "Being at Barrack Green we did lose some families."

Logan said with so much competition for fields, she'd like to see better maintenance, and an earlier start on talks with the city each year, about which fields will be available for which groups.

City to expand field inspections

Tim O'Reilly, Saint John's deputy commissioner of parks and public spaces, said the city has standards for the fields it owns, but because it has a stake in the school fields, will start including them in its pre-season inspections.

"We do have a set of standards for city fields, in terms of how they need to be at the beginning of the season, and throughout the season, in terms of maintenance," he said.

O'Reilly said the city also got an earlier start on bookings this year.

"I guess you can never start soon enough," he said. "No matter how early we start, there's certainly going to be a challenge in terms of number of fields."

"Everybody generally wants the fields in the same time slots, so that's also a challenge, too. No matter how early we start, it's still going to be a challenge with accommodating every single user group with the use they want for the field."

Logan would like to see more playing spaces, but O'Reilly said the city has to balance demand during peak times with how much money the municipality has to maintain the fields.

"It's the same thing as a road system — you build your road system for morning traffic and afternoon traffic, but every other time during the day it's relatively empty," he said.

O'Reilly said the rates clubs pay for fields increased this year, and will increase in 2017. But he added that doesn't mean increased service for the fields.

"Basically what happens is we're trying to increase the percentage of the cost of maintaining these fields to user groups as opposed to the general tax base," he said.

Information Morning Saint John