These days In Scottish football, the debate surrounding artificial pitches is cropping up on an increased basis.
- Am I bored of it? Yes.
- Is it going to stop me getting involved in the debate? Nah, I might as well shove my 2 cents in.
There is widespread debate in the Scottish media about artificial pitches, or more so, widespread criticism from areas within and on the periphery of our game. As an East coast boy, it may be perceived as churlish of me to suggest this media scrutiny is simply because Rangers and Celtic have struggled on synthetic pitches. That being said, the old debate has come up again. The catalyst you ask? Celtic were pumped 2-0 by Livingston on a synthetic pitch.
I do understand the spectator’s point of view, top flight games on plastic pitches can make unusual viewing. The blood and snotters, slide tackling, mud stained shirts that are synonymous with how our game is traditionally viewed just doesn’t occur on this surface. In addition to this, this is a country where a crunching slide tackle or a defensive header will get more adoration from the baying fans than a fancy piece of skill or a 30 yard raker. These pitches simply don’t cut the mustard in the eyes of many supporters. Truth be told, if I were to analyse the TV games that I have watched on artificial turf, I would have to say that they haven’t been much of a spectacle. This may well be purely coincidental and just my luck of picking a game.
On the other hand, as a lower league player in his mid to late 20s, I am very well acquainted with the artificial surface. I have been playing football on artificial pitches for as long as I can remember, from the old rock solid sand covered Astroturf that are more akin to a supermarket car park, to the latest 4th generation synthetic surfaces. In my honest opinion, the impact has been more detrimental to the domestic side of my life rather than the footballing side. As soon as I remove a sock, a barrage of sand or rubber pellets will scatter the floor close to my washing basket instantly putting me on the back foot of my fiancé’s freshly hoovered flat.
It is something, I have been brought up with and I can’t honestly say that it has had a negative impact on my game and development as a player. I far prefer these pitches to a poorly maintained grass pitch, particularly when the surface is wet and the ball can zip around. On a good artificial pitch, the ball roll is consistent, it is conducive to good football and you don’t feel like a tin man when the referee blows his whistle.
This can’t be said when you are referring to a bad grass pitch. Simply the thought of crossing the speedway track at Cowdenbeath with my studs trying to sink into the rock solid playing surface and the ball bobbling up of the hardened mud to the height of my knee cap instantly fills my body with dread. I find it difficult to control a ball on a perfect pitch never mind with all these elements thrown in. Central Park isn’t the only culprit; I have had many a traumatising experience at Cliftonhill, Meadowbank and Stair Park where I would have struggled to trap a bag of cement never mind a football.
I feel there is a certain degree of bandwagon jumping from traditional “football men”, who find time to demonise artificial pitches amongst their other two favourite past times of berating multi-coloured boots and bemoaning the lack of stiff upper lip in the millennial generation of footballer. Criticising artificial pitches are just another tick on the “football man” bingo card with little reasoning and evidence to why they actually think they are bad for the game.
That being said, there is currently a lack of “good” artificial pitches. I take issue with the SPFL insertion that all pitches in the professional leagues are kept to the highest international standard. When the pitch is first laid down it is usually of high quality and a joy to play on. Then 2-3 years down the line, the pitch is deteriorated significantly. This is probably a combination of poor pitch maintenance and owners overly renting out the surface for other teams, school and the public. Although understandable, as clubs will be looking to cash in as much as possible in this tough economic climate, the deterioration is a nightmare for both players and supporters alike.
There are artificial pitches in the lower leagues that have not been re laid for well over 5 years leading to a down trodden inconsistent flattened surface leading to an awful spectacle and muscle soreness for several days. More has to be done to ensure these pitches are kept up to date.
I have heard criticisms from fellow players, ideas like it causes injuries, effects the speed of the game and it’s not the surface football was intended to be played on. Although I would perceive this to be purely anecdotal (majority of scientific research would suggest it is), you do have to listen to the players. We are the ones experiencing it first hand, it is our bodies that have to go through physical turmoil and they are the ones that will know exactly how the surface affects their game, whether that is on grass or an artificial surface. Yes the fans should have an opinion, yes the media should have an opinion, yes the referees should have an opinion; but when it comes to playing the game the PFA sum it up best:
“Our members, as those actually playing football on the pitch, are best placed to give a view on the standard of pitches in Scotland”
Just don’t tell Gary Holt you want to dig up the surface at the Tony Macaroni Arena.