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Don't make ploughed fields an excuse

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Jack Ross | 11:14 UK time, Monday, 8 February 2010

Bowling greens and ploughed fields! Two of the most commonly used phrases to describe the condition of a football pitch and each at either end of surface quality spectrum.

The state of the playing surfaces in the Scottish Premier League is a hot topic at present and, while not wishing to join the significant criticism they have attracted, I thought it would be better to question whether a poor pitch can influence performances and results.

Initially, it is nonsense to suggest that there is no effect upon a player's display as a consequence of the surface being sub-standard. As, surely, if golfers can suffer from poorly prepared greens and cricketers from dodgy wickets then a footballer can suffer from playing on a "ploughed field"!

However, how much these factors affect the performance is another matter, suggesting that those who recognise the difficulties they may face and prepare accordingly will prevail.

Our semi-final victory against Hearts last week was a great example of this. We had the experience of playing at Fir Park a short time before the cup match and therefore were aware of the problems the pitch could pose.

This enabled us to play in a system, and at a tempo, which was best suited to Fir Park and ultimately helped us to victory. By playing in a manner that allowed us to get close to Hearts' players and pressure them on a difficult surface, we were able to gain possession in good areas of the pitch and try to create from there.


I must point out at this juncture that I actually agree with Motherwell manager Craig Brown in that there are other pitches in the SPL that are having tremendous difficulties at the moment, mainly because of the recent extreme weather, and that it is probably too easy to just highlight the shortcomings of the Fir Park surface.

From a personal point of view, I have never found the condition of the pitch a hugely negative factor. While obviously preferring the "bowling green" surfaces of early season, I have had enough experience of the more agricultural pitches throughout the leagues to be able to adapt to a pitch that may be cutting up, or bereft of grass.

In truth, the higher the level you play, the more spoiled you become in terms of what you are offered the opportunity to perform on and, indeed, usually one of the more problematic issues for players in the top flight is their choice of boots on modern pitches.

The decision to wear moulded or metal studs is made more complicated because a number of the new pitches, such as ours at St Mirren, tend to be very firm underneath, with a slick top surface. This is a great combination to allow the ball to be passed quickly but can mean the pitch feels too hard for studs but too slippery for moulded boots.

However, players will make their choice on what they believe will allow them to perform well and will adapt to the conditions modern surfaces present as much as they will to the problems poor pitches and inclement weather provide.

I have no doubt that all players, including myself, will have a moan and complaint about a park that is below the standards we expect and at times blame it for a disappointing display. However, while a rutted pitch is always a factor, it should never be an excuse!


  • Comment number 1.

    seems like its just a scapegoat for the losing team. fair enough, blaming something else makes defeat easier to take but its not really constructive. why not take it on the chin and say we'll be prepared next time.

    both teams are playing on the same pitch anyway though, its not as if one half is a 'bowling green' and one 'agriculture' and they switch at half time anyway.

    now for everyone who is about to jump on that last point and say the home team is used to it, how is it not the opposite when motherwell go to hamilton, for a relevant example. you don't hear us complaining that hamilton had an unfair advantage cos they were used to the good pitch and were able to play their passing game which we aren't used to doing at fir park. that would be bitter and ridiculous. man up.

  • Comment number 2.

    my first ever first comment :)

  • Comment number 3.

    I tend to agree. Even snooker players who play under more uniform conditions will use a "fast cloth" or "bouncy cushions" as an excuse.
    Get over it an adapt, it separates the grafters from the pampered.

  • Comment number 4.

    You played great at the weekend with the rest of the team.
    Just wondering if you would sign a new contract at the mighty saints along with billy mehmet and andy dorman.Do you think they will sign?

    Best of luck for the cup final and the league

  • Comment number 5.

    I would agree, the pitch shouldn't be an excuse for any team, but would you agree Jack that something should be done to stop pitches like Fir Park getting into that state. After all, better pitches mean a better quality of match, so supporters will be more likely to turn up, pumping more mony into the game?

  • Comment number 6.

    I am fed up with all the media hype about how poor our pitch is. Just because we have had a bad 2 or 3 seasons in terms of the pitch doesn't mean that we shopuld be singled out for criticism.

    If you followed the work done to the pitch over the summer you should be aware of how much effort there was to install a damn good pitch.

    We sorted the bad drainage, such that it can withstand a tremendous amount of rain - which it has done recently. We also sorted the undersoil heating so that it actually worked properly. We even reduced the slope by as much as was possible. This was not a basic relaying of a pitch but a major technical operation.

    So, now that we have had a horrendous winter and we protected the pitch so that games could go ahead, by undersoil heating and surface covering, it ruined the grass by some of it dying off. Then we attempted to take remedial action, the pitch is looking pretty poor (descriptions are all subjective, aren't they?).

    Given some time to recover, with the absence of games, I'm sure it will recover to become much more playable.

    One point not really being made is that, if most people agree that Motherwell is a passing team, we are disadvantaged every second week, whereas other teams are disadvantaged twice a season at most.

    The club has done little wrong, but are being pilloried by all and sundry. Thank you Jack for backing up oor Jack (of Jack and Victor) by saying that there are other pitches that are as bad, if not worse. Why are they not being talked about? We are an easy target because of previous years, that's why.

    So, gie us a break and look for other reasons why teams lose to us at Fir Park.

    Yours, a paranoid and defensive Well fan.

  • Comment number 7.

    By the way Ross F, if you can suggerst how to stop the weather we have had recently, I think you would be too rich to bother about watching football, but sunning yourself on a world cruise, and pumping millions into the game.

  • Comment number 8.

    Robin, I said LIKE, not exclusively, Fir Park, I wasn't making a dig at Motherwell. I'm well aware of the work done to it over the summer and I'm quite convinced that the pitch will improve, but you have to agree that it should never have been allowed to get into the state it was in for the previous two seasons in the first place. With regards to the weather, I was at St. Mirren's game against Rangers a few weeks ago and the pitch wasn't perfect, but was a damn sight better than what I saw last week in the semi-final, so it seems that weather is not the only factor in the state of pitches.

  • Comment number 9.

    thought id say how great a club i think st mirren are. They realistically arent table contenders, but they financially are a good example of how not to live over your budget, especialy when you look at the likes of Rangers, West Ham and now Manchester United.

    Good club to be at!!

  • Comment number 10.

    Ross, you seem to be suggesting that the condition of the pitch is somehow connected to the pitch in the last 2 to 3 years. That's like saying "your previous manager was an arrogant, self-opinionated balloon, therefore your curernt manager must take the rap for the previous guy's comments and actions". The point I was trying to make was that the current pitch is in no way connected to the previous seasons and therefore is not a result of the shambolic state that the pitch was in throughout those years. That was due to a few factors, such as lack of maintenance, based on miserly financial control, greed and 'how much can we get away with not doing' syndrome.

    This is a completely new pitch, base and undersoil workings and was considered to be one of the best when the season started. In terms of how it got into its current state, I don't believe that we did much wrong because of the weather. We protected it from freezing and ensured it was playable. Then we weren't allowed to play when the surrounding areas determined that it wasn't safe to get into the stadium, which makes a mockery of spending all that money to have the pitch playable but the game is still postponed. I'm sure (ok, hope) that the club will learn from other clubs on how to deal with the conditions we endured this winter.

  • Comment number 11.

    I think it is a fair point made regarding trying to ensure clubs have good quality surfaces to enhance the chances of entertainment being provided (especially as gate prices continue to be high) but as i touched on I believe the standard of pitches have improved greatly in recent years, and will continue to do so.-albeit the weather will continue to be a factor.

    With regards to Fir Park in particular, I actually felt the pitch as a whole had improved for the semi final from our recent league game. There are problems on the main stand side but the rest of the pitch was ok, and certainly did not hinder our performance!

    With respect to contracts, I think it is clear that I really enjoy playing at St Mirren and hopefully will continue to do so alongside the other first team regulars mentioned!

  • Comment number 12.

    thoughtful post jack. you probably didnt hear Jim Jeffries post match interview at fir park where he said initially the pitch was the same for both teams. but then went on to bemoan its quality four times in the short interview and cite it as seriously affecting what his team could do.

    he also thought 'the buddies' needed a wonder strike to get a goal as they hadn't really troubled his team!

    how long will he last down Gorgie way?

  • Comment number 13.

    Och lets get real...the pitch at Fir Park wouldn't be allowed in any other league.



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