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Plastic fantastic?

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Paul Fletcher | 06:10 UK time, Friday, 18 November 2011

The cuts and dents on my knees still tell the story of a series of below-par performances on the plastic pitch at Deepdale, the home of Preston North End. I was playing for my local amateur team at the time. It was the late 1980s, a few years before the articificial surface was eventually ripped up.

Bumpy, abrasive and with a bounce that could send a football into space, it was painful to play on and a poor spectacle to watch. The Preston players wore long tights for every home game, which tells you all you need to know about the quality of the surface.

Few tears were shed then when plastic pitches were formally outlawed in the Premier League and Football League in 1995, relegated, in the process, to little more than a footnote in the history of English professional football.

But all that could be about to change. An increasing number of Football League clubs are thinking of rolling back the years and going artificial again, albeit using a modern, high-tech surface that bears little resemblance to its predecessor.

It is important to stress at this stage that there is no official proposal, rather an informal discussion taking place between clubs.

Before a club can install an artificial surface, there would need to be a change to regulations. For that to happen, there would need to be a vote at an annual general meeting, with the motion only succeeding if it gets a majority of 50% plus one of all 72 clubs AND 50% plus one of the Championship clubs.

In short, we are still a considerable period of time away from a possible return to artificial surfaces. Certainly, everybody I spoke to talked in terms of years not months.

The Football League has no comment to make at the moment but I understand they are happy to let the clubs decide. They have already heard what the League's deputy operations director, Michael Tattersall, has to say after he gave a presentation to all 72 clubs in November and they will discuss the issue again in February. But it seems clear there is a real desire to find out more about the benefits of a return to artificial surfaces.

Luton take on Manchester United on an artificial surface at Kenilworth Road.

Luton played on an artificial surface at Kenilworth Road. Photo: Luton Town Football Club

Not surprisingly, by far the strongest area of support comes from within League Two, where even relatively modest revenue streams can make a huge difference, especially with every club set to lose £46,000 per season when the new television deal kicks in next summer.

Accrington Stanley chief executive Rob Heys is convinced an artificial surface offers several advantages. "There is the revenue that could be gained from hiring the pitch out, as well as the money that will be saved in maintenance," he told BBC Sport.

"We could use the surface for training, from the first team to youth sides. Then there is the community benefit. We could get people inside the ground seven days a week rather than 23 times a year."

Heys estimates that installing an artificial surface would cost as much as £500,000 but is confident that, with the right business model, the money would be easily recouped. "Technology has come a long way and the more you look at all the advantages, the more the drawbacks pale into insignificance," he said.

Some top-flight matches in Italy, France, the Netherlands and Switzerland already take place on artificial turf, so do some Champions League and Europa League games. Even some internationals tournaments, too. England's Euro 2008 qualifier against Russia took place on an artificial surface at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

Scotland has a number of clubs with artificial pitches, among them Scottish Division Two side Airdrie United, who installed theirs in the summer of 2010.

"It has made the stadium more of a focal point in the community," Diamonds chairman Jim Ballantyne told BBC Sport. "Within time, especially given the weather in Scotland, lots of teams will have one. It is a case of when not if."

Not everyone is in favour. Burnley chief executive Paul Fletcher - no relation - says there is one drawback that cannot be overcome.

"I don't think the spectators would like it because it would be like watching a game of five-a-side football," said Fletcher, a former Clarets striker who has also played a key role in stadium development at clubs such as Huddersfield, Bolton and Coventry.

He also says we should not understimate the impact artificial surfaces have on the body. "The players of my era have had major problems with hips and joints as they have got older," said the 60-year-old. "Modern pitches have shock pads and they are getting better and better but, in my view, they will never replace the beautiful surface of grass."

Burnley play at Turf Moor on a desso surface that combines grass and artificial fibres. It can be used up to three times a week and Fletcher believes it allows clubs to provide the best available spectacle for their fans. The use of this desso surface is widespread in the Premier League and Championship.

However, Heys says it is too expensive for a club such as Accrington and could not be used as often as a true artificial pitch. What's more, he reckons that an artificial surface would provide a much more satisfying experience for fans than the games played at the Crown Ground at the back end of winter when the pitch is churned up and uneven.

League One side Wycombe Wanderers have been one of the driving forces as far as the reintroduction of artificial surfaces is concerned. It is three years since they first considered the idea and, despite Fletcher's view, their vice-chairman, Brian Kane, believes that there has been a significant shift of attitude in recent months.

"People said it would never happen but that has changed," he said. "There has been a groundswell from the bottom up. Clubs like Chelsea do not need the revenue they would get from letting out their pitch but clubs like Wycombe and Accrington do."

The Chairboys share their Adams Park stadium with rugby union team London Wasps but Kane says that arrangement would not stop them installing an artificial surface. Governing bodies in both union and league require an additional shock pad under the surface but both support their games being played on artificial surfaces.

Adams Park - the home of Wycombe Wanderers and Wasps.

Would Wycombe benefit from an artificial surface at Adams Park? Photo: Getty Images

"I'm very upbeat," said Kane. "When I started out I thought I would never see it within my lifetime but, within 10 years, I think we will see it at quite a number of clubs."

Heys, a more recent convert, is also strident in his belief that the return to artificial surfaces is a very realistic possibility, pointing out that it will be "a very viable alternative to grass in the near future".

But, besides the issue of spectator satisfaction, there are obstacles. For example, there are question marks over the impact artifical surfaces will have on the integrity of the Football League, given that it could be argued the home team has an unfair advantage.

The other is the stance of the Football Association, who banned the installation of new artificial surfaces in 1988, six years before the last one was finally ripped up. As things stand, FA Cup ties cannot be played on artificial pitches.

Support within the Championship appears to be substantially less than in Leagues One and Two, too. It is unknown whether second-tier teams could be persuaded to vote for a surface they do not favour.

Perhaps the over-riding issue is this: If an artificial surface can help a League Two club thrive, or even simply survive - and in the process become an integral part of its community - is that such a bad thing?

Or will it always be the case that real football can only be played on grass?

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Good idea.
    The synthetic pitches of the past were not suited to football and really created problems for all, but now with the vast amount of research that has gone on to make the game "more traditional" (no huge bounces etc.) these pitches are nearly as good as grass.
    Hockey has used them for many years and they provide a flat, regular playing surface which benefits all. Whilst football has the ball in the air more often than hockey I can think of a few goalkeepers (internationals amongst them) who would appreciate not having the ball bounce over their foot as they attempt a clearnace, as well as penalty takers who have a standing foot slide away at the crucial moment.
    The point about injuries and "wear and tear" to players is also less valid than before with the use of better shock pads. Good maintainence and correct usage (very little is worse than a "dry" water based synthetic pitch) both easily achievable after one hours instruction for any groundsman, limits the problems.
    Whilst I know that football hates to take any ideas or advice from other sports get the Football League to talk to England Hockey. You never know, some sense may prevail.

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    Plastic pitches are not about football .... they're about clubs (read businesses) maximising pitch usage - 24/7; for concerts and other events. Football will quickly take second place to the profits from these activities. We also need to remember that if a true comparison is done on maintenance costs (and you can be sure that British groundsmen are not as well valued as in other counties), a good artificial surface doesn't come cheap - it is of course easy to present a set of figures that is likely to give that impression, but heigh ho what does the truth matter when grounds can become theatres and produce lots of lovely cash for the board room!!!!

  • Comment number 4.

    We play on it every week at Cliftonville and, believe me, it works and works well. I watched Leicester play on it at QPR and Luton years ago and it was absolutely garbage. Things change and nothing more so than this.

  • Comment number 5.

    Forget about artificial surfaces. I say bring back mud, sleet and sliding tackles. :-)

  • Comment number 6.

    Hi Paul

    Good blog, and i'm all for it.
    The scaremongers will point to the pitches of the past, but modernday pitches almost feel like the real thing, and they encourage better football.
    I remember my team (Oldham), and they played good flowing football on what was a fast pitch, it wasn't easy for the opposition, but was that the pitches fault, or the oppositions ?
    The fact it can be used by the whole community cannot be underestimated either.
    I loved to play on the 'Hallowed turf' of BP when i got the chance.

    Also #3, what a stupid statement, doesn't wembley, OT, anfield, etihad, etc get hired out for big events, why not let it out for events or concerts, or should that only be allowed for the big clubs who employ the bigger groundstaff in their bigger stadia,

  • Comment number 7.

    I have watched games in both Moscow and at Lorient in France where they both have an artificial surface, in my view the surface still plays a long way from the real feel and movement grass offers. It still looks more like a five a side game than a real game of football. If clubs in non league football can have good surfaces, why the hell can't Accrington, they seem to be making the most noise on the topic, their surface was awful the last time I watched them. Having a artificial surface laid down gives the owning club a major advantage, as very few players enjoy playing on them.Football today is already beginning to resemble netball, a non contact sport, this will not improve that, it will take it further away from what football is about. As you will obviously be aware, tackling is not a major feature on artificial surfaces.

  • Comment number 8.

    Sounds like a good idea, but it's presumably only worth doing if it's agreed by the relevant governing bodies for all domestic tournaments - Football League, Premier League, League Cup and FA Cup - that their fixtures can be played on artificial surfaces.

    #3 - If an artificial pitch gives a boost to a club's finances so that it can be solvent without needing continuous cash injections from owners that sounds to me like a good thing.

  • Comment number 9.

    The arguments against the pitches are all typically English 'what about sliding etc?'

    The authorities have done as much as possible to take income away from the smaller clubs with the academy rules changes, so can we really argue against an idea that brings in more money for a small club?

    Most importantly, it'll vastly improve the technique of young players coming through. Learning to pass and dribble on a surface that stays true can only encourage more youngsters to ignore the screaming parents cries of "get rid of it," and start to pass, receive and run all over the pitch.

    Playing on bobbly grass just leads to hump it football. This can't happen soon enough.

  • Comment number 10.

    "It was the late 1990s, a few years before the articificial surface was eventually ripped up." - Seems unlikely as it was ripped up in the summer of '94.

  • Comment number 11.

    I am fairly sure I read in early October, in the Swiss tabloid 20 Minuten, that the artifical surface at Stade des Suisses, where the national team play, and where Spurs played Young Boys, is going to be ripped up and replaced with grass, or perhaps desso. My reading of Swiss German tabloid text is well short of 100%, but I am pretty sure this is what it said.

  • Comment number 12.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 13.

    The only way this would be fair is for clubs with artificial pitches to have a seperate league. I remember these pitches and the advantage those clubs had was a disgrace absolutely

  • Comment number 14.

    I follow a Scottish non-league club, Spartans FC in Edinburgh, and we now have 2 artificial pitches which I'm on regularly. These are a world away from the previous generations; I remember getting burn marks from slide tackles. These feel as good as grass, the ball bounces true. Importantly, as a Community club, we train children from as young as 5 and there's no doubt a decent surface helps develop their skills more than a muddy, uneven one. Our first team play on it and it does allow for good, apssing football, even though we have to adapt to some of the away pitches. This is definitely the way forward especially for smaller, community clubs.

  • Comment number 15.

    I think that the issue of artificial pitches is really important in the grassroots game as well. You spend the winter intermittently playing on terrible surfaces that can be variously grassless, muddy and sticky or rock-solid post frost thaw. You're lucky if half of the scheduled games actually take place over the winter period.

    There is surely a case for introducing artificial pitches, even if just for keeping regular football going when the weather gets rough. Have a read of our article from the grassroots perspective: http://sotb.bluefields.com/soccer-stories/artificial-enhancement-the-solution-for-grass-roots-grass-roots-football/

  • Comment number 16.

    I support the idea and disagree with this ...."realsimbel wrote:
    The only way this would be fair is for clubs with artificial pitches to have a seperate league. I remember these pitches and the advantage those clubs had was a disgrace absolutely"
    If the pitches are true and smooth it will be the club with "idiosyncratic" pitches (like massive slopes in the FA Cup) that will have an advantage
    If the economics are that good every club in the UK will have one in a few years.
    The even surface will encourage more ground play and less of the hoof it up field game as it becomes more consistent to pass than put the ball in the air which hasto be good for the England team ... who passed to the Swedes far too often!!

  • Comment number 17.

    My university has a brand new 3G artificial pitch used by football, lacrosse, rugby league and union and american football - mostly for training sessions. Mid-Winter this is ideal as it saves the real grass pitches to be used for match days. For this reason they are excellent in terms of gaining revenue throughout the season.

    However, after training on it 2 or 3 times a week for 2 years the amount of ankle/shin/knee injuries in the squads were so high. The pitches feel very hard to play on in terms of impact on the joints, and seem a lot slower to play high quality football on.

    I for one would hate to see 3G surfaces bought into the pro game!

  • Comment number 18.

    Modern artificial are a world away from the old "carpet" artificial pitches. They are softer, you can't feel the concrete underneath and you don't get flayed alive when doing sliding tackles or making saves if you're a goalkeeper.

    I think it should be limited to clubs from League 1 and lower. With clubs now getting less money for promising youth players it will be a good money saving option for small clubs.

    If they put a condition that youth players have to train and play on the artificial surface it could have the unintended benefit of improving the technique of youth players, where they are forced to play football rather than hoof the ball, outside the top two divisions which can only be good for English football.

  • Comment number 19.

    They are widely in use in Sweden. Partly because of the weather but mainly because they are cheaper - in the long run - especially for smaller clubs.

    They seem to play fine and cause no injuries.

  • Comment number 20.

    The sooner 3g pitches and the next developments of artificial surfaces are allowed in all divisions of football the better. With UEFA looking to impose sanctions on those clubs who rely heavily on their owners for investment it will be a way to generate income from other sources and those clubs in lower divisions where any income is to be welcomed they are a revenue source and provide a community asset.

  • Comment number 21.

    There are many myths regarding Synthetic Turf, please let me explain the facts: 10 areas.

    1) Community and Club Development

    In England there are very few teams attached to a club, in Netherlands and Norway, there are over 20 teams attached to a club. The durability of Synthetic Turf assists club and community development. Norway and Netherlands have developed sustainable grassroots, community programmes because of synthetic turf.

    2) North of the border in Scotland, one has only have to look at the major turnarounds at clubs such as Stenhousemuir and Montrose - to show the immediate benefits of synthetic turf. Helps balance the books, drives community particpation, assists youth development structure, develops local partnerships with schools and better football conditions all year round.

    3) Medical - F-Marc and UEFA studies from Professor Colin Fuller and Professor Jan Ekstand have shown no significant differences.

    4) Pro Zone, a leading perfomance and analysis company who work with many top flight clubs, were commissioned by FIFA to highlight "Does the game change of synthetic turf compared to good "natural grass", a 100 game analysis showed no significant differences

    5) Participation and sustained participation at all levels is a key driver in developing national football, many countries have seen synthetic turf as a way of achieving these goals, whether in Italy, France, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway or Switzerland, where synthetic turf is now used in the professional game.

    6) Like any surface (whether natural or synthetic) there are good and bad, The European Synthetic Turf Organisation constantly gives independent and objective information from club, community and best practice regarding the usage of synthetic turf. www.theesto.com

    7) In England, Synthetic Turf can assist in achieving the national game strategy, but also in the lower leagues can ensure survival, withlower costs and alternative revenue streams.

    8) More elite stadia are now using synthetic turf, not only for revenue streams but to ensure a surface that is in top condition for players 365 days a year.

    9) Ajax Youth Development have seen synthetic turf in assisting the players technical development because of the constant quality of synthetic turf.

    10) So, there should be more reasons and benefits for clubs and their stakeholders to say - This is what synthetic turf can bring and this should be the debate, and the real examples as illustrated mean in all reality, synthetic turf assists football.

  • Comment number 22.

    4G pitches are almost as true to play on as an immaculately kept turf while the major advantages of being much easier to maintain and as has been pointed out the possibility of hiring the pitch out to various groups, which the team I play for has been lucky enough to benefit from.

    The technology is now good enough, we should use it.

  • Comment number 23.

    Unfortunately, as a lot of responses to the article show, far too many fans are stuck in the past to put up with moving to synthetic pitches. The new era of pitches such as that at Wycombe are nothing like the old abominations at QPR or Luton Town and it's time to look forward not back.

  • Comment number 24.

    First of all I remember at school in the 90's we had an astro-turf pitch and that was hideous with - as people have commented - cuts and abrasions every time you slid on the surface. When I went to university the university installed a newer type of artificial surface and this was much improved and did not cause these types of cuts. This was in around 2000, so 11 years on things must have improved even more.

    All in all if the quality of the pitch can on average (remember in Winter a lot of these smaller clubs may have truely awful pitches) be the same as the quality of the pitches that the clubs currently maintain then they should be allowed to use them.

    I am not sure why the Championship clubs would not vote for them - after all if they don't see the need/like them then no-one is forcing them to install them on their pitches.
    Also since they would currently have to change the pitch back to grass if they get promoted less than half of the teams would actually change their own pitch only to have to re-lay a couple of years down the line (they would be assuming they can achieve promotion).
    That means that if it went through there would be maybe 5-6 teams in the Championship playing on this surface so they would not be seeing it that often. Plus there is another benefit to them that they will probably play at least 1 game in the winter on a better away pitch than normal

    The biggest problem is likely to be the FA rules that stop FA cup ties being played on this surface - clubs would also need to get that changed (since the league cup is run by the football league I assume that if they allow them in the leagues then they will allow them in the cup as well) and that might be more difficult with the politics at the FA

  • Comment number 25.

    At Oldham, despite the weather and the plastic pitch, we didn't wear tights. We're not soft. And the age of the plastic pitch coincided with the best football the club has ever played.

  • Comment number 26.

    @Soriasaint "I think it should be limited to clubs from League 1 and lower."

    I think it's got to be allowed everywhere or not at all. You'd get the prospect of League 1 clubs deliberately losing at the end of the season so they don't get promoted and have to install a new pitch because they could be relegated the next season.

  • Comment number 27.

    I recently watched Airdrie v East Fife in the Scottish 2nd Division and was pleasantly surprised by he quality of the pitch (and the standard of play for that matter). The players did not come off the park with burn marks, tackles were made as they would have been on a grass pitch and it was just like any other normal 11 side match on grass. For the Burnley Chief Exec to say matches would be just like a five a side game is just nonsense, he has clearly not seen a proper competitive match on one of the latest artificial surfaces. These new pitches have come on considerably since the 80's in terms of the predictability of the bounce, the speed the ball runs at and so on and though obviously artificial, it behaved pretty much like a normal pitch in every other respect. I prefer a good quality grass pitch myself but for lower league clubs it makes perfect economic sense for them to go down this road. The English football authorities need to get into the 21st century frankly and sanction artificial pitches now.

  • Comment number 28.

    No, No and No. Stick to the real stuff.

  • Comment number 29.

    THE FA COMPETITIONS COMMITTEE have to allow synthetic turf in the competition. This rule is preventing clubs and leagues to say yes to synthetic turf. It will also send a signal that Synthetic Turf is on par "with the best natural grass", so lower leagues clubs, and others can develop their clubs on and off the field... Considering the facts and research on medical, players, club development, financials. England and Manchester United have play in FIFA and UEFA Competitions on synthetic turf...

  • Comment number 30.

    3 days on the front page but no blog about blatter ... cowardly and shameful! There are real issues here for non-rascists to discuss. Isn't this why you employ moderators? Couldn't you premod comments? so condescending ... so BBC

  • Comment number 31.

    Ha ... premod here instead!!! Free speech going the way of the free market, lol

  • Comment number 32.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 33.

    I saw games at Luton,Preston and QPR on the old plastic pitches and they were frankly a joke but today I think a truer (though not perfect) bounce can be achieved and certainly players are no more at risk of serious injury than on any other pitch.On balance then I would support the moves on a trial basis if it helps lower league clubs commercially.In Scotland games are now regularly played on an artificial surface without detrement to the game itself by and large although there are huge numbers of goals scored in the lower Scottish divisions not least because the bounce is still not regular,it is better than on those pitches used in yesteryear but it is not perfect by any means in Scotland where the 'cheaper' variety of surfaces have been laid.It does appear that in Russia for example better quality surfaces produce a less pronounced difference in bounce but I doubt the likes of Accrington Stanley would consider such matters as paramount.

  • Comment number 34.

    We might as well bring them back - you can't do slidding tackles any more without getting booked!!!

    It would also make the game quicker and better technically.

    Cost as well is a factor as smaller clubs just can't afford to keep relaying their pitches and could use this type for other events without worrying about damaging it. How much would you pay to play at old trafford on a plastic pitch.

  • Comment number 35.

    Well what needs moderating nothing said that is wrong????

  • Comment number 36.

    I'm a bit split on this. There's clearly a commercial case and the technology has clearly moved on. But...

    Like Paul, I have played on Preston's plastic pitch (just awful), and I have also played on Oldham's (even more awful). Since then, I've played on the odd plastic pitches of gradually increasing generation but never enjoyed the experience. Maybe it's my age but football works better on grass.

    I also watch my son who plays for a league club's centre of excellence and their games are often on 3G pitches. Regardless of how it's dressed up, it's an incontrovertible fact for me and my fellow dads that plastic just doesn't play as well as grass. It's not the same game and maybe we have to buy into that, but for me at least it'll be a sad day to say goodbye to grass.

    I also don't feel that the health risks of prolonged training on astro have yet been clearly identified because they haven't been around long enough or in sufficient quantity for proper comparative study. My son and his mates have been training on astro for years now and we as dads are all concerned about the wear and tear on their joints: most of them now have incurred usage injuries which may (I'm not saying they are, I'm not qualified for that) be caused or exacerpated by the hard surface they are training on which doesn't have the "give" of a natural surface.

  • Comment number 37.

    I saw Spain beat Scotland 3-2 at Hampden in 2010 (great game incidentally). Watching them play that night was akin to viewing (good) 5 a side football - sharp, short, slick passing. What's wrong with pitches generating that kind of game?

    That said, I agree that the pitches must be player friendly; the plastic of the 80s was abysmal.

  • Comment number 38.

    Standard of grass pitches has advanced so much that not sure why we need to go back to plastic????.Maybe in the lower leagues there is case for them. Certainly the premiership grounds pitches are outstanding. Astro has come on leaps and bounds but its still not the same as good old fashioned grass...

  • Comment number 39.

    From the Scottish perspective, we now have 5 clubs using these surfaces in the League (Stenhousemuir and Airdrie in the 2nd division, Alloa, East Stirling and Montrose in the 3rd). The initial cost is approximately £450k for a very good surface, £600k or so for the best surface, with these having to be tested each year to ensure the roll and bounce etc are still correct and meet the required standards (costing about £3k each test).

    These pitches though cannot be used all the time, as is assumed, and this is where clubs that install them have to worry. The normal useful life of a pitch is 10 years, however Montrose's is showing signs that it may need replaced after 6 years and Stenhousemuir's may not last much longer than that.

    All in all though, they have been very good for the clubs up here (especially with the opportunities at grant funding the majority of the pitches) but the clubs have to watch and not price the use of these pitches out of the reach of the locals (like what some clubs have done with their own artificial pitches not necessarily in the stadium).

  • Comment number 40.

    I have to take exception with Scottish-Baggies and his suggestion that the artificial pitches in the SFL are the "cheaper" variety. All of the clubs who have these surfaces went to considerable expense to get the best surface available. Nor do I agree that there is any link between the pitches (and alleged dodgy bounces) with the number of goals scored. 8 goals on grass at Stranraer on Saturday and 9 at Coatbridge on grass the week before.

    My club Alloa laid a 3G surface in 2008 and although I was opposed initially I was quickly converted. The new pitches are nothing like the astropitches of the 80's. Players can slide on them and the bounce is true. Research continues to show injuries are no more common than on grass. Ideally everybody would like a perfect grass pitch but the reality in Scotland (and England) is that for parts of the season grass pitches are far from perfect. I have no doubt our pitch is far more suitable for football over the winter than many grass pitches in the Football League.

    Add on the benefits of getting the community in to use the pitch (the community is now far more involved in Alloa Athletic than ever before) and the income it can generate for clubs. Self sustainable football clubs as sporting hubs in their community - makes sense all round.

  • Comment number 41.

    All these people going on about 'we don't want to go back to the late 80's plastic pitches!' obviously have no idea what they're talking about! No one is saying that! The new artificial pitches are outstanding and much better for clubs to be playing football on those pitches rather than not at all due to going out of business!
    I'm a Luton fan and grew up with them playing on a plastic pitch. While it wasn't great, Luton were well known for playing some of the most attractive football in the country and a lot of this was down to playing on a fast paced pitch where it wasn't conducive to Watford/Wimbledon style of long ball football due to the bounce.
    A return to the new artificial pitches would be great, as it will help smaller clubs keep afloat, develop better skilled young players, thus feeding into the larger clubs and improving the game no end.
    Finally, with weather being so unpredictable these days, there's more of a guarantee of football being played all year round!

  • Comment number 42.

    I agree with the principles behind allowing the synthetic surfaces again, however I remain to be convinced that they don't offer an unfair advantage to the home side. I know things have improved since the drastic plastic of the 80's but it can't be coincidence that the likes of Oldham and Luton enjoyed their most successful periods whilst playing on the artificial turf.

  • Comment number 43.

    I think we are missing the fundamentals about the future of quality at national level. Starting at grass root level, giving children the opportunity to gain skills, fitness and interest in football in all weather all year round pitches. Providing for safe play areas and Multi Use Games Areas within football development in schools and junior football will enhance the quality of senior, club and professional football.

  • Comment number 44.

    Attitude, in football as in real life, is often the hardest to change, but technology will leave these Luddites behind one day. Don't just take my word for it. Google "fifa quality concept artificial turf" and you can read a 103 page document by FIFA, full of mind numbing details on how an artificial turf is certified FIFA quality. Buried in that document is a concept that is completely lost in the arguments above called Developing The Game Of Football WORLDWIDE.

    The goal of FIFA sanctioning artifical turf is not simply to save money on grass pitch maintenance for lower league football clubs, it is to create a consistent surface that is safe and authentic to play on, whether it is in the freezing north in the middle of winter, scorching heat of desert middle east, or rain drenched tropical countries during monsoon season. Those who say football should only play on grass might as well suggest swimming competitions should only take place in rivers and lakes because swimming pools are unnatural. There is no doubt that, given time, artificial grass will be better, last longer, and safer to play on than the real stuff, at any level of the game.

  • Comment number 45.

    i've got an artificial grass lazylawn in my garden - great stuff - appears the yarn technology has come a long way since the old scratchy astro turf surfaces.

    the pitches do play pretty fast but can be bit slippy at times (need to stretch the groins well!), but the fast pace of the surfaces does make for good flowing footy, as long as they are well maintained.

  • Comment number 46.

    #17 "However, after training on it 2 or 3 times a week for 2 years the amount of ankle/shin/knee injuries in the squads were so high. The pitches feel very hard to play on in terms of impact on the joints, and seem a lot slower to play high quality football on."
    ________________________________________________----

    How do you know these injuries were down to the pitch?

    Ive been playing on this artificial surface for about 5 years, consistently, and never heard of any injury problems that were caused by the artificial surface necessarily, rather a bad tackle of some sort.

    Also, #36. You say the new pitch your son plays on is hard. He cant be playing on very good quality artificial surface then. If pro clubs were to get them, trust me, they would be to spec and the real deal is very similar, actually quite softer, than grass.

    Having said that its definitely not a clear cut argument. I can see the pros and cons on both sides. One issue that hasn't been raised is when it rains. Because ive played on the pitch when it rains and the ball runs quite a bit faster than normal grass. Your control and technique has to be spot on. Also, some sports centres dont allow for you to wear mouldeds/blades on the pitch, which is wrong, as the surface is made for this type of footwear...so there are still ignorant people out there who have these pitches. But you know, i think overall, im for it.

  • Comment number 47.

    I'm completely against plastic pitches for a number of reasons. (Apologies for the constant references to Welsh football here. I'm first and foremost a Bangor City fan.)

    1. Most importantly, it gives a massive advantage to the team with the plastic pitch. In the Welsh Premier League The New Saints play on an artificial pitch & it gives them a massive advantage. Balls bounce differently on their dodgy rug and - as a result - teams often take 20-30 minutes to adjust, but which time they can be a couple of goals down. I think I'm right in saying that in the last three years they've only lost twice at home. The major factor in this is their pitch.

    2. It's appalling to watch a game on a plastic pitch. If you don't believe me, watch a few minutes of highlights from last week's New Saints v Bangor City match at http://www.s4c.co.uk/sgorio/e_/2414ysn-ban. As previously mentioned, the bounce of the ball is horribly unnatural, but, even worse than that, it just doesn't look like grass.

    3. The idea that playing on plastic will suddenly cause this country to churn out an endless supply of players with the technique of Iniesta is possibly the most stupid thing I've ever heard.

  • Comment number 48.

    deaduncleted

    "Playing on bobbly grass just leads to hump it football. This can't happen soon enough."

    ___________________________________

    Spain has absolutely awful pitches once you get out of the top tier. But I mean bad. Even some in the first division have surfaces that would cause highbrows to be raised in the English League 2.
    So how come Spanish football is more skillful and technical? I think it's because if you have dry hard pitched you can't do sliding or physical contact. The other part is cultural. In England it's seen as good to "get stuck in" in all walks of life as well as football.

    Personally I think artificial grass is awful. I remember Spurs playing Young Boys last years and really struggling because of the surface. It gives a great advantage to the home side that has to play 50% if their games on this surface while visitors only play on it once a year.

    If you can't grow grass you really shouldn't be playing football.

  • Comment number 49.

    #46 "You say the new pitch your son plays on is hard. He cant be playing on very good quality artificial surface then. If pro clubs were to get them, trust me, they would be to spec and the real deal is very similar, actually quite softer, than grass."

    I didn't say it was new and I didn't say it was hard! You're reading stuff that's not there. What I actually said was that it is harder than a natural surface. I didn't say anything about its age and you're off beam with the dig at the quality of the surface: this pitch was state of the art 3G when laid a few years ago and still looks in tip-top condition. Also, as stated, I've played on these pitches as well and I'd beg to differ about their similarity to grass.

    I'm glad to hear you've not come across any injury issues. However, you're only the 3rd person to have commented on how it is to play on this surface (as opposed to being a spectator) and currently you're outvoted 2 to 1 by me and #17!

    Without knowing the level / intensity / frequency you play at, it's also difficult to know how much to accept what you're saying about injuries. I'm talking about a lad who regularly puts in 4 to 5 hours pw of grinding hard work on astro, not someone who might only play the odd 45 minutes of recreational 5-a-side. I personally think there's still a lot of work to be put into the whole question of potential long-term joint injuries caused by the harder surface, but we'll only know the answer to that years from now.

  • Comment number 50.

    #49 - "My son and his mates have been training on astro for years now and we as dads are all concerned about the wear and tear on their joints: most of them now have incurred usage injuries which may (I'm not saying they are, I'm not qualified for that) be caused or exacerpated by the hard surface they are training on which doesn't have the "give" of a natural surface."
    ___________________________________________

    You do say in the above statement "caused or exacerbated by the hard surface"...so it is there and i havent read wrong. I think its just more of a misunderstanding. i also didnt say the word "new".

    I think hard or soft then is a matter of opinion. I play a lot of football. 3 x a week and 11 a side, including smaller games on 3G, 4G and on grass. In my experience the surface in terms of "give" is at least as good as normal grass pitches in the UK.

    Im not saying i know the answer to the potential for injuries, but if i was to guess, and i could be wrong, i reckon its a misnomer if the quality is spot on. You also have to do a study comparing what types of injuries are more likely on grass vs 3G and vice versa. Its a bit of swings and roundabouts. Injuries in football are nothing new.

  • Comment number 51.

    I've played on both the 'old' and 'new' style artificial pitches, as have several who have already posted and I will wholeheartedly agree that technology has developed to the point where artificial grass can be as good as the real stuff.

    The benefits, in my opinion, outweigh the drawbacks. If the governing bodies can be persuaded that the quailty of the game and safety (long-term health) of the players is not adversely affected, it's time to move forward!

  • Comment number 52.

    I agree with the principles behind allowing the synthetic surfaces again, however I remain to be convinced that they don't offer an unfair advantage to the home side. I know things have improved since the drastic plastic of the 80's but it can't be coincidence that the likes of Oldham and Luton enjoyed their most successful periods whilst playing on the artificial turf.


    i could be wrong but i seem to recall my Luton Town team beating Arsenal at Wembley in one of the most exciting cup finals seen there,not sure that was on a plastic pitch?

  • Comment number 53.

    For those posting regarding injuries, grass or synthetic there will be injuries of a different nature when changing surfaces. Sports that are just basically running at pace, have seen a different type of injury, when changing surfaces. The stop start, twisting and turning nature of a footballer will only increase that effect.

    Having played on various artificial surfaces, the fact is the ball does react in a different manner, certainly in terms of bounce and pace. But it cannot be said artificial is better or worse than grass, the game will remain the same and it will be a purely personal opinion regarding preference.

    Athletes are no different to any other animal when it comes to their ability to handle different surfaces, some actually show improvement, others find their effectiveness is lessened. Will it improve our players? the answer will be in some yes for others no.

  • Comment number 54.

    "(and you can be sure that British groundsmen are not as well valued as in other counties)"

    British Groundsmen are a much valued commodity. I once worked for a non league club that was in the top 3 pitches in the UK (only bettered by Spurs and Arsenal!!), i earn't more than the top earning footballer.

    The british groundsman is a well skilled individual and sought the world over. The groundsman at Real Madrid is british and school at Myerscough College near Preston.

  • Comment number 55.

    I don't rate the Desso Grassmaster pitch. Those plastic fibres that hold the pitch together take all the give out of the pitch. I played at Upton Park and it was rock hard.

    Provided we're moving on with 4G (or even 5G) pitches and not the 3G ones currently in use, I think it's a cracking idea.

  • Comment number 56.

    Yes the new 3g 4g carpet systems have come on leaps and bounds since the early systems of the 1980,s , however they do not have a place in professional sport, they are still many miles away from playing on natural turf, The characteristics, playability and performance of natural grass pitches far out weigh the current performance of artificial surfaces. Another factor to consider with artificial pitches is there overall life costs (8-12 years):- initial installation, on fully engineered base, between £500-600K. Maintenance costs per year, between £8-15k ,then there is the replacement costs of a new top after several years £100 K. These artificial's are not maintenance free and come at a high cost, yes they can accommodate a lot of play, but ask most professional sports men what they would prefer to play on from my experience they prefer natural grass.

  • Comment number 57.

    Artificial pitches! I have just visited a local school with a brand new artificial all weather surface. It is absolutely nothing like the old "take your skin off" variety of years ago. It is a full size soccer/rugby surface. The surface is more like a smooth rug infitrated with a rubber-like compound. Ask the boys in mid-winter which they prefer to play on. If you in Bromley, south London go and have a look Paul Fletcher. Regards, Mike D.

  • Comment number 58.

    Yes yes and yes, most Premier clubs are ok(ish) financially but for lower league clubs it could generate much needed revenue and the pitches have moved on from the original ones. I played on some of those and the bounce of the ball was hard to predict but that seems to have eradicated now.

  • Comment number 59.

    @25 kafkafil

    Good shout, Oldhams' best spell for a long while. Tights? Oldham never played on North Ends' plastic pitch.

    The football being played at Deepdale at the time was on an inferior pitch, by an inferior team, in an inferior league..

    No longer!!!!.. (by 1 point at time of writing!).. ;p

    I had the experience of (cough) 'playing' on Plastic North Ends pitch a few times and I can assure you, the wearing of tights had nowt to do being soft. The surface was little more than concrete, sand and scrubbing brush.

    The modern artificial pitch is already here. Is it for everybody? No.

    Can it be a way for a club to provide income/ consistent surface/community involvement? Yes.

    Plastic pitches at grassroots level.....Verbal offside, surely?

  • Comment number 60.

    Arsene Wenger might leave Arsenal..

    Will they replace him with a Manager who will either:-

    (1) buy British players?
    (2) give youth a chance?

    He was over-rated and anti-english.

    He should be commended by the French or Spanish FAs for services to their game
    and for helping to cripple English National Sporting achivements.

 

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