brazil 2014

3G or Not 3G? That is the Question.

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With more and more Scottish sides, at all levels reverting to next generation AstroTurf pitches and the Women’s World Cup next year in Canada set to be played on majority artificial parks, despite the protest of top figures in the ladies games, is it time to accept that ‘plastic’ pitches are here to stay?

grass

A decade ago most of us would return from a kick about with grass on our knees and a clump of mud inexplicably mashed into our scalp and whilst that scenario is still applicable today it becomes an ever rarer sight as grass stains are replaced with the occasional graze and clumps of mud being replaced by thousands of tiny rubber balls that get into every human crevice imaginable, and I mean all of them. For most casual footballers a midweek evening or Saturday morning is spent running about one of the thousands of artificial pitches across the country. So why is it that players with no discernible quality can muddle through but highly tuned athletes throw their toys out of the pram as soon as they’re asked to adapt ever so slightly? After all the ball is still round, the goals are still the same size and there is still the same number of players running about a marked out area of rectangular land, I think it’s time it throw off the shackles of negativity and embrace something that is here to stay.

So how do you start to look at something with a glass half full point of view? By focusing on one of the most predominant glass half empty arguments. Artificial pitches cause injuries that when playing on grass would never occur. The evidence suggests that this is the only real true negative of playing on an artificial pitch, I am happy to admit that on certain artificial parks I leave the pitch a lot sorer than others but then my warm up usually consists of eating a pack of fruit pastilles, a few impressive looking but ultimately useless stretches and blasting the ball at anybody who makes the mistake of bending down to tie their laces. I don’t spend my week training on it, following a properly structured warm up and warm down regime whilst having the luxury of immediate access to physiotherapists and trainers when required. Football and it’s stakeholders are renowned, when they want to be, for innovation and are quick to move the game ‘forward’ whether it be with neon ankle high boots, skin-tight muscle armour or shaving foam in a can. So why can’t Nike, Adidas or Gillette create something that helps with the aches and pains so many players fear? Do you know what? They can and they no doubt will. Therapies will develop and training regimes will be altered to accommodate the variances in conditions between grass and not-so-grass.

In fact it’s football’s ability to innovate that has seen the growth of these pitches in our game, for you see the UK, and Scotland in particular, is prone to the kind of weather that makes football in winter a bit of a challenge. neNer mind getting a match on sometimes teams can go weeks without training. Football’s solution: all weather training pitches, the pre cursor to those that are being used in competitive games today and in this lies the flaw in the argument that players aren’t used to playing on them, they very much are, in some cases everyday. The excuse that a team is not used to playing on an artificial pitch is catching up on the referee and injury lists as a justification for an abject performance. A win one week on is quickly  forgotten when a defeat occurs on the same surface soon after.

The excuses of failure, which often infuriate me so, can usually be justified by one of the following lines when a manger is pressed in a post match interview:

  • The ball just doesn’t act the same on an artificial pitch
  • Grass is better.

Let’s address these points together as best as we can. Firstly yes it is true that on occasion a ball can grip on an artificial pitch resulting in a bounce that’s a little higher and a run that’s a little quicker but let me give you some names to consider. Tim Flowers. Peter Enckleman. John Terry. Each victim, if they are to be believed, in some way shape or form to variances in a grass pitch that an artificial park never would have thrown up. Even considering my relatively young age at the time I still remember Flowers going down on one knee to catch a fairly tame long-range effort from Stan Collymore only for it to hit a divot, hop over his shoulder and drop into the net. While many will remember Peter Enckleman’s inability to control a throw in during a Birmingham derby resulting in an own goal that will forever stand the test of time the Finn bettered the trick a couple of years later when a miskick, no doubt of which will be blamed on a bobble, gifted Preston forward Chris Brown the easiest of goals.

Perhaps the best example belongs to John Terry though, self-proclaimed King of Chelsea and publically divisive figure. In 2008 he had the opportunity to do something that no other Chelsea captain had done before and lift Europe’s biggest club prize, the Champions League trophy, even better he could score the winning penalty. With the chance to confirm his blue tinged legacy the defender slipped and the ball went high into the sodden Moscow sky. The irony being that despite the Luzhniki Stadium housing an artificial pitch for much of the season prior to the final  UEFA decreed that their grandest prize must be played on grass. If the grass had never been laid then Dorgba’s glory a few years later could have all belonged to John. So you have to ask would Tim, John or Peter have preferred a pitch that would behaved itself like it should have done rather than one that made a ball bobble or a foot slip. It begs the question is grass really better?

Yes. In an ideal world a well manicured grass pitch is infinitely better than even the highest spec artificial surface. However how many of those parks really exist in today’s highly commercialised society where football stadiums also host rugby, NFL and music concerts amongst a plethora of other things. With ever-expanding international and domestic calendars designed to engage clubs of all levels football grounds are used more now than ever before so naturally wear and tear will become ever more prominent. All this though is based on the theory that the pitch to start off with is of a high standard.

Pitches at the last two World Cups in South Africa and Brazil, for example, have been chastised for their poor quality with brown patches painted green and enough sand to populate a small beach just some of the measures to improve the potential quality of play. How often during the festivities in South America did you hear managers moan, particularly in Manaus, about the state of the pitch.

I have to ask, what do you expect? A tropical climate where it’s baking hot one minute torrential rain the next is hardly an ideal place to grow a football pitch. The African Cup of Nations is forever being played on pitches that have as much grass on them as can be found in the middle at Lord’s or the Oval. The list goes on. Wembley couldn’t get grass right for years and switching sports for a second Murrayfield’s nematodes became as synonymous with the Six Nations as Archie Gemmell’s goal at the 78 World Cup became with Scotland’s ability to achieve glorious failure. When those at the very top can’t get it right what chance do those at the bottom have?

That’s not to say you don’t find many a fine grass park at lower league grounds because you surely do but when clubs are ever increasingly looking to find ways to make ends meet the last thing they need is an impromptu 6 week winter break and it is here that the artificial pitch comes into its own. In the summer Rugby Park became the ninth Scottish senior ground to host an artificial surface and the second in the current Scottish Premiership (Hamilton being the other). The reason for the move done at some cost, was done to facilitate a clearance of debt and move the club back to Kilmarnock on a day-to-day basis. But it doesn’t stop there as others have shown. Hamilton have hosted a number of Scotland youth internationals at New Douglas Park while current SWPL champions Glasgow City play their league and European games at Airdrieonians Excelsior stadium while clubs such as Stenhousemuir and Queen of the South amongst others use their artificial pitches to create revenue 7 days a week renting the pitch out for local teams and everyday punters like you and me for kick about. Making their stadiums the hub of their community, it sounds pretty fanciful but these things are actually happening right now.

This has even tricked down to the juniors, and while its sad many an old ground has fallen by the wayside for identikit supermarkets and three bedroom houses the money earned has been used to rejuvenate clubs who had merely been surviving. In a country where fiscal responsibility has been ringing in our ears for months is it not fiscally responsible for Scottish clubs in particular to make the most of the assets they have? In years to come will these teams be seen as innovators? I think so.

In an ideal world football should be played on grass at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon. Maybe those that lambast the usage of artificial pitches are longing for a simpler time, nostalgia has a funny way of doing that. Maybe they have some genuine concerns about the long-term health of players some of which doesn’t appear to be without foundation but just as television has made a 3pm kick off as common as 7.15pm on a Monday night so will an ever-changing climate and financial responsibility see artificial pitches work hand in hand with traditional grass park’s marrying the past and future for many clubs across the country, maybe even the world.

Artificial pitches are here and they won’t be going away.

Pie 68: The Camelon Pie

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Collin Samuel, Hands Aff!
Collin Samuel, Hands Aff!

Hello and welcome to this penultimate presentation of my pastry passion, pies! The World Cup is here and as such the end of the regular football season is nigh and whilst their professional counterparts have been on holiday for a couple of weeks junior footballers are winding up their seasons. Todays review comes from the East of Scotland Super League side Camelon. One of the quirks of going to a game of football pretty much anywhere is sometimes you see the occasional familiar face that you haven’t been expecting. Junior football has been littered with ex=pro’s over the years but the foreign contingent whilst a little harder to find are still relevant. For example former St. Mirren, Hamilton and Hearts winger Jose Quitongo played for as many junior clubs as he did senior and the Angolan is now manager of Ayrshire district side Muirkirk whilst former Swedish international Robert Prytz lit up the junior game in the late 90’s playing for Pollok despite being closer to collecting his bus pass than starting his first day of school.

These are just two examples of which I know there are many more which brings us nicely to the subject of today’s pre-pie diatribe, former Trinidad & Tobago international Collin Samuel currently leading the line at Sauchie Juniors. He was in surprisingly good shape although it would not be preposterous to suggest that he enjoys a little bit more of the good life than he would have done so as a pro. I always wonder how players of his ilk end up playing where they do. Is it a case of diminishing powers? A desire to just play for the love of the game or the love of a good party preventing them from reaching their full potential? It’s perhaps a case of picking one of these three but whatever the reason it always brings much joy and chatter to the terraces when a splash of international colour is present at a junior game in Scotland.

But for now, and without much further ado, let’s rate some pie!

Where: Carmuirs Park, Camelon v Sauchie, East of Scotland Cup Semi Final

Price: At £1.40 it follows a trend of East of Scotland based pies being slightly more expensive than their western contemporaries, not excessively so and still far cheaper than top end senior Scottish pies but certainly worth a mention.

Presentation: A small white napkin that wasn’t quite big enough to have the whole pie sit on top of it.

Meatiness: The filling was pretty underwhelming if I’m being honest. It was well filled and formed but lacked the real punch of flavour a good scotch pie should. After each bite there was no real linger of flavour and, for my palate anyway, there was no peppery heat to help elevate its meaty status. Actually as I got towards the centre of the pie it was a bit cold, perhaps a side effect to the rather large crowd that had gathered at the game a point that was further illustrated to me as I watched the man behind the counter shuttling another two boxes of pies from the back. The lack of heat will have no doubt played a part in the flavour being a little lacking in this particular meat filled pastry.

Pastry: The pastry was nothing spectacular and although the top of the casing appeared loose it clung on without flipping over as I took each bite. It held the meat inside sufficiently and provide a change in texture but aside from these primary functions there isn’t much else to be said here.

Overall: A pretty average effort, disappointing that it was cold and I was certainly thankful for the bottle of HP on the counter to add some much need depth of flavour. The cold centre makes me wonder if this was microwaved before being finished in the oven but that is pure speculation on my part. Overall though, I’ve had better.

Gravy Factor: Lukewarm Bisto.

So not a stand out offering from Camelon but another pie none the less, the last pie of the season will be coming from Fir Park as I take a break from the Men’s World Cup in Brazil to follow Scotland Women on their journey to Canada 2015 as they take on group favourites Sweden in World Cup Qualifying.

Until next time though, go forth and eat pie!

Pie 18: The Hampden ‘Steak’ Pie

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Meat Filled Pastries first venture into the 'luxury' pie market
Meat Filled Pastries first venture into the ‘luxury’ pie market

As promised here comes Pie #2 from Friday night’s adventure to Hampden. This pie is the first one to be reviewed that will be dubbed as a ‘Luxury Pie’. Now to be a luxury pie the criteria is very simple, you just have to not be a scotch pie. That’s it. You can be steak, chicken, mongoose and lingonberry, whatever you like as long as your not a basic scotch mince pie. The reason for this you ask? Well I go to many games of football, and many places more than once, some of these places offer more than one type of pie. Sometimes I’ll do two in one go like I have at Hampden, others I may review on separate occasions. Either way it’s good news because it will mean more pies to taste, and that’s why we’re all here because we love a good pie.

Before we start it is also important to note that unlike a scotch pie, with ‘luxury pies’ you do not use brown sauce, the filling should suffice, that’s why you pay extra, only when something has gone wrong should the ‘Pie Band Aid’ be applied.

That’s the rules of luxury so, Let’s Rate Some Pie!

Where: Hampden Park, Scotland v Belgium, World Cup Qualifying Group A

Price: At £2.60 this is 40p more expensive that it’s scotch equivalent but, as previously stated, is seen as a more high end product, something I will confirm one way or another in the next few paragraphs.

Presentation: Well that extra 40p doesn’t change how the pie gets handed to you, silver tinfoil case and a tiny, tiny napkin. However in this instance the case and napkin combo cause a couple of issues not encountered when consuming a scotch pie which will be covered further down.

Meatiness: Now this is not mutton, this is prime steak in an unctuous savoury gravy, well at least that’s the idea. I’m pleased to say that this was a perfectly acceptable attempt at it, the pie had clearly been baked for the appropriate amount of time as the gravy had not dried out and the meat was still pull-apart-at-your-teeth tender. There was a distinct taste of steak, although for me I would like a bit more pepper, but that’s personal preference as I like a bit of spice.

Pastry: Being a ‘luxury pie’ you are treated to a puff pastry top, which in this instance was sufficiently risen to be called puff pastry but not so much that the pastry to meat ratio was effected. However when picking up the pie the bottom completely fell out of it due in part to the plentifulness of the gravy. This is a common gripe I have with steak pies as it often results in you spending more time getting yourself in a right mess than focusing on the game in front of your eyes. Covering your fingers in gravy and steak rather than using the pie casing to do the work for you. This is why the reason the picture above is still sitting in the case. That being said the pastry complemented the filling very well and compared with some I have had in the past this crust was still relatively sturdy barring the very centre.

Overall: A first venture into luxury pies and it can be deemed a moderate success, tasty filling and nice pastry but while the bottom falling out doesn’t impact on flavour it does mean you get in a bit of a mess. You might even enjoy that. However I think its fair to say that in these circumstances a napkin the size of Papa Smurf’s bed sheets doesn’t really suffice.

Gravy Factor: Tasty Gravy. A good marker for all luxury pie’s to aspire to, need to sort that soggy bottom though.

Did you know you can Subscribe to Pie? Simply click on the ‘Follow’ link on the right and you will get an email advising of the glorious news that a new pie blog is ready for your consumption and while your at it why not have a look at ‘Leading The Line’ a blog not based solely on Pies, crazy I know! The link is on the left hand side and with all things going to plan will have a new article up tomorrow.

One last thing before I go, whilst in ‘The International’ after the game, I came across this gem of a poster. A pie for 30p when you buy a pint. Bargain!

Discount Pies
Discount Pies

Pie 17: The Hampden Pie

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The Patriotic Pie
The Patriotic Pie

This week Meat Filled Pastries laughs in the face of the international break and all the problems it apparently causes football fans across the country by not just bringing you 1, but 2 Pie’s. That’s right I risked high cholesterol and possible meat induced coma’s for all you lovely, lovely pie munchers. (Editing Note: That last line was not a joke about lesbians).

I have split them into 2 reviews so that they both get the proper time and attention they deserve.

So without further ado, and with just a touch of man flu, mainly in part to the multiple drenching’s that I, like many others, experienced to and from Hampden on Friday night, Lets Rate Some Pie!

Where: Hampden Park, Scotland v Belgium, World Cup Qualifying Group A

Price: A Hampden Scotch Pie comes in at £2.20, I have touched on my feelings on the price of my pie at the upper echelons of the game so it’s safe to say I wasn’t overly enamoured at paying this, however when put in comparison to the recently reviewed Rangers Pie then this seems to be par for the course.

Presentation: Standard silver tinfoil and tiny napkin presentation here, and I mean a tiny napkin. It’s worth adding at this point that the pie was absolutely roasting making the napkin size even more impotent and which also in part explains the slightly misshapen ‘one bite expose’ taken above, I nearly dropped the thing twice!

Meatiness: A Scotch Pie. It was a nice meaty pie, but as you may or may not have noticed there is one thing missing for it to allow me to assess a full flavour profile. You Ready for this? Now bear in mind this was for a pie consumed at the home of our national football team, team of our national sport.

You Ready?

Here it goes, they had NO BROWN SAUCE! What the hell man?!? Seriously.

It’s bad enough that I was soaked and my team were getting pumped but to no be able to sauce my pie is just a travesty too far, especially when you right a blog about these pastry delights! And no, before you say it, tomato sauce is not just as good. It is an abomination to put such stuff on your pie, it doesn’t enhance the flavour as brown sauce can so often do. It totally changes it and anybody who uses tomato ketchup instead of eating their pie bareback needs to have a long hard look at themselves.

Anyway back to the pie, the meat was flavoursome without blowing me away, I have a feeling this may be a common occurrence when sampling pie’s higher up the footballing ladder but I didn’t feel my filling was terrible in anyway. Just a bit uninspiring.

Pastry: The top came a little loose under pressure but was overall cooked to the necessary level to retain its crispness whilst also allowing an easy bite. My one complaint would be the over exuberant sprinkling of flour that topped the pie, leaving in some bites a slightly chalky after taste.

Overall: Look, it’s not going to give you that, ‘Oh I must have it again feeling.’ but for something that is produced for the mass market it’s perfectly serviceable. Although it will take me a long time to forgive them for the no brown sauce fiasco.

Gravy Factor: Just below Bog Standard Bisto, and it’s standing just below is purely down to the lack of brown sauce provided. Once again for £2.20 you want a scotch pie that is more than nicely cooked mutton in a crust.