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?
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.
Today’s entry into the Meat Filled Hall of Fame is a return to junior football one of the key inspirations for this journey of pie. Those who follow my adventures will have been now been able to piece together my allegiances at junior level and this season, mainly thanks to a pretty woeful one previously, a whole new world of pie has been opened up to me as my team face life in a new division. But before, a hopefully triumphant, league campaign gets underway there is a few friendlies to get out-of-the-way first.
I always find it really interest going to friendlies, not so much for the football which is usually pretty mundane, especially when you have no affiliation to any one team, but for the reactions of the crowd, because for every fan who see’s a friendly for what it is; a chance to warm up for the season, try new things and see new players there is another one who still treats it as the same kind of life and death scenario that a relegation six pointer in February would be. Personally I err on the side of the former. I mean just because Dundee beat Manchester City 2-0 it doesn’t automatically equate to Paul Hartley being the odds on favourite to be the next Chelsea or Barcelona manager nor does it mean that Manuel Pellegrini will be popping up in Falkirk or Hamilton anytime soon because he can’t hack it at the highest level any longer, football just doesn’t work that way.
The other thing that’s nice about friendlies, especially for a man who loves his football, is that there is pretty much a fixture within reach every couple of days and at this time in the season more than ever you find yourself at places that you wouldn’t normally be.
So without much further ado, let’s rate some pie!
Where: Beltane Park, Wishaw v Pollok, Pre-Season Friendly: Entry Fee £3, Programme: None
Before continuing I just wanted to take time to thank the folk at Wishaw for their hospitality, they are clearly a club who are trying to set themselves up for a bright future after a previously nomadic existence and their generosity on Saturday did not go unappreciated. Good luck for the new season in a new division folks!
Price: At £1.20 this is priced at the same level as your average junior scotch pie from the 2013/14 season showing certain Scottish footballing associations that just because a new season is upon us and your team is on the rise there is still no need to fleece your fans.
Presentation: A simple presentation style found at many grounds of a medium-sized white napkin, certainly nothing to be sniffed at and on review of my one bite expose a napkin that now seems a little larger, although I wasn’t going to get my set square and measuring tape out to see if that indeed was the case.
Meatiness: I hope the picture above does this pie justice in showing how incredibly well filled it was for a scotch pie, this might sound daft, which I know a lot of this usually does, but I could actually feel the weight of a slightly heavier pie in the hand as I made my way pack to my standing spot. As I bit down the meat held really well and was incredibly moist, not with grease but with lovely muttony juices. It was a little cold in the middle but I was pre-warned of this and it was only once I reached the very centre did I notice and in this occasion it didn’t have any real effect on the overall flavour. The other lovely thing that this pie brought me was the return of the long peppery linger that slowly built as I ate and lasted for such a time that it was worth remembering for this review. After the generosity of the club I was worried I was going to have the fudge this a bit to play nice, but I can honestly say this was a very tasty meat filling indeed.
Pastry: The pastry was flaky but held just enough to support the ample mince inside. I was able to break off the top of the crust to dip into the safety of an HP sauce puddle without everything crumbling round about me. Perhaps if I was being hyper critical the sides were a little soft and it became a two hand consumption job by the end but that would be the most minor of grumbles.
Overall: After last weeks professional scotch pie disappointment it was great to feel the comforting bosom of a junior scotch pie to nestle into with its ample meat and long peppery linger.
Gravy Factor: Standard Bearing Gravy. A pleasing pie that has set a true benchmark for the season ahead.
So the first junior pie of the season is in the books and the second one is on its way from Castle Park, the home of Blantyre Victoria. Navigating my way round the south-east of Glasgow should be interesting now the Commonwealth Games are here but I love my football and I love me a pie.
So until next time go forth and eat pie!
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