22 February 2013

Keep On the Grass

Courtesy, Clyde FC.
by Peter Ewart | CRO Contributor

Our Third Division game on Saturday at Broadwood was yet another fixture played on an artificial surface. As the match kicked-off it looked like a game of Subbuteo being played on a giant doormat. Okay, this type of surface has moved on significantly from the luminous, knee-shredding pitches that graced Boundary Park, Loftus Road and Kenilworth Road in the 80s and early 90s. But, in my opinion, it’s really designed for 5- or 7-a-side games.

Football should be played on grass. It’s that simple. Games on fake surfaces are purely unnatural. Who wants a predictable bounce and a non-contact game? It’s just not the way league football should be played.

By the time the SFL3 fixtures have been fulfilled we will have played 8 of 36 games on these fake surfaces at the likes of Montrose, Annan, East Stirlingshire and Clyde. That’s almost a quarter of our games. And I’m certainly feeling short-changed.

That said, we’ve actually had decent results on them. We’ve drawn one and emerged victorious in the rest of our games on artificial surfaces, but there is a rather strange training ground feel to the matches. If I wanted to go a watch a plastic game where the players can’t tackle I’d go down the pub and watch table football.

Look at Montrose away. We had the increasingly awesome duo of Hutton and Macleod in central midfield. They didn’t seem to like the pitch one bit. They looked genuinely uneasy at putting in a tackle in the knowledge that they couldn’t really go to ground. They were denied the chance to play their natural games. I guess some would class that as home field advantage but I just don’t see it as proper football.

Soon we’re back off to Stirling Albion, the ground where we lost our only league games so far this season and where Ian Black was nearly decapitated. Forthbank has a grass surface and by the time we play them on Tuesday dear knows what condition it will be in, but in a strange way that’s part of the fun. Remember the SPL days when Motherwell played on a beach and St Johnstone play on a ploughed field? What the hell their groundsmen did there I don’t know. But it adds to the whole occasion.

Yes, games will inevitably get called off. Thankfully the SFL appear to be more on top of postponing matches in reasonable time for fans than the SPL ever were. But of course it’s not just grass parks being called off. The artificial pitches are not as ‘all-weather’ as they claim. Clyde for example have twice had games called off this season because Broadwood had a frozen pitch. East Stirlingshire have been called off at home too, again with the same problem.

If the SFL are seriously looking at reconstruction and shaping the future of the game then they should be looking at what surface they play football on. Do players get injured more often on certain surfaces? Certainly injuries to David Templeton and Darren Cole may support such a claim. Have the SPFA looked at it? What do the fans want? Do they even give a fuck?

I can’t blame clubs for installing artificial surfaces to bring in the extra revenue needed to survive. And let's not forget that there has been local and national government money to aid the initial cost of putting the surfaces in, so there will be no going back for some. But it is indeed a sad reflection on the state of the game. They may be great for hiring out during the week but in all honesty they are pretty dismal for the watching public on match-day.

At the minute it is a problem which is largely confined to the lower leagues. In SFL2 or the potential league of 18 it’s going to be more of the same with Stenhousemuir, Alloa and Airdrie United also on artificial surfaces as it currently stands. And there is always the chance that there could be more to come in the higher divisions. In Dundee’s recent Q&A session with fans, Scot Gardiner said two SPL clubs were considering the use of Astroturf pitches. St Mirren also apparently discussed the subject at their last AGM.

Ultimately it would appear to be a by-product of there being too many senior clubs in Scotland, however let’s not blindly disappear into a generic set of leagues with artificial pitches. We’d be spiraling towards a glorified floodlit 11-a-side league that will surely drive fans away in the long-term. As for summer football? Maybe that ship has sailed but it is something that may yet come back on the agenda through sheer necessity.

So dear SPL and SFA, do what we suspect you’ve been doing for a while: Keep on the grass.