Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughPlaying the field: How artificial surfaces are making a comeback - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Playing the field: How artificial surfaces are making a comeback - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Playing the field: How artificial surfaces are making a comeback

Around three decades ago, there were howls of derision from football fans all over the world as Queens Park Rangers, then a mid-table top flight team, installed an artificial pitch at Loftus Road. It was perceived as a pale imitation of their old grass field, helping to exaggerate any injuries picked up and stifling ball movement. It was a flop, but a small band of clubs in England followed suit.

Luton Town, Oldham Athletic and Preston North End had their own artificial pitches, but none of them were deemed a success. Such was the level of anger directed towards the new-fangled pitches that the FA decided that Preston et al should ditch them and go back to grass. Ever since, artificial pitches have become a rare sight at football grounds, but could that change?

Going forward

In other countries, artificial surfaces are surprisingly common. Mainly in northern Europe, they are seen as ideal to try and make cleaning up snow and ice on-field far easier, while putting potentially costly match postponements at bay. The most notable example is at the Luzhniki Stadium, home of the Russian national side and Spartak Moscow, which has had a ‘fake pitch’ since 2008.

Across the border in Scotland, a handful of clubs outside the top flight currently play on synthetic pitches. Among their number are Queen of the South and Falkirk, who are waiting to find out whether they can keep their pitch in case of promotion to the Premier League at the end of the season. Meanwhile, it seems that the highest power in football is warming to them too.

Approved by FIFA?

A couple of years ago, FIFA said that they were willing to allow clubs worldwide to use artificial pitches in place of grass ones. This move could give many clubs worried about having to call off games due to adverse weather reason to feel hopeful, even those in the higher divisions where they can afford to maintain a grass pitch without it eating into their budgets.

The advantages gained from using a grass pitch are multiple, many of which connected to saving money. Aside from being easy to clear of snow and water on a matchday, these pitches require little maintenance, meaning money is saved on the cost of mowing and hydration during the summer when grass pitches tend to dry out.

Paula Rodham at Hi-Tech Turf had the following to say about the use of artificial turf: “It’s likely that fourth generation artificial sports turf will become more commonplace in football in the future because of the volume of R&D that taken place over the years to improve it”.

“A great example can be seen in the Scottish Football League, where eight clubs have transformed their main pitches with artificial grass – clearly seeing the benefits in the cost savings, decreased cancellations and a longer pitch-lifecycle. The same thing could easily be transplanted in the English League, but there’s still the case of filling that information gap and educating them about its use”.

Winning over the traditionalists

Although it seems that those running football clubs are in favour of new artificial pitches, fans and players are likely to remain sceptical. Concern over injuries caused by these surfaces is still out there, although research suggests that there is little difference between the second generation of artificial surfaces and grass pitches when it comes to impact on injuries.

Ball movement is improved on these pitches too. Eventually, it seems that more teams are likely to say goodbye to grass and give these pitches a try. In the long run, they may become the norm, although some resistance may be put up by those fighting the corner of grass.