PERHAPS the only people who aren’t fed up of the debate over artificial pitches are newspaper sub-editors. Pitch battles, turf wars, it’s all there.

I’ll wager even the players who put their names to the PFA petition calling for a ban on plastic pitches were groaning when the topic was raised, but the fact it is such a live point of discussion despite the weariness of the subject suggests the weight of feeling behind the issue. That, and the unanimous nature of the protest, with every player from the nine clubs in the Premiership who have grass pitches putting their signature behind the bid to outlaw them in the top flight.

You would have to imagine a fair few of the Hamilton, Kilmarnock and Livingston players would have done so too had they been able, given that former players aren’t slow at having a pop as soon as they are under no obligation to plead the fifth. Former Killie player Stevie Smith recently admitted he hated the Rugby Park pitch, for instance.

The reasoning behind having artificial surfaces are sound enough. I don’t think that any club at the top level would have a plastic pitch over a grass one if not for purely monetary factors. There are financial benefits to having them, and these teams all train on theirs too.

So, if there is going to be a stand made, there has to be thought given as to how the clubs who currently have artificial surfaces can be helped transition to grass and replace the hole that would subsequently appear in their budgets.

Brendan Rodgers is one of a host of managers to call for a ban on 4G surfaces in the Premiership over recent years, arguing that as it is the flagship league in Scotland, their presence was doing the wider image of our game harm. A familiar argument, but he was one of the first to consider the consequences for the clubs involved.

The Celtic manager believes that the government should intervene and help clubs find alternative local training arrangements and assist them financially. While not holding my breath on that happening, perhaps board members from these clubs could contact those of a similar stature like Motherwell or St Johnstone, and ask them how they manage to do it.

There have been issues raised around plastic pitches causing sore joints, lengthening recovery times and even being a contributory factor in causing cancer. That has been refuted by The Sports and Play Construction Association, who say ‘the current consensus is that the rubber crumb poses no significant health risk’.

In terms of the pitches causing more frequent injuries, the SFA have pointed to a 2010 report which appeared in the British Medical Journal which measured injuries on 3G in Norway. It found there to be 17.1 injuries per 1000 match hours on natural grass and 17.6 injuries per 1000 match hours on artificial turf, not a huge difference.

Despite that evidence, what can’t be measured is the aches, pains, bumps and bruises that come with playing on the surfaces that you hear about anecdotally from players.

There is also the added question of the pitches giving sides undue advantage, and while the stats may not bear that out, that some players in their veteran years are held back from playing when their teams visit these grounds is undoubtedly an edge that teams with grass pitches do not have.

For me, the overriding argument as it stands is whether the standard of football the paying public is getting to see is adversely affected. To my mind, the answer to that would be a firm yes.

Players will tell you that with the speed at the top of the game, these surfaces make it difficult not only to predict how the ball will behave, but also to move and turn freely themselves as they might do if they were playing on grass. They will say that even a bad grass pitch is better than a good plastic one, and as they are the only ones who could possibly know what it is like to play on them at such a high standard, I am inclined to take their word for it.

When their worries are unanimously put forward like this, it seems to me they can’t all be wrong. There could be surface tension ahead.


AFTER initial scepticism, I was somewhat won over by VAR during the World Cup. It mostly aided referees and added drama.

However, the Ajax goal that was disallowed against Real Madrid was an example of how it can rob the game of its joy. An explosion of noise belatedly halted as the players lined up to restart, when it was decided to review a possible offside.

The decision turned out to be correct by a matter of millimetres, but is this really the direction we want the game to go in? If we remove the spontaneous outpourings of joy that celebrating a goal brings, what are you left with?