Saturday, 12 February 2011

Plastic fantastic?

Well, it's back to grass and the welcoming home turf of the Strathclyde Homes Stadium for Dumbarton today, after outings on the 3/4g artificial surfaces at Airdrie United and Alloa Athletic. I couldn't swear whether they're 3rd or 4th generation, by the way, but I'm told that for the kind of usage they might receive in the Scottish Second Division, you get about 100, 000 hours of 'regular surface contact' for around £350,000 capital outlay. That's probably around ten years of active life, so the economics determines that in addition to routine maintenance, you need to put aside £35,000 a year towards replacement. That's a lot for clubs at this level.

Like many hardened football supporters of "a certain age", I have an instinctive reaction against "plastic pitches", as we dismissively call them. There's romance as well as soil nurturing those natural, chlorophyll-formed blades of grass. Also, the early generations of artificial sporting surface were truly dreadful -- leaving skin burns, producing weird bounces of the ball, and coping rather badly with climatic change (which is supposed to be one of their chief advantages).

The 3G and 4G versions have their critics, too. But the matches I've witnessed on them have been fine - indeed, better than fine. When they're on song, Dumbarton seek to play a fluid, passing game. And these surfaces are well suited to that. Also, at Alloa last week, they managed to get training, a community event and several kid's games in before the 3pm kick-off. Half-time entertainments like penalty shoot-outs and the 'crossbar challenge' are straightforward, too. That doesn't happen at SHS.

Don't worry, I'm not advocating ripping up our (very well maintained) real turf and laying plastic any time soon. But I agree with Aberdeen manager Craig Brown that it would be a fine aspiration for every town to have such a surface, and as the technology-cost ration improves, more clubs may well head in that direction.

As for football romance versus sporting science? For many younger people, it's a pragmatic issue, frankly.

[Picture (c) and courtesy of Kestel Contractors]

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