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The return of the plastic pitch

Artificial pitches could be on their way back, more than 20 years since they were banned. Wycombe Wanderers and Accrington Stanley have raised the idea in an attempt to reduce costs and it seems that many others would be happy to follow suit.

They were a major feature of football in the 80’s with QPR and Luton using them as well as Oldham and Preston, but they were banned in 1988 after complaints that they were causing injuries because they were solid and it was affecting the quality of football on show.

Pitches were set on top of concrete which made it very difficult to move about in comparison to traditional grass but thanks to the advancements in technology the current plastic pitches have padding underneath which makes the experience similar to grass, offering a softer experience under foot and in the tackle as well as a smooth surface that is not guaranteed outside of the country’s top grounds. Rubber pellets are also on the pitch to act like mud and increase movement.

Accrington owner John Heys said that it will cost about £500,000 to install but the savings on maintenance will make it worthwhile. He added: “There is an income to be gained from hiring the pitch out and money to be saved in maintenance costs and the fact that you can train on it.

“The community benefit is that you can get people down to the ground seven days a week rather than just 23 times a season for home fixtures.”

Opinion is divided on the issue, with people saying that it is unnatural and will cause injuries and others favouring the idea of having smooth, all-weather pitches and there is no reason why the game should not bring them back.

Admittedly it would take a while to get used to. Players might not be too keen to make the sliding tackle because of the surface but that is part of the settling in process. It would not cut the skin like they did before and after training on the pitch players would become more comfortable with it and be able to play their natural game. The fear that they may get injured turning or by getting their foot stuck in the ground is still the same as it is on grass and is an unfortunate part of football whatever surface is used.

Mick Rathborne, who played on the plastic pitch at Preston and worked as Everton physio after retiring said: “The new third generation pitches are light years away from the old plastic pitches.

“The new pitches with the millions of rubber balls are soft to run on, you can stop and turn very easily so there could be implications with preventing those types of injuries.”

Introducing artificial surfaces is necessary to football because although clubs like Manchester City and Chelsea have an abundance of cash, many clubs in the lower leagues are struggling for funds and an opportunity to make savings should be welcomed. Wycombe owner Steve Hayes said that to maintain the grass pitch currently installed at Adams Park costs around £75,000 a year and although clubs would have to shell out to make the change, it would see a huge chunk of that money stay in the kitty. Rather than heating the pitch to prevent it being icy or covered in snow, a blanket would be all that is required and instead of cutting the grass it would only require sweeping every so often to get rid of some of the rubber. And take away the cost of replacing the turf once it gets cut up beyond repair and your team is already onto a winner.

And after the problems last winter with games being called off for frozen and snow covered pitches, a plastic surface would put an end to that so no longer would fans be travelling to the match only to hear it has been cancelled.

It would also mean that the team could train and play at the stadium rather than finding a traditional training pitch which again saves money and when the club are not using it other groups could get involved, creating possible opportunities for community groups and sport centres which could in turn lead to more people coming to the ground, meaning more money.

And for the traditionalist, who wants sexy football from one side and tough tackling from the opponent. The new surface would not have patches that cause the ball to bobble or bounce differently so that in itself will encourage passing football rather than the long-ball game that everybody loves to hate. Players will be more comfortable playing the ball along the ground because they know there is less chance for an unlucky break and slide tackles will still be possible on the natural-feeling pitch, so a non-contact game is not on the horizon.

Top-flight clubs in Italy, France, Switzerland and Russia use them without major problems and there is not a noticeably higher rate of major injuries in their leagues. Our players have experienced them in Europe and World Cup qualifying. Do not think of the old plastic pitches because they are as ancient as the Romans, plastic is the affordable and effective way forward.

Do you want a plastic pitch at your club? Comment below or follow me on Twitter @jrobbins1991.

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Article title: The return of the plastic pitch

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