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Scottish Premier League open to new plastic pitches

CSKA Moscow meet Inter Milan in the Champions League
CSKA Moscow and Inter Milan played on an artificial pitch on Tuesday

By Brian McLauchlin

The Scottish Premier League says it is "open minded" about teams playing on artificial pitches in the future.

Dunfermline Athletic's use of such a surface in 2003 was deemed a failure.

But Tuesday's Champions League quarter-final between CSKA Moscow and Inter Milan was played on the latest, "fourth-generation" artificial surface.

And SPL secretary Ian Blair said: "We are open to it as a possibility, but we would require a demonstration that it was going to be effective."

With several SPL pitches in poor condition this season, and a record number of call-offs, clubs will spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on improving their surfaces this summer.

If you can play football then this surface is ideal

St Patrick's Athletic forward Alex Williams

But Blair says that more experiments need to be carried out to see if the new surfaces are the answer to Scotland's pitch problem.

"It's down to the clubs to propose it," he told BBC Scotland. "We as a league are not promoting artificial surfaces, but there is a facility within our rules for a club to come forward and, subject to various criteria being met, it's certainly possible that it would be approved."

In 2003, Dunfermline were given the green light to install an artificial surface for use in the SPL.

After two seasons, however, that pitch was ripped up after a number of problems and Blair says that memories of the experiment have turned the majority of people in the game in Scotland against the use of a plastic pitches.

"I think we are still chastened of the experience of the Premier League with an artificial pitch," he said.

Former Liverpool striker Ian Rush at Dunfermline's East End Park
The Pars' pitch failed despite Ian Rush's endorsement

"However, if it can be proven that the new surfaces are much better then that would help with the consideration."

League of Ireland Premier Division side Dundalk have installed the same surface as the one used in Moscow at a cost of 300,000 euros (£263,000).

Next season, they will play in the Europa League and their chief executive, Colm Crossan, says that the advantages of laying this surface far outweighs the disadvantages.

"If you take a realistic or objective look, while there may be some disadvantages, the advantages enormously outweigh these and, from that point of view, it's a no brainer," he said.

"If you take the elite players, they are playing on a proven surface. They are playing on a true surface. They are not playing on a so-called 'cabbage patch' surface.

"Crucially, though, it is helping young players develop their footballing skills at an age that is vital for them to do that.

"But this pitch also helps kids who will never be able to play at elite level. Because the surface is available all year round, they can come in along with their friends and have a kick about on the same pitch as their heroes without the fear of the surface deteriorating."

Previous artificial pitches have brought with them problems with injuries, but Crossan insists that they have not had any problems that can be put down to the new surface.

"There is no evidence of any single injury that can be put down to the pitch," he said.

MY SPORT: DEBATE

"There is no specific evidence and there is no anecdotal evidence of that. It would appear to be slightly harder on some muscles, some of the players will tell you.

"But, c'est la vie, its nothing that a fit athlete won't be able to condition himself for.

"Also, if you are playing on a mud bath of a pitch then that will also test the physical attributes for a player. So, in short, the answer is no, there are no significant issues in that area."

That appears to be backed up by former Ayr United, Clyde, Morton and Stirling Albion forward Alex Williams, who this year moved from Dundalk to rivals St Patrick's Athletic.

"It's probably the best artificial surface I have ever played on," said the 27-year-old.

"You can pass the ball about well and, although some players do moan about it, I have no problem with it.

"If you can play football then this surface is ideal."



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see also
Uefa brands Pars' pitch a failure
11 Feb 05 |  Dunfermline


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