UpFront: Are artificial pitches the answer as grass takes a hammering?

Back in 1972, future England football manager Terry Venables co-wrote ‘They Used to Play on Grass’, a novel predicting the wholesale use of artificial sports pitches.

Fifty years on, there are a few of them about – but is it time for far more?

Traditionalists like turf, and better technology and knowledge means snooker-table surfaces can be more easily produced – and maintained.

But it takes money – quite a bit of it – and particularly at the lower levels of sport, Rugby League especially, there isn’t that much of it about.

Inevitably at this time of year, grass pitches take a real hammering, both from the elements and the boots which then tread them.

Just look at Barrow, where at the end of the recent game against Newcastle, the Matt Johnson Prestige Stadium surface was a mudbath and it was hard to tell the two sets of players apart.

Then consider the situation at The Shay, where Halifax Panthers and FC Halifax Town both play their home games.

Unlike the nearby John Smith’s Stadium, where Huddersfield Giants and Huddersfield Town run out onto a hybrid pitch of grass supported by artificial fibres, the Shay surface is all natural.

It can easily cut up, and there was recent tension between the co-tenants when FC Halifax’s Saturday showdown with Bromley was called off quite close to kick-off while the following day’s game between the Panthers and London Broncos went ahead, despite their being little change in the weather conditions.

Football manager Pete Wild says for the good of the surface, if the football can’t be played, neither should Rugby League, while his opposite number Simon Grix has pointed out that the criteria for postponing matches differ between the sports, and that it’s the respective referees who make the decision.

But as Grix added: “The real issue we’re skirting over is that the pitch isn’t fit for purpose and hasn’t been in the days of both clubs playing together (the Rugby League club left Thrum Hall in 1998).”

With artificial surfaces, there is far less chance of matches being postponed due to weather conditions, as we saw this weekend, when Newcastle faced Whitehaven at Kingston Park while waterlogging put paid to the scheduled games at Batley and Bradford (it was ground safety concerns at Workington).

Once laid, they are cheaper and easier to maintain, and they can also be played on almost limitlessly, meaning use by two or more clubs, for both matches and training, is not a problem, while the pitch can become a valuable community facility, with all the advantages that brings.

* Readers will have noticed a 20p increase in the price of League Express to £2. This reflects rising printing and production costs.

The above content is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.