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A recent report has indicated that the end-game could be approaching for plastic pitches in the Scottish Premiership with a vote likely to take place soon.
The SPFL top-flight is a much-maligned league, often derided in comparison to what is on offer in England, but one of its key strengths is the passion of the supporters and the atmosphere they create. Especially at away grounds, there is often a verve, a rawness and an authentic, typically Scottish presence felt by the crowds, led by Rangers and Celtic.
One thing that doesn't go in favour of Scottish football is the presence of plastic pitches in the top league. In the current 2023-24 season, these surfaces are in place at Kilmarnock and Livingston. Both clubs utilise their pitch to increase revenue, an undoubted benefit. However, beyond the home advantage that they get from training and playing on the plastic, it is difficult to think of one other good reason for their existence in what is supposed to be elite football.
In the last week, it has been mooted that the SPFL is to open up a fresh round of talks to ban plastic pitches before the end of the current campaign. Find out all the details below.
‘Grass-only' vote proposed in recent weeks
Now, whether that means plastic pitches won't be permitted for the 2024/25 season or a date further in the future will be decided upon remains to be seen.
A report claimed that a ‘grass-only' vote will be proposed to all 12 top-flight clubs in the coming weeks although Killie and Livi would be given a period of grace to arrange and facilitate the required renovation work. SPFL Championship clubs with aspirations of promotion would also have to sit up and take notice.
The good news is that Kilmarnock have indicated that they want to bring back a grass pitch to Rugby Park in time for the 2025/26 season, in line with their plans for a new training ground.
Livingston boss Davie Martindale has welcomed the prospect of a grass surface returning to the Tony Macaroni Stadium at Almondvale but made a humourous quip on the obvious financial implications.
“I'd rather have a grass park and if the authorities want to give us a couple of million then we'll have one with undersoil heating and a separate training ground,” he said.
“Realistically, it'd cost us between £2-3 million. We're paying for VAR and energy costs have increased. Overall, we're handing out £300,000-400,000 extra and our incoming revenue doesn't match that. It'll be five or 10 years before we can be where Kilmarnock are now.”
“We're the only team in the Premiership that doesn't own their stadium – the only licence we own is the one from the SFA – and since returning to the Premiership in 2018 we've spent £600,000 upgrading the ground.”
On Saturday 2 December, Livingston's Premiership fixture against Ross County was postponed due to a frozen pitch. If its artificial surface is no use when temperatures plummet, where is the big benefit?
What is the problem with plastic pitches in football?
In terms of the game itself, when it's warm in the summer months, plastic pitches create a sticky surface without a true bounce of the ball. More frequent in Scotland, though, is the rain, and when the weather is wet, you get the added effect of a very fast roll of the ball and tiny rubber pellets flying everywhere.
Furthermore, the glare from these pitches provides a bad aesthetic for TV coverage. They aren't popular with the supporters or leading figures in the game.
The Scottish game struggles financially in comparison to the riches on offer in the English Premier League and even the Championship. Many SPFL top-flight clubs can't even compete with EFL League One when it comes to wages.
The league needs to do better to support its clubs, particularly those like Livingston who feel they have no other option than to retain the synthetic surface. As things stand, the West Lothian club is in a precarious position in the Premiership with a relegation battle in their midst.
For the vote to pass, 11 of the 12 top-flight clubs must vote in favour.
Plastic pitches in Scotland
Kilmarnock – Rugby Park
Livingston – Tony Macaroni Arena
Raith Rovers – Stark's Park
Aidrieonians – Excelsior Stadium
Scottish League One
Hamilton Academical – New Douglas Park
Falkirk – Falkirk Stadium
Montrose – Links Park
Alloa Athletic – Recreation Park
Annan Athletic – Galabank
Queen of the South – Palmerston
Scottish League Two
Clyde – Broadwood
Stenhousemuir – Ochilview
Forfar Athletic – Station Park
Plastic pitches in English football
What about south of the border? Do any English clubs have plastic pitches? There are none in the top four divisions because regulations forbid it. The EFL rules state that “no league matches shall be played on an artificial surface.”
However, you'll find hundreds of 3G pitches at non-league level. The following clubs have had artificial turf in recent years: Bradford Park Avenue, Bromley, Buxton, Dorking Wanderers, Eastbourne Borough, Gloucester City, Havant & Waterlooville, Maidstone United, Oxford City, Slough Town, Tonbridge Angels and Avro FC, Isle of Man, Macclesfield FC, Hyde United, Leek Town and many more.