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End game for plastic pitches in the Scottish Premiership, vote to take place

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.

Plastic pitches in Scotland like this one at the BBSP Stadium Rugby Park, Kilmarnock may be no more.
Ryan Jack (Rangers) and David Watson (Kilmarnock) on the plastic pitch at the BBSP Stadium Rugby Park, Kilmarnock | Photo: Icon Sport

‘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 plastic pitch at Kilmarnock
The plastic pitch at Kilmarnock | Photo: Icon Sport

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.

The plastic pitch at the Tony Macaroni Arena
The plastic pitch at the Tony Macaroni Arena | Photo: Icon Sport

Plastic pitches in Scotland

Scottish Premiership

Kilmarnock – Rugby Park

Livingston – Tony Macaroni Arena

Scottish Championship

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.

Graeme Hanna

A long-term Rangers season-ticket holder and switched-on football writer with a passion for fan culture, Graeme Hanna is a freelance writer who has featured in titles such as The Rangers Review, Glasgow Evening News and Give Me Sport, as well as having a long association with Follow Follow fanzine. He joined Football Ground Guide in September 2023 and stated that Juan Roman Riquelme is the best opposition player that he has seen at Ibrox. Graeme experienced a 36 hour supporters bus journey from Glasgow to Florence for the 2008 UEFA Cup semi-final and has attended games in several European counties with a particular interest in German fan culture.

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