Artificial Pitches and Football: A History

Andrew Jordan@@Andrew_JordanSenior Writer ISeptember 6, 2010

The Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow before a Euro 2008 qualifier between Russia and England
The Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow before a Euro 2008 qualifier between Russia and EnglandLaurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Throughout the history of football, there have been many different surfaces that have been used as a platform to host the beautiful game.

From a beautiful, emerald green pitch in Western Europe that is absolutely perfect to a street in Latin America in the middle of a city, or a deserted plain in the middle of Africa, football is able to extend itself in a way that no other sport would ever be able to.

But besides these means for a football pitch, there is another item that has become more popular in recent years to use as a substitute for a grass pitch.

That substitute is none other than an artificial pitch, which uses synthetic fibers to resemble natural grass.

Since the invention of Astroturf back in the mid-1960s for the Houston Astros (an American baseball team that played in the Astrodome), artificial turf has been used by many stadiums to be used as a replacement to natural grass.

Astroturf was first used in the Astrodome due to the lack of natural light that could reach the field, which caused the need for artificial turf.

Quickly, the artificial surfaces made their way into more baseball stadiums and American Football stadiums throughout the United States and Canada.

And eventually, artificial pitches made their way across the Atlantic Ocean to England in the early 1980s, with QPR's Loftus Road, Luton Town's Kenilworth Road, Oldham Athletic's Boundary Park, and Preston's Deepdale all installing the plastic carpet.

But with the advent of these plastic pitches, football became a lot less suitable with the turf as the football would take crazy hops and players could not maintain solid footing due to the turf.

As a result, the FA banned artificial pitches in 1988.

But as the 20th century came to a close, the fake pitches started to once again gain popularity as a popular training ground surface, as Real Madrid purchased an artificial pitch to be used for their practice field.

And in colder European countries such as Russia and Sweden, artificial pitches started to be used more for club football due to that cold weather.

Of course, the most famous stadium that hosted one of these artificial pitches is the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, which hosted one of the first full international games to be played on such a surface approved by both FIFA and UEFA in a Euro 2008 qualifier between Russia and England due to some terrible weather conditions at the time in Moscow.

And as time continued to move forward, artificial pitches became even more used as the two-star system (which grades artificial pitch performance) has been awarded to 130 different pitches throughout the world.

And in North America's Major League Soccer, artificial pitches have been used since its advent in 1996, but are now considerably less popular than 14 years ago.

Currently, only the New England Revolution and the Seattle Sounders are the only clubs that use an artificial surface.

But outside of artificial pitches, there is now another popular mean in which artificial fibers can be used to help fix a natural grass pitch.

That method is called the Desso GrassMaster, which attaches growing grass with artificial fibers to create a solid, even structure with good drainage.

Currently, some of the most notable football stadiums in the world use this method, as Anfield, the Emirates Stadium, Wembley Stadium, White Hart Lane, and the Bernabeu all have the Desso GrassMaster in use at their stadiums.

Along with that, the Mbombela and Peter Mokaba Stadium's in South Africa became the first ever World Cup stadiums to use artificial fibers for a football pitch at the 2010 World Cup.

Despite the help that an artificial pitches can have to teams, it also is a major breeding ground for injuries that were less probable to receive on a grass field.

And a fantastic example of this was to Aberdeen's rising star Fraser Fyvie, a 17-year-old midfielder who severed ligaments in his left knee and will now miss the rest of this season due to the injury he suffered on Alloa Athletic's synthetic surface.

In Scotland, these plastic pitches have now been considered a solution for the terrible Scottish pitches due to the grueling winters, but manager Mark McGhee has already stated that he does not want Aberdeen to play on these plastic pitches anymore.

Along with that, Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp also stated that UEFA should ban the turf from the Champions League after Spurs lost to Young Boys 3-2 in Switzerland, saying, "I don't agree with Astroturf and I don't think Astroturf should be used in a competition like the Champions League."

But that obviously did not stop Spurs, as they were able to win 4-0 at White Hart Lane to advance onto the group stage of the Champions League for the first time in club history.

So now that you know about the status of artificial pitches throughout the world of football, what do you think?

Should artificial means of grass have a future in football or should grass remain as the primary means to play a football match?


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