For Celtic Players, Plastic’s Not Fantastic

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It comes as no surprise that Celtic & Scotland captain Scott Brown has voiced his concern that Scotland’s massive World Cup qualifier against Lithuania on Friday night is to be played on an artificial surface.

He won’t be the first, nor the last, to do so and I fully back his criticisms.

The stadium in Vilnius is, of course, plastic but many professional players don’t think it’s fantastic. The biggest worry for most is injury and secondly the surface itself which doesn’t appear to be conducive to silky soccer.

Brown was asked if he believed that a game of such magnitude as a World Cup qualifier should be played on the surface, the Celtic captain replied:

“Nope. There are probably folk over there playing five-a-sides on it right now. You get a lot of injuries, but it’s in the Scottish game now … We’ll deal with what we have to deal with, but sadly, we’ve got to play on the astroturfs here and then.”

I think if you were to do a straw poll throughout the professional game in Scotland, the players would overwhelmingly back grass.

There are professional clubs who hire out the pitches to school kids and amateur sides but surely and big game should be played on a pitch untouched by the public? This is supposed to be the elite sides of football here.

They should expect to be playing on the best of surfaces, untouched.

Brown clearly had the surfaces at Kilmarnock and Firhill on his mind. Most provincial clubs favour it because it’s a money-maker and I get that – any revenue stream is important nowadays. Whilst I was a club secretary at an amateur football team it was a Godsend. It meant vital games went ahead whilst we strove for league success and kept momentum going.  All well and good at that level and so I realist it has its plus sides.

These players don’t earn a crust or a bonus from playing on these surfaces though, whereas professionals do. As an amateur side, we lost three key players in the space of two weeks with one sustaining a serious ankle break – his footing went as he came down from heading a ball. Fairly innocuous but it put the player out of the game and work for six weeks.

We didn’t have the luxury of full time physios or cortisone injections so we had to make do.

Celtic has important Champions League fixtures ahead and should any of those players pick up injuries then it could spell danger for our team. It’s not to say they wouldn’t do so on grass it just seems players are more susceptible to it on artificial surfaces.

There’s a definite tightrope being walked by Celtic’s Scotland players.

As far back as 2008, England players were covered with insurance indemnities of up to £100,000 a week in the event of injuries suffered in the Euro 2008 qualifier against Russia on an artificial pitch – surely to God that tells its own story.

In addition, there’s something of an emotional bond for players playing on grass. Most want to be able to slide tackle without the burns of the black pellets hampering it and I’ve yet to see a classic game of football played on it.

Sure Celtic has enjoyed wins at Firhill and Rugby Park but the ball never seems to be under full control. It seems like a different game to watch.

It’s also been mooted that the crumb rubber (black pellets) could contain carcinogens. Perhaps a little far-fetched at this juncture but there remains doubt over this and calls have been made for further research.

All in all, artificial surfaces play their role but players would rather not know about them. When it comes down to it, the grass is always greener.

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