Alan Brazil: Artificial pitches should really be put out to grass

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers (L) shakes hands with Hearts manager Craig Levein ahead of kick-off.
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers (L) shakes hands with Hearts manager Craig Levein ahead of kick-off.

I learned to play football in the street, and on the red blaes public pitches of Glasgow.

When I got a bit better at it, I graduated to playing on grass.

Save for a summer in the States with Detroit Express, when I had to endure some pretty horrendous artificial surfaces, I played my professional career on the green stuff.

A lot of the time, there wasn’t that much of it around.

With only some basic methods of keeping the pitches playable, grass gradually disappeared as the season progressed.

Come the spring, it was baked mud and dust you had to worry about, not grass stains.

So I had to laugh when I learned of the spat that went on in the SPFL’s corridors of power last Monday.

A motion was put forward – I presume prompted by Celtic – that every pitch in the top-flight should not have more than three centimetres of grass on it, which is just over an inch in old money.

It needed eight of the top-flight’s 12 clubs to go along with it, but fell one short.

We have to assume that, given they have artificial pitches, Hamilton Accies, Kilmarnock and Livingston were three of the dissenters.

Who were the others?

You might automatically think Rangers, given their age-old reluctance to give in to anything that might hand Celtic an advantage.

But I don’t think you would need to be Sherlock Holmes to work out that one club likely to have killed off the proposal was Hearts.

Back in May, Brendan Rodgers and Craig Levein had a public spat over the length of the grass after Celtic had won 3-1 at Tynecastle.

The Hoops boss suggested the Jambos had deliberately left the turf longer than normal to prevent his side play their normal, along-the-deck passing game.

It doesn’t appear to have hampered them too much. Despite Rodgers feeling forced to order his players to play a long-ball game, they left Edinburgh with all three points.

Levein’s sarcastic response – “If they tell me how much grass they want, we will try to get it right next time” – won’t have done much for Rodgers’ humour. I reckon it also made up Celtic’s mind not to let things lie, and be brushed under the carpet, hence last Monday’s vote.

Opinion will be divided over whether they were right to be looking for a level playing field for every club in the top flight.

Personally, I’d far rather the SPFL clubs had concentrated their efforts in another direction.

Rather than looking for grass to be a uniform length, they should have been putting their weight behind a campaign to have artificial surfaces ripped up and removed from the Premiership.

I don’t care if the surfaces at New Douglas Park, Rugby Park and the Tony Macaroni Arena are UEFA compliant.

And the fact they can be used pretty much all day, every day, bringing in revenue for the clubs, is really a secondary issue.

In this day and age, there’s no way top-flight football should be played on anything other than grass.

Yes, the surface is the same for both teams, and better players will perform better on them.

That’s why Hamilton Accies, for example, have gained no real home advantage over their opponents on their own patch.

But artificial pitches are also the reason why we see the ball taking unusual bounces, players struggling to produce free-flowing football and managers forced to keep certain players on the sidelines because sticking them on an artificial pitch might aggravate an existing injury or cause a new one.

They also stifle entertainment for the fans.

With the new league season kicking off next weekend, supporters will have their annual rush of optimism.

In my view, watching football on plastic will soon knock that out of them.

Keeping the turnstiles clicking has to be more important to clubs than how long the grass is.

But at least make sure there’s grass to cut.