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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Recalling QPR's "Controversial" Artificial Pitch

David Lacey, The Guardian

"....Since losing at Wembley, moreover, the Russians have decided against having their pitch relaid, which suggests they feel they might enjoy something more than normal home advantage. England may have no problems readjusting but those of their supporters who can recall the farce that ensued when a handful of Football League clubs went over to plastic in the 80s will still have misgivings.
Queens Park Rangers thought they were on to a good thing when they dug up the grass at Loftus Road in 1981 and replaced it with something called, rather ominously, Omniturf. Rangers' manager at the time was Terry Venables who 10 years earlier, when he was a QPR player, had co-authored, with Gordon Williams, a futuristic football novel entitled They Used To Play On Grass.
In setting the scene at a fictitious club known as the Commoners the book showed admirable prescience when describing the look of a future stadium: "The old architecture of soccer, the grim shabbiness of the corrugated iron age had gone . . . there were now massive cantilever stands . . . their apparently unsupported roofs jutting dramatically into the blue sky . . ." But in the next paragraph it announced that "even the grass had gone. Commoners had been one of the last clubs in the First Division to install the new plastic turf." That bit the story got wrong.
Certainly there was a case in the early 80s for experimenting with all-weather pitches at League grounds, too many of which became swamps or ice rinks in winter. Drainage was often poor, undersoil heating rare, and groundsmen struggled to keep up with the demands made of their expertise by the weather and sheer wear and tear. On reflection a better title for the Venables-Williams tome would have been They Used To Play On Mud.
The innovation at Loftus Road attracted keen interest which quickly evaporated when matches began to be played on it, for while the ball ran smoothly enough over the hard surface it took off like a wild thing when it was allowed to bounce. This confused defenders and goalkeepers in particular and everybody experienced difficulty when it came to stopping and turning.
It was said that the Omniturf was not to blame, that the fault lay with having the wrong sort of underlay. Either way some of the games at Loftus Road became unwatchable.
There was no great rush to follow suit. The artificial pitches introduced at Preston, Oldham and Luton played better than the original but even then Everton's Kevin Ratcliffe left Kenilworth Road after one game saying that if he had to perform regularly in such conditions it would shorten his career by five years. Eventually the risk of injuries to players, especially to knees and ankles, persuaded the FA to ban plastic pitches in 1988. The international bodies, Fifa and Uefa, did likewise.... The Guardian

QPR Omniturf for Sale

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