Plastic not fantastic for Deepdale

North End score against Leyton Orient at Deepdale in 1992
North End score against Leyton Orient at Deepdale in 1992
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CRAIG SALMON’S PRESS VIEW

The news that clubs in the bottom two divisions of the Football League have rejected the use of artificial pitches for matches next season is always an interesting topic of conversation around these parts.

It was at an extraordinary general meeting at Derby County on Thursday, that League One and Two clubs decided to throw out the proposals.

The vote was a close call with 34 clubs voting in favour, and the same number rejecting the idea. Crucially, four clubs abstained.

The result of the vote was something of a surprise as a majority of chairmen at an earlier gathering had indicated they were in favour of the plans.

Preston had already nailed its colours to the mast of the ‘No’ campaign, which is interesting in itself, considering North End’s past history.

They were one of four English clubs – along with Queens Park Rangers, Oldham Athletic and Luton Town – to install a plastic pitch in the 1980s.

The surface at Deepdale became the last remaining one in the entire Football League until it was ripped up in 1994.

Since then the use of artificial pitches has been outlawed in the English professional game.

And North End have gone on to cultivate one of the finest home grass surfaces in the country.

There is no doubt that today’s modern 3G artificial surfaces have come a long way since the days when John Beck’s PNE teams used to don tracksuit bottoms to protect themselves from suffering painful burns to their skin.

The plastic pitches of yesteryear were covered in sand – which was done to deaden the high bounce of the ball – and they were so far away from grass, that it gave home teams a major advantage during games. You imagine North End’s past brush with plastic pitches has tarnished their view of them for good – no matter how grass-like today’s artificial surfaces have become.

It is understandable why North End elected to install a plastic pitch back then.

With money tight, there was serious revenue to be made by hiring out the pitch to local teams and supporters, who could live their dream of playing at Deepdale.

I myself remember having a kickabout on the old Deepdale and I must admit it was a surreal experience.

Not withstanding the bloody knees I encountered, the fact that a mere mortal like myself was able to have a kick and giggle on a ground once graced by some of the greats of the game, sullied Deepdale’s tradition and integrity.

I think it’s only right that a ground as old and as historic as Deepdale should maintain a traditional grass surface.

As for other clubs, I can see the attraction of installing a plastic pitch.

A club like Morecambe for instance – a relative newcomer to the Football League – would benefit greatly from the ability to rent out the Globe Arena.

It would boost their income, as well as cutting down on maintenance costs, and would massively help them maintain their status as a League Two club in these difficult times.

The closeness of the vote illustrates that the issue divides opinion but it demonstrates that there is a serious desire to find out more about artificial pitches in the future.

It is well known that today’s state-of-the-art grass surfaces do contain certain artificial elements.

So I think clubs should adopt a wait-and-see approach as the technology around artificial surfaces continues to develop.

But, in my opinion, a plastic pitch at Deepdale? Never again!

On another note, today signals the first round of the FA Cup and what a great weekend it should be.

Much has been made about how the cup has been devalued in recent years but at this stage of the competition there is always a real buzz of expectation.

Locally, we have two clubs taking part who are on opposite ends of the spectrum.

Preston will be hoping they are not on the end of a giantkilling on Monday when they face Conference South outfit Havant and Waterlooville.

By contrast, AFC Fylde – who are in the Conference North – will be hoping they can cause a major shock when they travel to face Plymouth Argyle at Home Park.

If the Coasters can get the better of the Pilgrims, it will arguably be the club’s biggest ever victory. It will also increase the stock of manager Dave Challinor and assistant Colin Woodthorpe, who I’m tipping to go on to great things.