THERE’S nothing like a plastic pitch as a leveller.
Tonight, under-pressure Ole Gunnar Solskjaer takes his beleaguered Manchester United side to Holland, where they play AZ Alkmaar.
But what will make their task much harder is what faces them at ADO Den Haag’s stadium.
The Red Devils superstars, used to playing on the pristine carpets of the Premier League, will have to deal with an artificial pitch as they continue their Europa League campaign.
And Solskjaer isn’t happy about it.
“Well I’m surprised they’ve chosen to play on this pitch when I look at it, I’m used to astroturf pitches in Norway, it’s not the best I’ve seen,” he said in the pre-match press conference.
“It’s one of the worst ones I’ve seen for a long while, we’ve all got standards back home in Norway and they are all modern and new but it’s safe, I’m not saying that… it’s just not the newest.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time a professional side has used an artificial pitch for a professional match.
Here’s some SunSport have seen over the years that would’ve have our knees jerking at the thought of having a run-out on them.
IT STARTED WITH QPR
In 1981, Queens Park Rangers became the first club in the country to replace grass for something called Omni-Turf.
The West London pioneers were always looking for a solution to improving the Loftus Road surface, which suffered after treacherous winters and arid summers of the 1970s.
With Omni-Turf they got a green carpet, rolled on to a thick layer of concrete with sand acting as a cushion.
Their first game on it was ironically against Luton Town, who joined the artificial pitch brigade soon after, and they lost 2-1.
However, Terry Venables’ team managed to master their new pitch, and in 1982 Second Division QPR managed to reach an FA Cup Final after playing every round at home before a Highbury showdown in a semi-final with West Brom.
Because of that run, many felt that Omni-Turf gave QPR an unfair advantage. Rangers became the first team to remove it in 1988.
Luton Town clearly took notes from QPR’s experiment.
In the summer of the 1984-85 season they installed a multi-layered £350,000 surface called Sporturf International that had base levels of broken stones and bitumen macadam (a mixture of aggregate, filler and bitumen), underneath an artificial surface finished with sand.
Although it was said to be kinder on the joints, the carpet burn for many was unpleasant and the bounce of the ball made fans critical of the football they watched, even though it forced sides to keep it on the deck.
The first game played at Kenilworth Road on the new surface ended in a 1-1 draw between the hosts and Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest.
It was an extremely difficult place for any of the high-flyers to get a result at, with many top sides dreading their visits to Luton. And that wasn’t helped by the thought of coming up against the might of Mick Harford too.
OLDHAM AND PRESTON
Boundary Park became a fortress for Joe Royle’s Oldham Athletic AFTER a plastic pitch was installed in 1986.
They embarked on a 32-game unbeaten run at home, and in 1989 enjoyed arguably their best ever campaign reaching the League Cup final and the semi-final of the FA Cup, beating Arsenal, Southampton, Everton and Aston Villa along the way.
That same year, cash-strapped Preston North End, who were nearly on the verge of extinction from the Football League after a disastrous campaign in Division Four, decided to install a plastic pitch, too.
The idea was to help swell the club’s coffers by renting it out to local teams to play on, to reduce the number of postponed matches, and to use the Deepdale pitch as a training ground.
A season later, Preston were promoted to Division Three.
Incidentally, they were the last Football League club to play on a plastic pitch until it was ripped up in 1994.
THREE LIONS ON THE TURF
In 2007, Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard and Co walked out onto synthetic turf in a Euro 2008 qualifier against Russia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
It was one of the first full international games to be played on such a surface that was approved by Fifa and Uefa, and the visitors slumped to a surprise 2-1 defeat.
Despite allowing England to toil on turf, Uefa insisted that the 2008 Champions League final in the same arena takes place on grass.
The Three Lions would again play on artificial turf at the LFF Stadium against Lithuania in 2016.
That game was notable for the Lithuanian fire brigade being called before kick off to water the pitch.
Today, National League sides Sutton United and Maidstone United play on plastic pitches, but one of the last big teams in world football to embrace artificial turf was Mexican giants Chivas.
In 2010 they opened their stunning Estadio Omnilife stadium in Guadalajara, which embraced the idea that plastic is fantastic.
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Chivas owner Jorge Vergara said he wanted the stadium to be “environment friendly and as such, having grass would result [in] using too much water.”
But when Johan Cruyff became an adviser at the club, he recommended they ditch the artificial pitch.
In 2012, Chivas listened to the Dutch legend and the turf was replaced by grass.
Manchester United you have been warned.