Tom Campbell with A Celtic State of Mind – Rugby Park: The great plastic leveller

Plastic?

Nobody, it appears, likes to play on artificial surfaces, and that can be measured by the apprehension voiced by Celtic supporters particularly when a visit to Hamilton or Kilmarnock is imminent. And already Celtic fans are expressing anxiety about this afternoon’s engagement at Rugby Park.

Rangers visited the same Rugby Park a couple of seasons ago and lost the services of Jamie Murphy, one of their regular first team squad: Murphy was injured in a clash with a Kilmarnock defender, but his original injury was worsened apparently by his twisting a knee in falling to the Rugby Park turf… and he missed the rest of the season as a consequence.

His team-mate, goalkeeper Allan McGregor, was raging about the injury – that he attributed it to the infamous Rugby Park artificial pitch. He has not been alone: over the years visiting teams have complained bitterly about the playing surface (usually in the wake of a defeat to Kilmarnock), TV viewers have witnessed players slipping and frequently having to change boots during the course of a match… Even worse, players have been seriously injured… and blamed that surface.

Rangers, in particular, have been hard-hit. Some seasons ago (on February 16th 2016) Rangers’ striker and leading scorer Martyn Waghorn limped off at Rugby Park with a knee injury, and was ruled out of action for seven weeks. The manager (Mark Warburton) was furious about the accident, and the loss of his player. The present-day manager has been just as damning in his assessment of the pitch – as have other teams’ managers.

Listen to STEVIE CHALMERS with A Celtic State of Mind here:

It is surely ironic then that Rugby Park before converting to an artificial surface was often considered the best playing field in Scotland. And in the 1950s Kilmarnock employed an unusual method of keeping the grass cropped to an acceptable level. Over a number of years Kilmarnock had three ‘mascots’ that were sheep: Angus, Wilma and Ruby. These animals were allowed access to the pitch during the week, and nobody complained about the length of the grass in those days. Perhaps Hearts could learn something of value for Tynecastle.

Angus was the best known of those sheep and it was claimed that, when Lawrie Reilly of Hibs came over to pet him, the bold Angus head-butted him.

Another story also goes that Angus was to be paraded as the club mascot before a fixture with Aberdeen, to help with the pre-match atmosphere and banter, but the suggestion was rejected: it seemed the cost of the animal’s post-match therapy and counseling after meeting Aberdeen’s supporters would have been exorbitant.

But, all joking aside, surely senior football matches should be played on a surface that does not endanger the health of the players … or sometimes (as was the case of Celtic’s Simunovic) requiring the ‘resting’ of regular players. And, if clubs cannot afford the cost of maintaining such grass pitches, they should not be in the top division.

Tom Campbell

Match-day live-stream with A CELTIC STATE OF MIND:

A Celtic State of Mind will be live from the studio at 4pm to cover the Kilmarnock game until 6:45pm.

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