Mark Hughes supports return of artificial pitches

By Peter Scrivener and Jamie GavinBBC Sport

Mark Hughes has backed calls for the return of artificial pitches to the Football League.

BBC Sport exclusively revealed on Friday that some clubs were keen to reintroduce them in a bid to cut costs and increase revenue.

"I can understand why," the former Wales and Blackburn Rovers manager told BBC Sport.

"The cost of maintaining a pitch for a year - with possibly 40 games if the reserves play there - is prohibitive."

League One Wycombe Wanderers and League Two Accrington Stanley are two clubs keen to install artificial pitches.

They both argue that the benefits - financial and otherwise - are substantial, especially at a time when the British economy is in a state of turmoil.

Hughes has first-hand knowledge of artificial pitches.

As a striker with Manchester United, he played on the artificial pitches used by Queens Park Rangers and Luton Town in the 1980s and early 1990s.

He was also manager of Blackburn when they drew 2-2 with Austrian side Salzburg on an artificial pitch in the 2006-07 Uefa Cup.

"I used to dread playing on the old plastic pitches - they were concrete carpets and it was utterly unnatural," Hughes, who also played for Barcelona, Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Everton, told BBC Sport.

"But when we played in Salzburg with Blackburn it was just a world away from what I remembered and there could be no excuses from the players.

"They wore their normal boots, the ball bounced and spun properly and naturally and after five minutes training we were acclimatised.

"The positive is that the surface and technology incorporated in it isn't so alien to visiting teams so there's no excuses that can be trotted out."

Mick Rathbone, who played for Preston North End when there was an artificial pitch at Deepdale during the 1980s and 1990s, echoed Hughes's sentiments.

"The new third generation pitches are light years away from the old plastic pitches," he said.

"The new pitches with the millions of rubber balls are soft to run on, you can stop and turn very easily. And if you look at the economic advantages, they are massive. It kept Preston going back in the 1980s."

Oldham also played on a plastic pitch in the 1980s that was, according to club legend Andy Ritchie, "top of the range, rather like third generation pitches are now".

However, the striker, who scored more than 100 goals for the Latics and helped them win promotion to the top flight in 1991, admitted that the surface was to blame for several injuries.

"A few players from that team got injuries," he said.

"Frank Bunn had to retire with a knee injury, I had to have a disc out of my back when I was 30, Andy Barlow had knee problems, so did Earl Barrett.

"It's hard to prove whether it was the pitch, but my surgeon said to me 'it wouldn't have helped your situation'.

"But I can't have a go at it. I had my best times in football on it with Oldham."

However, former Blackburn striker Kevin Gallacher is worried that a return to artificial pitches could "shorten players' careers".

While acknowledging that the pitches "are a lot better", Gallacher said: "I played on one and it was nice, but for the next couple of days I was very stiff and I can imagine if you are training on that every day it will cause wear and tear over a period of time."

The Football Supporters' Federation, while not against artificial pitches, believe fans and players should be consulted before any decision is made.

Spokesman Michael Brunskill said: "Their introduction in this country should only happen after consultation with supporters and the Professional Footballers' Association.

"Sadly, it might end the tradition of fans having their ashes scattered on the pitch - we can't see many people choosing to scatter their ashes on the hallowed plastic."

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