Artificial turf, or synthetic turf, is a man-made surface manufactured from synthetic materials, made to look like natural grass. It is most often used in arenas for sports that were originally or are normally played on grass. However, it is now being used on residential lawns and commercial applications as well.
Some football (soccer) clubs in Europe installed artificial surfaces in the 1980s, which were called plastic pitches (often derisively) in countries such as England. In England several professional club venues had adopted the pitches, QPR's Loftus Road, Luton Town's Kenilworth Road, Oldham Athletic's Boundary Park and Preston's Deepdale until the English FA banned them in 1988. Artificial turf gained a bad reputation on both sides of the Atlantic with fans and especially with players. The first artificial turfs were a far harder surface than grass, and soon became known as an unforgiving playing surface which was prone to cause more injuries, and in particular, more serious joint injuries, than would comparatively be suffered on a grass surface. Artificial turf was also regarded as aesthetically unappealing to many fans.
In 1981, London football club Queens Park Rangers dug up its grass pitch and installed an artificial one. Others followed, and by the mid-1980s there were four plastic grass pitches in operation in the English league. They soon became a national joke: the ball pinged round like it was made of rubber, the players kept losing their footing, and anyone who fell over risked carpet burns. Unsurprisingly, fans complained that the football was awful to watch and, one by one, the clubs returned to natural grass.
In the 1990s many North American football clubs also removed their artificial surfaces and re-installed grass, while others moved to new stadiums with state-of-the-art grass surfaces that were designed to withstand cold temperatures where the climate demanded it. The use of artificial turf was later banned by FIFA, UEFA and by many domestic football associations, though, in recent years, both governing bodies have expressed an interest in resurrecting the use of artificial surfaces as the related technologies continue to evolve. UEFA has now been heavily involved in programs to test artificial turf with tests made in several grounds meeting with FIFA approval. A team of UEFA, FIFA and German company Polytan conducted tests in the Stadion Salzburg Wals-Siezenheim in Salzburg, Austria which is due to have matches played on it in the UEFA EURO 2008. It is the second FIFA 2 Star approved football turf pitch in a European domestic top flight, after Dutch club Heracles Almelo received the FIFA certificate in August last year. The tests were approved.
In the early 21st century, new artificial playing surfaces using sand and/or rubber infill were developed. These "next generation" or "third generation" artificial grass surfaces are often virtually indistinguishable from natural grass when viewed from any distance, and are generally regarded as being about as safe to play on as a typical natural grass surface — perhaps even safer in cold conditions.
Many clubs have installed the new synthetic grass surfaces, most commonly as part of an all-weather training capability. Other clubs which have maintained natural grass surfaces are now re-considering artificial grass. With football clubs in Europe are looking to reduce both the maintenance costs and the number of winter matches that are cancelled due to frozen pitches, the issue has also been re-visited by that sport's governing bodies.
The Scottish Premier League banned synthetic pitches for competition matches in 2005, following a two year experiment by Dunfermline Athletic who installed XL Turf, made by the Swiss firm, XL Generation. The management of Dunfermline were happy with the surface, but the league banned the use of the artificial pitch due to complaints by visiting clubs such as Rangers and Celtic).
"The most common type uses polypropylene "grass" about 5 centimetres long, which is lubricated with silicone and tufted into a primary cloth and then latex is applied to the back of the cloth to give it stability by anchoring in the tufts. The whole thing is then "infilled" with a 4-centimetre layer of sand and rubber granules, which keeps the fibres upright and provides the right level of shock absorbency and deformability. The majority of the 15 or so turf manufacturers approved by FIFA use this technology.
The other sort, typified by Dunfermline's pitch, has a base of expanded polyethylene, a foamy material originally developed as a shock absorber for the car industry (see diagram). The grass is also made of lubricated polyethylene fibres, but they are shorter and more densely packed than on an infilled pitch, and are also interspersed with short, curly, spring-like fibres that keep the blades upright. The finishing touch is an 8-millimetre filling of rubber granules." The installation at the Borussia-Park in Mönchengladbach is another major step in the quality and development of artificial turf surfaces.
UEFA later announced that starting from the 2005-06 season, approved artificial surfaces were to be permitted in their competitions.
Regardless of the views of the governing bodies, criticism of artificial surfaces in soccer continues, notably in reference to the FieldTurf surface at Toronto F.C.'s BMO Field and the Giants Stadium home of Red Bull New York. Current and former players have recently criticised the surface, expressing concerns that, among other things, it may exacerbate injuries.
A full international fixture for the 2008 European Championships was played on 17 October 2007 between England and Russia on an artificial surface, which was installed to counteract adverse weather conditions, at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. It was one of the first full international games to be played on such a surface approved by both FIFA and UEFA. However UEFA have ordered that the 2008 European Champions League final which is due to be hosted in the same stadium in May 2008 must take place on grass and stressed that artificial turf should only be considered an option where climatic conditions necessitate.
The introduction of synthetic surfaces has significantly changed the sport of field hockey. Since being introduced in the 1970s, competitions in western countries are now mostly played on artificial surfaces. This has increased the speed of the game considerably, and changed the shape of hockey sticks to allow for different techniques, such as reverse stick trapping and hitting. Due to the cost of synthetic pitch installation, India and Pakistan have lost their once dominant position in international competition.
Field hockey artificial turf differs from soccer and football artificial turf in the way that it does not try to reproduce a grass 'feel', being made of shorter fibres similar to the ones used on Dunfermline's pitch. This shorter fibre structure allows the improvement in speed brought by earlier artificial turfs to be retained. This development in the game is however problematic for many local communities who often cannot afford to build two artificial pitches: one for field hockey and one for other sports. The FIH and manufacturers are driving research in order to produce new pitches that will be suitable for a variety of sports. Pitch categories: