If you cast your mind back to February 2017, you may somewhere deep in the recesses of your mind remember ‘Pie-gate’.
That came about during Sutton United’s FA Cup fifth round tie against Arsenal at their Gander Green Lane ground, when substitute goalkeeper and coach, the roly poly Wayne Shaw, was captured on film tucking into a pie in the dug-out.
Arsenal won the game 2-0, but it was a good old-fashioned scrap in which Sutton – 105 places below the Gunners in the league pyramid at the time – made their elite opponents work very hard for victory. Indeed, Arsene Wenger’s side, as they were back in ’17, could only muster four shots on target all night long.
Why did Arsenal struggle to put the part timers away? Countless reasons can be argued, but surely the most pertinent was the artificial 3G pitch at Gander Green Lane.
The Gunners struggled to string passes together, and it was evident they were reluctant to twist and turn at full pace against a team who weren’t afraid to put a tackle in.
There was a nervousness about Wenger as he spoke about playing on a plastic surface before the game. “Ideally we would like to play on a normal pitch. But it has been accepted so….competition is also about dealing with what you face. We face an artificial pitch and we have to deal with it.
“I’ve heard that Sutton have a wet pitch, they water it before the game so it’ll be much quicker. It means the weight on the joints is stronger, you cannot glide, you have to block every time so it makes football a bit different, because the ball comes to you and somebody accelerates and doesn’t slow down like in a normal game so you have to get used to the difference in speed.”
Ever since, we’ve been looking into home field advantage on artificial pitches, and had sort of forgotten about our findings until the topic reared its head again this week.
Holt You’re Moaning
Due to the weather, and the associated costs of postponed matches, a few clubs in Scotland have started turning to artificial pitches.
One such club is Livingston, and their boss Gary Holt was quizzed about the surface this week.
“If Fifa and Uefa have looked into them and endorsed them then they are not going to say don’t play on them.
“They are playing qualifiers – World Cup qualifiers, European qualifiers – and Champions League games on 3G plastic pitches. I don’t hear them moaning about that.”
It comes a couple of months after Steven Gerrard slated the 3G pitch at Kilmarnock’s Rugby Park and blamed it for causing an injury to Jamie Murphy.
When you dig a bit deeper you note that Livingston and Kilmarnock have won six of their combined eight home matches this term on their plastic pitches, losing just once.
Is that coincidence? Or is there a genuine advantage in playing on an artificial surface at home? Happily, somebody has already done the research for us….
Dutchmen Keeping Off the Grass
Jan C. van Ours, a Dutch football fanatic, conducted a study ‘called ‘Artificial Pitches and Home Advantage in Professional Football’ of the teams in Holland’s Eredivisie, six of whom play on an artificial pitch.
Ours studied matches between 2014/15 and 2016/17, using some pretty tricky maths to reflect statistical chances of home wins on standard grass pitches and their plastic cousins.
The author’s findings were resolute: ‘from an analysis of matches in three seasons of professional football in the Netherlands, it appears that teams who play on an artiﬁcial pitch have an additional home advantage compared to teams who play on natural grass.’
You can read the rest of Ours’ study by heading here and searching for his name.
The Betting Angle
Whether we are recreational punters or consider ourselves to be a touch more professional, we all – explicitly or subconsciously – handicap teams when deciding where betting value lies.
Our belief is that we can add the nature of the pitch into the mix alongside form, team news, motivation and weather conditions when it comes to placing our bets.
So look around. There are teams in Scotland, Holland and Russia using artificial surfaces, and while they remain banned in England there are still plenty of betting opportunities across the continent.