Aspmyra Stadion

Not So Fantastic Plastic: Artificial Football Pitches Set to Banned in the UK

Although they remain commonplace in non-league and local football, artificial pitches are few and far between at the elite level in the UK. And the numbers could yet dwindle further with the news that the Scottish Premiership is planning a ban on the use of artificial pitches from the 2026/27 season.

A number of clubs in Scotland have artificial surfaces, which are designed to combat heavy rain and freezing temperatures in a way that natural grass pitches can’t – ensuring fewer games are being postponed, and thus reducing the risk of a fixture backlog.

However, the Scottish Premiership wants to go au naturel – their clubs will vote on the motion, and if passed then clubs with artificial pitches won’t be allowed to play in the top-tier in Scotland from 2026 onwards. It’s a rule change that could see the likes of Raith Rovers, Ross County and Livingston, who have all been in – or flirted with – the Scottish Premiership in recent times, have to rip up their pitches and splash out on a new surface to adhere to the new policy.

Keep on the Grass

Artificial football field grass

There has been a general shift away from the use of artificial pitches in England too. They were once used by a number of big clubs – they became a sort of fashionable accessory in the 1980s in particular, but they are now expressly prohibited at the top level: the Premier League Handbook, which contains all of the competition’s rules, states that ‘no league match shall be played on an artificial surface.’

However, a number of EPL clubs now have pitches that can be described as ‘hybrid’, with natural grass bonded with artificial materials. More on those shortly. In the English Football League, a ban on artificial pitches was agreed back in 1989, with the surfaces fully phased out by 1995.

They too have banned league games from being player on non-grass pitches, with zero leeway for teams promoted from non-league either – ‘any club promoted from the National League must ensure that any artificial surface is removed and replaced by a grass pitch prior to their first game in the league,’ their rules decree.

But there’s a suggestion that EFL chiefs are considering relaxing the ban, particularly in League 1 and League 2, where games are routinely postponed when the British weather takes a turn for the worse. As well as the footballing issue of a fixture backlog, which may see Saturday games moved to midweek (these tend to have lower attendances and thus make less money), there’s also the costs of trying to repair and maintain grass pitches in a bid to ensure they don’t succumb to the weather. Clubs in the lower reaches of Scottish football are allowed to use synthetic surfaces, but for the most part these are now being phased out of UK football.

Get the Game On

QPR's Loftus Road Stadium
QPR’s Loftus Road Stadium once famously used OmniTurf (Matt Churchill /

Many footballing countries around the globe allow their clubs to use artificial pitches out of necessity – harsh weather, be it hot or cold, combined with a lack of resources meaning that synthetic surfaces are a no-brainer. It was a methodology tapped into by a handful of English clubs in the eighties – notably QPR, Preston, Oldham and Luton Town.

There were no rules against it at the time, so the quartet installed various versions of artificial pitches at their home stadium – QPR, for example, opted for a system called OmniTurf, which was a layer of synthetic grass on top of a foundation of tarmac. Good luck making a sliding tackle on that!

The slowness of the surface, and the unique high bounce it created, became something of a competitive advantage for those playing 50% of their games on it. QPR won the Second Division in 1982/83 and then finished fifth in their maiden First Division campaign, while Luton Town won the League Cup with a plastic pitch at Kenilworth Road – beating Coventry City, Oxford United and Bradford City on home soil on their way to the final at Wembley.

This ‘advantage’ was antagonising other clubs, who called for artificial pitches to be banned. Their wish was the FA’s command, and by 1995 they were gone from the English game (at the top levels) for good). FIFA remain more supportive of synthetic pitches than the FA was. They won’t allow a stadium with an artificial surface to host a major final, but they are yet to ban them outright – and some decent clubs, like Lorient and Nancy in France and former Italian Serie A outfit Cesena, play their home games exclusively on artificial grass.

Hybrid Style

Luzhniki Stadium
Luzhniki Stadium (

The Luzhniki Stadium, which has become Russia’s national sporting venue of choice, has achieved a notable first – being recognised by UEFA with elite status first with an artificial pitch, in 2002, and then with a unique hybrid surface in 2016. The playing surface at the venue is said to be 95% natural grass, with the remaining 5% made up of synthetic fibres – a material designed by the company SISGrass.

This model has become increasingly in demand, with a number of Premier League clubs choosing to install a hybrid pitch of their own – these largely grass-based surfaces don’t breach the ban on the use of artificial pitches.

Bournemouth were the first to call upon the services of SISGrass back in 2016, with their pitch using a similar 95% natural system bolstered by ‘yarn’ stitched directly into the ground. By 2022, a number of Premier League clubs had followed in the Cherries’ wake, with Liverpool choosing a ‘carpet’ style pitch to be installed at Anfield.

Apparently, the synthetic fibres – similar to those used in carpets – act as a reinforcement for the natural grass ‘….by holding polyethylene fibres at the carpet base to a height of 45mm to be retained in the grass sward. It is then in-filled with sand, which is carefully selected to deliver optimal drainage and playing performance.’ And it certainly hasn’t stopped them from playing winning football on Merseyside.