Outside the Box: Fake nostalgia for the days when plastic was all the rage


It may have been loathed in its time, but the plastic pitch used by Luton Town in the 1980s is making a comeback.

Fellow Blue Square Conference teams need not fear, however, for the venue is to be the new Sports Village at nearby Stopsley. The BBC Three Counties radio station has managed to track down "most" of the pitch, which went to an astro-turf dealer when it was finally replaced after six years by good old grass in 1991. Other small chunks were purchased by fans, who have been encouraged to return them for the new venture.

Like Queens Park Rangers, Oldham and others who used artificial pitches, Luton were assumed to derive an advantage from regularly playing and training on theirs and it was the subject of many a moan from visiting managers; the most famous being by Kenny Dalglish after Liverpool lost there, spawning all manner of aeroplane jokes about whining over Luton.

Dalglish might at least appreciate the irony of the ceremony to re-lay it at Stopsley having to be postponed last Wednesday – because of heavy snow. Another attempt will be made this Wednesday, when it is hoped that Mick Harford, who scored an own goal on the pitch's last appearance at Kenilworth Road, will attend.

No chants of support

Manchester City fans at their team's Champions' League game away to Borussia Dortmund in midweek cannot help but have been impressed by the colour, spectacle and noise generated by the home crowd, even though attendances at the Signal Iduna Park are limited to just under 66,000 for European games, when the standing section used at domestic games is covered with temporary seats.

Yesterday, however, they would have found the start of the home game against Wolfsburg considerably quieter, even with an 80,000 crowd present. Supporters were taking part in the latest protest against what are seen as draconian proposals by the German FA and the Bundesliga for a "safer stadium experience". After a rally in the town, to which visiting Wolfsburg supporters were also invited, fans were due to remain silent for the first 12 minutes and 12 seconds of the game. (Insert your own Arsenal/Manchester United joke here.)

Play the numbers game

Still on a European theme, good luck to the French Cultural Affairs, Education and Sport Commission, who have set up a parliamentary inquiry into how Uefa's Financial Fair Play rules will affect the country's professional clubs, who between them owe some €250 million (£203m).

There is particular interest in how Paris St-Germain and Monaco, with their respective Qatari and Russian backers, can comply. Perhaps they should speak to the number-crunchers at Chelsea, who last month announced to widespread astonishment that they had managed to turn a loss of £67.7m last year into a profit.

This town ain't big enough

Mention last week of the two Erith teams, running neck-and-neck at the top of the Kent League, raises the question of whether any smaller town (population 8,000 or less) can boast such a local derby in the non-League pyramid.

Erith & Belvedere, "The Deres", are the senior club, having been founded in 1922, although pedants might point out that they actually play in neighbouring Welling, sharing with Welling United since their main stand was burnt down some 15 years ago. Erith Town, "The Dockers", are the young upstarts, dating from 1959.

Ossett, near Wakefield (population 21,076), will stage a derby between the local Albion and Town in the Evostik NPL First Division North on New Year's Day. Further up the scale, Stafford (pop. 56,000), normally known as the preserve of the local Rangers, recently staged its first derby when Rangers met Stafford Town of the Midland Combination in the Walsall Senior Cup. The game had added local spice in that there were brothers on opposing sides – Ishmale Reid (Town) and Levi Reid (Rangers), the latter opening the scoring in a 2-1 win.

The crowd of 518 was more than 12 times Town's average and a record for their ground, and Rangers, despite having had financial problems in recent years, magnanimously waived their right to half of the receipts. A correspondent suggests Stoke-on-Trent (pop. 249,000) as the smallest place with two League clubs, Stoke City having last met Port Vale in 2002; and Falkirk (35,000) as the Scottish equivalent, although rivals East Stirlingshire now play at Stenhousemuir.

s.tongue@independent.co.uk; twitter.com/@stevetongue

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