Rangers boss Mark Warburton joins row over Hampden Park turf

Rangers manager Mark Warburton has concerns over the Hampden Park turf. Picture: SNS
Rangers manager Mark Warburton has concerns over the Hampden Park turf. Picture: SNS
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Mark Warburton has expressed his own concern over the condition of the much-criticised Hampden pitch ahead of Rangers’ two appearances at the national stadium this month.

In the wake of Celtic and Scotland captain Scott Brown’s withering condemnation of the playing surface, which cut up during Tuesday night’s international friendly against Denmark, Warburton has also questioned the timing of it being relaid for the fourth time in seven years last month.

Described by Brown as “bang average” and as making Scottish football a “laughing stock”, the most recent attempt to improve the Hampden pitch was made just a week before the League Cup final between Ross County and Hibs.

But the latest surface already appears to be degrading ahead of several showpiece fixtures at the end of the season.

Rangers will play at Hampden on successive Sundays, in the Petrofac Training Cup final against Peterhead on 10 April and the Scottish Cup semi-final against Celtic the following week.

Those fixtures form part of a schedule in which Hampden will host four games in 16 days, with Queen’s Park facing Stirling Albion in League 2 action tomorrow and the Scottish Cup semi-final between Hibs and Dundee United on 16 April, just 24 hours before the Old Firm meeting.

Rangers manager Warburton, already a strong critic of artificial surfaces and the lack of investment in grass pitches in Scotland, revealed he was bemused by an aerial view of the latest pitch being prepared at Hampden as he arrived back in Glasgow from a trip to London at the start of last month.

“I flew in from down south at about 9pm and could see the floodlights on at Hampden and the work being done,” said Warburton.

“All I could see was sand and there was a big game just four or five days ahead. But it takes pitches time to bed in. To lay a pitch down and play games so quickly on it, it give the ground staff no chance to do their job.

“I haven’t seen the pitch yet, but I have seen the pictures this week. I made my comments about artificial pitches and everything else earlier in the season and I took some abuse for that.

“But the fact is the national stadium is really important, to showcase and hold the important matches. Be it the national team or cup semi-finals and finals, it is really important for the quality of Scottish football to have a suitable playing surface.

“In the English Premier League, there is a consistency of product in terms of pitches and that is what is lacking in Scotland.

“It is important to see what turns up when we get to Hampden, what type of pitch we will be playing on. I’m not going to pass judgment before we play there.

“I’m sure the ground staff are working diligently and this is no criticism of them. But it is difficult.

“If you are going to look at it and be critical, you have to recognise that the quality of product has to be higher.”

But Warburton says Rangers have no plans to lobby the SFA over the issue ahead of their trips to Hampden.

“I don’t think that’s our job if I’m honest with you,” he added.

“I’m sure the SFA are working diligently. I’m sure they are aware of criticism of the pitch and are desperate to produce a surface that is appropriate.

“Let’s turn up at the game and see how the pitch is. If it’s good, then great. We’ll enjoy the good surface.”

Warburton was also reluctant to enter the debate over whether Queen’s Park, owners of Hampden which is currently leased to the SFA until 2020 and operated by Hampden Park Ltd, should continue to play their home games on the pitch.

“I wouldn’t possibly know about that arrangement,” he said. “But Scotland’s national stadium is seeing games played on it almost every week.

“The next question should be what happens if Wembley gets loaned out to Tottenham or Chelsea while they rebuild their grounds? I don’t know, but I guarantee the Wembley pitch still wouldn’t be like Hampden is.

“Brentford played at Wembley twice when I was there, in a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final and a play-off final, and it is always magnificent. It is like a billiards table.

“Everyone will batter me with the argument, ‘ah, but they’ve got the Sky money down there and everything else’, but you have to start somewhere.

“If we just sit here and say ‘there’s no money’, then it is never going to get any better.

“It is really important we look at the quality of the surface and try to make it better, because the crowds are dwindling for a lot of these games.”