MARK Warburton’s satisfaction at winning a second competition in six days as Rangers manager was overshadowed by the latest fiasco to grip the much-criticised Hampden pitch.
Shortly after Rangers defeated Peterhead 4-0 in the Petrofac Training Cup final at the national stadium yesterday, Hampden Park Ltd announced the playing surface will again be ripped up and replaced today ahead of the Scottish Cup semi-finals this weekend.
It will be the fifth time in seven years and the second time in just five weeks that Hampden has been relaid because of problems with the surface.
It was yet again in poor condition as Rangers followed up clinching the Championship title last Tuesday night by lifting – for the first time in four attempts – the cup competition for clubs outwith the top flight.
Warburton’s attention now turns to a return to Hampden on Sunday for the keenly anticipated Scottish Cup semi-final against Celtic, which takes place just 24 hours after Dundee United and Hibernian face off in the other last-four showdown on a new pitch which will have only five days to bed in.
“The pitch was difficult today,” said Warburton. “You could see in the first ten or 15 minutes that we couldn’t get the ball down and play. It was hard to play on.
“I know a lot of work is going on, I appreciate that, but you have to question how a new pitch can go down.
“My concern is if we have any adverse weather this week. If we have adverse weather Thursday or Friday, Hibs v Dundee United on the Saturday and then Celtic v Rangers on Sunday. I’m not sure how you bed a new pitch in over three days but I’m not an expert on surfaces.
“When you have 45,000 or 50,000 fans at the national stadium, you want the best game of football possible, don’t you?
“I understand that problems can occur and you have to find a solution to deal with them as swiftly and properly as possible. But there are some big games coming up on the pitch here and it is the national stadium.”
The latest work on the pitch will be carried out free of charge by Hampden’s suppliers but Warburton has questioned the initial level of investment made in the surface.
“How much does it cost to re-lay a pitch?” he added. “Do you put down the more expensive option in the beginning which proves to be the cheaper option in the long run?”
Peter Dallas, managing director of Hampden Park Ltd (HPL), admitted in a statement that the most recent re-laying of the surface had failed to meet their expectations.
“This latest action is deemed necessary after discussions with our pitch supply chain and representatives from the independent Sports Turf Research Institute [STRI] following the installation of a new surface only five weeks ago,” said Dallas.
“While the pitch is in an adequate playing condition, and has been professionally managed with an extensive maintenance and nutrition programme, regrettably it became evident that the rye grass in certain strips had not grown as expected.
“Given the recent six-figure investment, we expressed our concerns through the established supply chain and reached agreement that a new surface would be re-laid at no cost to HPL. We are confident that this action will provide the best possible playing surface for the
William Hill Scottish Cup semi-finals and, indeed, the climax to the Scottish football season.”
Peterhead manager Jim McInally backed the decision to re-lay the pitch again.
“Three of our players picked up groin injuries on it today,” said McInally.
“It is in really, really poor condition. It is solid. If you soak it, then it becomes a bit dangerous.”