KIDS attending a new state-of-the-art school will have to play football on 1970s-style blaes pitches.
The Paisley Daily Express has learned that Renfrewshire Council has approved plans to install three new ‘golden grit’ playing fields at Park Mains High in Erskine.
Red blaes pitches were common 40 years ago when local authorities were taken with the idea of a hard-wearing surface that was cheap to maintain and plentiful. But the uncompromising material was never popular with young footballers who suffered skint knees and painful leg and arm injuries as a result of playing on it.
The development forms part of the local authority’s Building Better Communities programme which will see a £92million investment in education, leisure and community facilities across the area.
But some people fear the decision to downgrade the pitches will spell the end for youth football in Erskine.
Hundreds of supporters have already joined an online campaign on a social networking site to protest at the decision.
One father of two, Neil McMurchy, blasted: “It is as if we are going back 30 years with this type of surface.”
Building work to create the £33million secondary school has already started after council planners gave the go-ahead last year.
The new Park Mains High will be built on the playing fields of the existing school, including a once popular astroturf surface.
Erskine has a population of 15,000 people but only one grass pitch for 20 teams.
The two main clubs in the town are Erskine Youth FC and Parkmoor BC and in total they have around 500 kids in training and playing football at the weekends.
Mr McMurchy, who is also vice president at Erskine Youth FC, continued: “The Scottish Youth FA have already told us that we cannot play competitive matches on these parks and they do not recommend we train on them either. This basically makes them useless for football.”
He added: “There was an astroturf pitch there before the development started and it was well used. But this decision could turn a lot of kids in Erskine off playing football.
“We don’t have the facilities to train or play in the town and have to travel outwith to train and play.”
The proposals have also been kicked into touch by high-ranking officials in Scottish youth football.
David Little, national secretary of the Scottish Youth FA, told the Express he would like to see the back of all blaes pitches in Scotland.
And he blasted the council’s decision, saying: “I think this is a step back into the dark ages and the council, if being criticised for this, fully deserve to be.
“In this day and age we should be putting in new grass surfaces with proper drainage or at least 3G pitches that allow the game to be played 52 weeks of the year and give us greater flexibility in terms of games and training, thus allowing the development of our young players.”
He added: “Ash pitches are used in sufferance.”
Plans to build the three new pitches using have also been criticised by West Renfrewshire MSP Trish Godman.
She said: “There is nothing golden about the ‘golden grit’ pitches Councillor Mackay refers to in his correspondence, plans to install blaes pitches at the new Park Mains High School are totally unwelcome. Sand-based astro pitches designed for hockey also have no place in modern football.
“I value the hard work done by local clubs like Park Moor and Erskine Youth, yet despite their commitment to the local community the clubs and the hundreds of players and families involved in youth football in Erskine are being short changed.
“Erskine deserves much better from Councillor MacKay and his administration.
“The Save Erskine football campaigners are right to attack this move which further dilutes the already poor facilities on offer for them.”
A Renfrewshire Council spokesperson said: “Our sports development programme and multi-million pound investment programme in leisure facilities will boost a range of sports and leisure activities.
“Football has by far the most capacity and investment in the new pitches being installed across Renfrewshire.
“Also, it is only recently that some football governing bodies have changed their rules on which pitches can be used for competitions.
“It’s worth pointing out that there were very few bookings in recent years for competitive football games on the existing synthetic pitch at Park Mains.
“Renfrewshire also has a number of synthetic pitches for football available in Linwood, Renfrew, Ferguslie Park, KGV in Renfrew, Seedhill and Ralston, Gryffe High and St Andrew’s Academy in Paisley.
“Regarding the facilities at Park Mains, the school needs a number of outdoor spaces so it can fulfil the needs of the curriculum.
“ A blaes surface can be used not only for football but also athletics and other outdoor activities during the summer terms.
“We have five hockey clubs in Renfrewshire who require facilities for matches. These clubs currently use Linwood and travel to Glasgow to find other suitable playing surfaces. Scottish Hockey will be working with Park Mains High School and Johnstone High School to develop hockey in the curriculum and after school to enable more young people to participate in the sport.
“The council will be working with Scottish Hockey and local schools to encourage participation in the sports through using these new facilities at Park Mains.”