Hampden’s Underfoot Conditions – Pitch Perfect for Celtic’s Thoroughbred Performers

Anyone who likes their horse racing will know the underfoot conditions are key to a horse’s performance. In flat racing in particular, high-end stables will forego some big races – and astronomical prize money on offer – if they think the underfoot conditions will have a detrimental impact on the performance of their big moneyspinner.

 (Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images)

This may seem a strange consideration, considering every horse will run through the same conditions in any particular race. However, in the case of thoroughbreds in particular, the real money as ever remains at stud, and a stallion can make a stable a lot more money at stud than it ever can from racing.

That’s why flat horses with winning reputations often quit at the top and when very young, and why horses only run when conditions are considered perfect. The more elite race wins after your name the more they can charge later down the line to have the stallion ‘cover’ the mares.

For top level Flat horses, Good, or Good to Firm ground is often the Holy Grail. And when those conditions are met, you’ll often see the best races competed for by the best horses. When that drops to nearer a soft surface, you’ll still see a decent enough race but you not see all the best available horses take their mark.

Sadly, in Scottish football, no matter the weather you are expected to pitch up (pardon the pun) and run your race. However, in the case of Celtic you’d certainly prefer good to firm ground rather than a bottomless mud bath – and for too long Hampden Park has too often been more suitable to a long-distance mudlark than it has a thoroughbred Group 1 performer.

When Celtic played Kilmarnock in the Scottish League Cup semi-final the conditions would have suited Paeen, but certainly not Frankel. And although Celtic ultimately prevailed, the underfoot conditions had Celtic looking far less effective than they would have on a good surface, as Ange Postecoglou pointed out at the time, as reported by Daily Record.

“You can’t control the weather in Scotland but I’m disappointed in the state of the pitch, I thought it would be better. You know when you come to Hampden it’s a showpiece event and you want the conditions to be the best they can be.

“Even when I walked out before the game, I was disappointed in the pitch. It’s going to be tough for the two teams on Sunday. If you’re going to have showpiece events when everyone’s watching under the spotlight, you want to present it in the best condition.

“I’m not sure how much football they’ve had on the pitch or what the situation is. But for a cup semi-final you want the best conditions possible. It didn’t have great grass coverage and didn’t hold very well.

“I went to Motherwell’s pitch recently and it was perfect. I would hope it’s better for the final. All eyes are on these games and you want them presented in the best possible manner.”

And whilst like many of the Celtic support tuning into yesterday’s press conference I was keen to hear whether David Turnbull and Aaron Mooy had made it onto the training ground and would therefore be in contention for Sunday’s Final, I was just as eager to hear about the likely underfoot conditions come Sunday.

And that’s because whilst theRangers are a team happy to play without the ball and can hit long diagonals all day long, Celtic perform at their best when the surface holds firm and doesn’t cut up, allowing Postecoglou’s Bhoys to pass and move around the opposition – and of course entertain us. To that end Postecoglou’s words were pleasing when discussing the Hampden pitch at yesterday’s press conference.

“It has improved, definitely. It had to. It looked in better condition. Hopefully, the weather is kind to us this week and it gives a chance for both teams to play at a good level.

It is not just about the fact that the pitch stops us from playing our football, the pitch is part of the event, and the stadium is part of the event. Everyone will be watching, not just in Scotland, but around the globe and you want our football to be presented in the best possible light.

In a cup final, the pitch is an essential factor in that event. So, it looked like they have done a fair bit of work on it which is pleasing, so it looks okay.”

How much improvement has been made will be open to debate, considering we remain in February and there is only so much you can do at this time of year to improve a football pitch. And we’ll know far more after twenty minutes of 20 outfield players charging around in a cup final, than we will from Postecoglou’s footballing equivalent of ‘walking the course’ prior to yesterday’s media day at Hampden.

However, Ange Postecoglou doesn’t seem to be the kind of guy to blow smoke up anyone’s backside for the sake of being mannerable, so the stage could well be set for Celtic’s thoroughbred performers to have suitable enough ground to run their race.

That the Hampden pitch is forever under scrutiny for this sort of thing – no matter the time of the year – should be something that is addressed and rectified. After all, if Hampden was Ascot, a good few trainers would be asking for a new the Clerk of the Course.

Niall J

About Author

As a Bellshill Bhoy I was taken to my first Celtic game in the summer of 1987. It was Billy McNeill’s return to Celtic Park as manager and Celtic lost 5-1 to Arsenal . I thought I was a jinx, I think my Grandfather might have thought the same. It was the finest gift anyone ever gave me when he walked me through Parkhead's gates.

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