A RTIFICIAL pitches have taken root in Scottish football.

Tradition had once sought to weed them out altogether, but perceptions have shifted far enough that clubs now look kindly on them; the criticisms which led to Dunfermline Athletic being disparaged for laying a synthetic surface 10 years ago proving not to be as lasting as the pitches themselves.

Queen of the South are the latest club preparing their ground for the introduction of such a surface, in time for their return to the Irn-Bru First Division next season. It will also cause them to join a growing division of lower league clubs that have already gone plastic. Palmerston will host the ninth artificial pitch – the homes of Alloa Athletic, Airdrie United, Montrose, Forfar Athletic, Annan Athletic and Clyde all now furnished with one, while Stenhousemuir and East Stirlingshire both play their home matches on the synthetic turf at Ochilview. Brechin City also enjoyed a short-term tenancy at Forfar's Station Park, with two of their home fixtures this season switched after their own grass surface became waterlogged.

The standing distrust towards those surfaces has drained, then, and it seems pertinent that it is now a decade since Dunfermline laid the first artificial pitch in Scotland, as part of a UEFA-funded experiment. Their Scottish Premier League rivals viewed the XL Turf pitch as an aberration on the landscape of the game since it was constructed of square panels, although it did prove to be an effective soundboard for partisan summaries. John Yorkston, then Dunfermline chairman, claimed Celtic's Bobo Balde caused more injuries than his pitch following criticism from the Parkhead club.

An SPL vote in 2005 forced Dunfermline to rip up the plastic surface and relay grass, an instruction that Yorkston claimed would cost his club £200,000 in revenue. What they wouldn't do for such a windfall now.

Parallels drawn between the Fife club's current turmoil and that decision are faded by time, but it is an issue which forms the foundation for laying artificial pitches now. Their value to clubs is durable since they can generate additional revenue through renting them out – Alloa have previously invited local junior teams to make use of Recreation Park during the winter to help recoup the £400,000 it took to install the pitch – although the challenge to provincial clubs will always be to find a market. The benefits to their staple income of match gates are easier to account for, though, since it is seldom disrupted as such pitches are resistant to the effects of inclement weather.

"From FIFA's perspective, artificial pitches offer the best creditable alternative to a good quality natural turf," says Dr Eric Harrison, FIFA's consultant for artificial turf and a delegate for world football's governing body to help sew the seeds of artificial pitches around the globe. "This is especially so when it is difficult to grow natural turf because of climatic reasons, or the playing season coincides with the non-growing period for natural turf and grass cannot recover from extensive usage, or the intensity of usage outstrips the capabilities of a good natural turf surface.

"These issues arise in Scotland. The weather conditions make it difficult to maintain good natural turf over the winter months and at the same time subject the natural turf to intensive play. Furthermore there are significant cost savings, on maintenance, in particular. In economically challenging times these cost savings could be an important factor in ensuring a club's survival." These are presented as cold facts, but it is how artificial pitches cope in the heat of competition which matters to players. Talk of scraped knees and friction burns suffered while playing on early generations of plastic pitches are often used to sharpen pointed criticism of the surfaces, and FIFA have since come to refer to them with the less abrasive term "football turf".

Following condemnation of the test case at East End Park, Harrison dismissed suggestions that artificial pitches are dangerous – "Research showed that there are more minor injuries on artificial surfaces but more serious injuries on grass" – and he is confident that stigma has started to wear.

"Clearly many individuals remember previous generations of artificial grass and how they were universally disliked," he says. "Many of those players who played on the surfaces are the coaches or administrators of today and as such carry with them an understandable distrust of these surfaces. There have, however, been many changes. There are a set of standards that the artificial grass industry must meet, all of which utilise the performance of 'good quality natural grass' as the benchmark. This has resulted in the broader acceptance of these surfaces by players."

FIFA have continued to cultivate support and it has helped, too, that artificial pitches have been cleared for use in major competitions. That does not include the SPL, though, and it remains in the hands of league chairmen to carry on that progress. "From my experience the single largest factor for resistance is a lack of awareness of this type of surface and its potential as a tool for developing football," says Harrison. "Although in many countries there is an awareness of these surfaces, in many more they are unaware. There is no better response than allowing the players to play on the surface to see for themselves."