Pitch perfect

Football fans should give thanks we live in modern times.

There have been two amazing physical changes in my lifetime, both of which I can see with my own eyes. No, not in the mirror, that's a lie anyway, don't believe a word of it.

One of them is to do with the environment. I do fear more pollution, I can see that, and the need for more renewable energy makes sense. But not global warming. Don't believe in that. Can't see it, touch it. How can you accept something that observation tells you doesn't exist? Last year's shit summer. This year's shit weather. If God, sorry, global warming, exists, then why isn't our weather better?

In 1960, I used to drive home from work at this time of the year, from Gray's Inn Road - and find myself hitting hedges, driving on pavements, no idea where I was. Not drink. London smog. It was the most awful, thick, clinging, dark yellow mucus; made you choke, unable to see. Thank God that's gone. The Clean Air Acts have totally done away with it. So that's one miracle in my lifetime.

The other amazing change struck me particularly last weekend, in all the snow, sleet and rain. White Hart Lane was all white, as were the Lillywhite shirts, until a spell towards the end when the sun came out. Watching all the other Prem games later on TV, the same thing was happening - heavy falls of snow, then bright sun. If you just switched on in a sunny bit, you'd think, nah, can't be the English winter, they're playing in some lush tropical paradise.

And you know why it looked like that? No, not just the mad spring sun - the lush, plush, perfect green pitch. It's the single most important change in 40 years to improve football.

Normally, at this time of year, the pitches were mudbaths, had been every winter since 1888 when the Football League began. The goalmouths were a ploughed field, sans grass, and you felt they would never be green again. In rain, the players splashed through small lakes, spray flying, the ball floating or disappearing. In snow, spectators could go on before the game and help the ground staff find the pitch.

During the game, there'd be banks of snow that looked like grey-white tanks parked on the perimeter. They'd get out the yellow ball, try to play through the blizzard, then give up and we'd all go for a Bovril and the Pink 'Un. (That was a newspaper, by the way, not a lap dancer.)

Decent pitches, which stay green all year round, have greatly encouraged better ball skills, speed, tactics. It was a lottery, in the old days, with sliding tackles that ended up across the pitch, or big belts with the ball only running two feet.

I do believe the physique of the modern player, 6ft tall, slim and slender, as opposed to 5ft 8in and stocky, does have a direct correlation with the changes on the pitch.

For fans, the changes have been hugely beneficial, going to a game without fearing it will be cancelled, being able to see the ball clearly at the other end instead of just guessing.

All it has cost is money. Undersoil heating, complicated drainage, special grasses are expensive and it's only the big clubs that can afford it. But they easily get their money back through assured attendances and guaranteed TV rights. There is, of course, a connection with Sky - the extra TV cash made the clubs richer. But I'm not going to praise Sky. I'm just saying hurrah for modern pitches.

The worst of all possible worlds for a football fan was smog plus lousy pitches. Oh, we're so lucky to be living in the modern age.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 31 March 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Is Boris a fake?