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Artificial pitches could return to English Football League

Mon 29th Sep 2014 | Football Stadiums & Facilities

Artificial pitches could return to English football from next season after a majority of club chairman from the third and fourth tier leagues said they would be in favour of their reintroduction.

Representatives from League One and Two clubs met on Thursday and 29 out of 48 members voted for a proposed rule change that would mean FIFA 2-star-rated 3G (third generation) surfaces could host matches next year, the Football League confirmed.

The change would encompass matches in both divisions and the League Cup and Johnstone’s Paint Trophy competitions.

Artificial pitches were banned from the professional game in England 19 years ago due to issues over the bounce of the ball and injury fears but the Football Association ruled in March that they can be used in every round of the FA Cup during the current season.

Clubs from England's bottom two divisions are now expected to take a formal vote once the rule changes are drawn up in November to decide whether the surface will be reintroduced to other competitions next season.

There is growing interest among football clubs in the advantages of playing on 3G synthetic turf. There are many reasons for this:

  • 3G turf allows matches to be played in extreme weather conditions; there are fewer postponements and better club income streams as a result;
  • 3G turf, which plays like a good quality grass pitch, with no additional injury risks, encourages skilful football at all levels;
  • 3G pitches can take continuous usage without significant deterioration in playing quality. This means that football clubs with limited land resources are able to provide facilities for all their youth and community teams to play within the club perimeter. This in turn leads to greater use of clubhouse facilities enabling the club to earn greater revenue streams.
  • clubs can hire out their pitches to third parties and earn revenue from pitch and clubhouse, car park etc. all round the clock.

 

Oliver Ash, Co-owner of Maidstone United and Spokesman for 3G4US, contact group of football clubs, who are supportive of 3G synthetic pitches said:

"We applaud the positive signals from The Football League to allow greater use of these pitches in their competitions as 3G pitches can be very beneficial to clubs and their community teams. They can also transform clubs' finances by enabling activity to be attracted to stadia all round the clock. FIFA 2 Star standard pitches are of top quality and have been shown to play like good natural grass and mud pitches. FIFA and UEFA studies have also shown there is no significant difference in injury risk compared to good grass pitches. When you compare them to poor quality grass and mud pitches prevalent in lower professional and semi-professional leagues then the advantages of 3G become even more persuasive."

"The FA has shown great leadership in backing 3G stadium pitches to the full and encouraging other bodies to do the same. They are hugely beneficial to young players keen to learn good technical skills. They also give clubs a new business model to follow. This is particularly useful for clubs in semi-professional football because marginal revenue increases can be so vital for survival. Too many clubs face financial difficulties every season and their demise affects almost all other clubs in some way.

"Just by enabling fixtures to be fulfiled at optimal weekend times during harsh winters 3G can make a huge difference and bring pleasure to supporters too."

"In the last few years Sutton Coldfield FC, Merthyr Town FC, Whyteleafe, Harlow Town and Maidstone Utd have all elected to play on 3G and all are over the moon with the positive impact it is having on their clubs and local communities. Several other clubs are known to be planning to install 3G next season.The 3G4US group of football clubs promoting the benefits of 3G now has some 80 clubs on its contact lists.  Once 3G is allowed in Conference and Football League it is inevitable that other clubs from these leagues will go down the same road. 3G should not however be seen as an obligation for every club; it may not suit some, some may just prefer to play on grass and mud pitches; it may be hard to finance for others; it's just a great thing that clubs should now have the choice to install 3G if they wish."

"Maidstone Utd have just completed their second successive profitable business year since installing a 3G pitch. Without the 3G business model being available to operate the club would in all probability no longer exist and many thousands of supporters and users of the pitch and clubhouse facilities would be left out in the cold."

"3G pitches enable clubs to open their pitches to outside clubs and companies for training and tournaments, local and regional competitions and also to establish academies for young players in some cases, using the pitch at off-peak times. This is the model used by Maidstone United FC, who have a thriving 60 student academy which has already won plaudits since it opened two years ago. This would have been impossible with a grass-mud pitch."

Image: Action Images / Peter Cziborra

Posted by: Kev Howland 

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