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Are 3G football pitches about to enter the football league?

By admin on February 2, 2018

The sight of a 3G pitch at a sports club, school, or football academy is becoming increasingly common, and more young players are honing their skills on artificial grass than ever before. With that in mind, could it be time for the English Football League (EFL) to re-introduce 3G pitches at stadia around the country?

According to The Express, EFL clubs will vote in June on whether or not to allow artificial surfaces for league football for the first time in 25 years. Should 3G pitches receive a majority vote, we could see competitive fixtures played on artificial grass as early as 2019.

So why the need for a vote?

Professional footballers, and the elite footballing fraternity in general, have, up to now, been very loyal to natural grass. After all, when the sport has largely been played on a natural surface for over 150 years, many would question why the need to change. But should change always be seen as a bad thing, or could it just be the catalyst the sport needs to narrow the revenue gap between football’s ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’?

The issue we have at present, is that football clubs further down the sport’s pyramid are increasingly being challenged to remain financially stable. In many cases, that means finding revenue streams away from fixtures played on a Saturday afternoon which allow the club to pay staff and necessary expenses – of which there can be many. In other words, a club’s fortunes off the field is likely to affect its success on it, and that’s where the quality of facilities becomes an important consideration.

It goes without saying that a 3G football pitch is more durable than a natural equivalent, which creates much more usage potential for any club with one installed. More usage means more potential for the pitch to be hired out to other organisations, and community clubs, as well as the option of having all age groups from under-8’s through to the first team, use the same pitch. This kind of joined up thinking could prove to really enhance the provision of the sport across the board.

Pressure from the National League

Another factor playing its part is the prominent role 3G pitches are playing in the National League, which has allowed fixtures to be played on an artificial surface since the start of the 2015-16 season.

Three of the National League’s clubs – Bromley, Maidstone United, and Sutton United – all play on 3G pitches, but under current rules, would have to install a natural grass surface should they win promotion to the Football League. Failure to do so would even result in demotion to the National League North or National League South, making promotion from the National League a futile exercise, which would be a huge shame for the players, staff, and supporters involved. Having achieved such success on an artificial surface, there’s an argument which says these clubs have earned the right to use their pitches at a higher level.

Why has 3G become so popular?

One of the reasons the 3G debate has been brought to light once more is the sheer fact that artificial pitches are more popular than they’ve ever been. A quick look at the numbers just goes to show how widely accepted 3G pitches have become. According to the FA’s 3G Football Turf Register, 901 pitches were registered in England at the start of the 2017/18 season, with nearly a third of those accredited by FIFA’s global standards. While many of those will be owned by those lower down the football pyramid who are enjoying competitive matches on an artificial surface, the consistency of a 3G pitch is also proving invaluable for training and rehabilitation programmes at even some of the biggest Premier League clubs.

For many non-league clubs, it’s the durability of a 3G pitch that frees up entirely new revenue streams and enables much closer engagement with their local communities. Should 3G pitches be allowed back into the EFL, many more would stand to benefit from these additional revenue streams. We could see more League One and Two stadia hosting regular community fixtures, and more clubs training at their stadium rather than at a separate training facility. Couple that with the idea that we’d also see a lot less disruption to fixtures when the winter weather hits, and we could just have a compelling argument in favour of 3G pitches becoming more common.

A vote among League One and Two club chairmen in November 2014 may have ended as a tie, but could the tide just be turning? The answer following this June’s vote could well spell the start of a new chapter for English Football.

Paul Langford, Managing Director

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