By Dan Black. Maybe I'm missing something here - perhaps my understanding of the subject is flawed - but surely all indicators point to artificial surfaces being supremely beneficial for lower league set-ups. Such pitches were outlawed from English professional football in 1995 after QPR (Loftus Road), Luton Town (Kenilworth Road), Oldham Athletic (Boundary Park) and Preston North End (Deepdale) experimented with the eventually derided "plastic pitches" in the 1980s.
So Conference clubs have vetoed a comeback for synthetic turf! I’m bemused.
Maybe I’m missing something here – perhaps my understanding of the subject is flawed – but surely all indicators point to artificial surfaces being supremely beneficial for lower league set-ups. Such pitches were outlawed from English professional football in 1995 after QPR (Loftus Road), Luton Town (Kenilworth Road), Oldham Athletic (Boundary Park) and Preston North End (Deepdale) experimented with the eventually derided “plastic pitches” in the 1980s.
Many organisations and clubs still seem caught up in the opinions that swept the sport decades ago, pugnaciously opposing a potential return without weighing up the positives.
The newly-engineered 3G surfaces are a far cry from the precarious carpets of the past and are surely a viable, cost-effective addition for clubs in the lower echelons of the football pyramid, particularly in this unpredictable economic climate.
That’s why it is so difficult to understand how Conference clubs could afford to reject the proposal – with a majority of 21 votes to 11 votes at an Extraordinary General Meeting in Telford last month.
Like Maidstone United co-owner Oliver Ash – who instigated the revolution – and former Accrington Stanley managing director Rob Heys agreed, synthetic surfaces provide an income to be gained from hiring the pitch out and money to be saved in maintenance costs and the fact that you can train on it.
With clubs striving for financial stability, this should be something they are actively navigating toward. The multi-purpose pitches can be used virtually around the clock, with various sporting and community bodies benefiting from the venue. This way you can get people utilising the stadium seven days a week, rather than the isolated pocket of home games a mere 23 times or so a season.
Then there’s the huge significance of avoiding postponements week-in, week-out as has been the case this winter. Imagine the loss of revenue that clubs have experienced this campaign with fixtures switching from a prime-time weekend slot, to an objectionable midweek vacancy. There wouldn’t be the inconvenience of a much feared fixture pile-up either.
Artificial pitches are commonplace on the continent, with clubs in Italy’s Serie A, France’s Ligue 1, the Russian Premier League and the Dutch Eredivisie, among others, all implementing the highly debated turf.
That’s been the case for a decade, with world football governing body Fifa and Uefa, which runs European football, sanctioning the use of artificial surfaces in their competitions.
Even the Desso GrassMaster prototype – installed at Turf Moor for a cost of £750,000 in 2010 and also used at the Etihad Stadium, Anfield, the Emirates, Wembley, White Hart Lane and the Bernabeu – is a hybrid grass base that fuses artificial fibres.
Surely 3G pitches are just a more affordable compromise for clubs languishing lower down the hierarchy. And just for reference, the Clarets haven’t suffered a postponement since the surface was laid.
From the outside in, it seems as though there’s a power struggle, filtering from the FA, through to the Premier League and the Football League, and the Conference.
As Ash concluded: “We understand that The FA is unable and/or unwilling to push the case of 3G to (Conference and Football League sides) because of the Premier League’s influence in your committees.
“The Football League don’t want to take any action because they might upset the Premier League, who are against 3G, and the Football Conference don’t want to take action because they don’t want to upset the Football League.
“And the FA can’t show an example by giving the green light to clubs to play on 3G in the FA Cup because the Premier League won’t allow it! It’s madness, and a metaphor for how football is being run in this country.”
Maidstone United are currently top of the Ryman Premier Division with 14 games remaining. However, the recent voting process means that only natural playing surfaces will be allowed in all three divisions of the Conference – the Skrill Premier, North and South – until the end of the 2014/15 term.
This food chain between the various organisations needs a democratic response so that Britain can catch up with the rest of Europe. Maidstone United have fallen to bankruptcy once, and who knows what impact these regulations will have on the club if they’re unable to be promoted because of the pitch at the Gallagher Stadium.