3G or not 2B – That is the question!

With debates in the game regarding the style of play of English football and the great British weather playing havoc to most grass roots and local amateur football over the winter and even spring periods, is there a call for more 3G pitches to be created up and down the country?

Lets start with the English culture of football. Over the decades the national team and many clubs playing in the top division of English football have been labelled as lacking in technical ability, overuse of the long ball, deploying a large big strong number 9 to hold the ball up and to win battles up in the air and to ‘get stuck in’ with the physical aspects of the game. The stereotypes and perspectives of the English game are often justified with only 1 major trophy coming in 1966 from the national side whilst our European counterparts Spain, Germany and Italy have flourished with many World Cup and European Championships to their name. The top teams in the premiership do play great attractive football, but the players are mainly foreign imports so can hardly be credited to the English system of players coming through.

At the professional level, modern day pitches are more like bowling greens with the grass on the pitches cut short and rolled to shade the grass into various shapes. Gone are the days when one watched Match of the Day on television in the 70’s and 80’s with the pitch brown with mud all the way down the middle from one end to the other and the ball bobbling across the uneven surface. The clubs have invested in  modern technology of combining natural grass with artificial fibres in their pitches. This hybrid system follows strict guidelines from the Football Association has artificial 3G pitches are not permitted in the football league. For 3G guidance the FA are there to help players, coaches, clubs, referees, leagues and grounds staff. The pitches have contributed along with other advances in technology, diet and fitness in the change of the modern game making it faster and more technical since the turn of the century.

So with the pitches at the top level being like a carpet to play on and many non-league clubs just outside of the football league installing 3G artificial pitches at their stadiums, we have seen a change of footballing philosophy on how the game is played from the national team down to the lower levels of the football pyramid. A 3G pitch takes about 65 days to be installed.  The quality of the pitches has created a purist approach on how the game should be played from building the play up from the back with quick accurate passes through to the midfield and into the forwards using skills and creativity that thrill the crowds. Also the success of other European countries in major competitions with their style of play and the influence of foreign players in the premiership has had a effect on the way English football culture is heading and striving to be like.

We have seen success in recent years with the national team at youth levels winning the World Cup at under 20 level and the European Championships at under 19 level. So one could say that advancements in the modern game are suiting our young English players to compete at the highest level. The surfaces that these players train and play on though are worlds apart from that at grassroots level playing on muddy and uneven council or school pitches. That’s of course if the matches are on, as with grass pitches they are often waterlogged and called off during the bad weather periods. Some children’s teams often not playing for up to 3 months due to the pitches not being playable. Grassroots teams for children and adults do now have access to train on 3G pitches as schools hire their facilities to the community. With such high demands for these pitches to train on availability can be limited and hire costs can be high.

So is there a case for children developing their football skills at grass roots to play and train full time on 3G pitches! Matches would hardly be off due to waterlogged or muddy pitches, therefore keeping the children motivated in the game all year round. The surface would suit the technical players to be skillful and see true passes across a even surface rather than bigger stronger players that are more adaptable to playing in the mud and have the strength of kick to play long balls up to the forwards. This would in turn create a footballing philosophy in children’s football that would keep them in good habits further down the line in the footballing career whether it be in the professional game or at amateur level. So if more 3G pitches are to be created should they be at the local primary and secondary schools, local clubs or council pitches!

Well  most secondary schools, academies and colleges have now built 3G to use for P.E. lessons during the day and to hire out the community in the evening to train. The amount of teams wanting pitches at the weekend to play their league fixtures though far outweighs the amount of pitches available. Therefore clubs hire council pitches that are sloping with uneven surfaces, rusty goalposts and grass that comes up to your shins or when it is cut leaves piles of grass like hay bales. So this is one area where these grass pitches can be ripped up and replaced with 3G pitches. They do not necessary require floodlights or fencing off to keep the costs down. This would reduce the cost by nearly half to construct a 3G pitch, but you would still need around £250,000 for a senior pitch and less for junior and mini soccer pitches or even under £30,000 for one in your garden! Although to put it into perspective to the modern game, the average professional football player in the premier league earns £50,000 per week and the highest earners up to £500,000 per week! Could this money at the top levels funnel down to the grassroots level to build these pitches?

The other area in which 3G pitches can be built are at amateur and non-league clubs. Many clubs like Harrogate Town and Tamworth, see the benefit of ripping up their grass pitches in favor of artificial ones as they see a business and community benefit. Although clubs like Maidstone United and Sutton United may have a problem if they get promoted from the non-league system into the football league as 3G pitches are not permitted! Full time non-league clubs would use the pitch every day for training and those that were not full time would use it in the evenings. Clubs would not lose much needed revenue on match days due to the games being called off and beer and food preparation would not be wasted. The day use would also see clubs with full time education programs and academies use the 3G pitch on a daily basis and in the evenings used by the youth teams ranging from anything from under 6’s to the under 21’s. The community at large would also benefit from using the facility in the evenings with vets teams, ladies and girls teams, walking football and multi disability teams. Then at the weekend be used for matches both in the morning and the afternoon on a Saturday and Sunday with all the teams fulfilling their fixtures without cancellation. Other community events such as grass roots youth festivals, schools tournaments and other events could be used on the main pitch to feel part of the football club whilst generating money in the clubhouse with food and drink sales.

So the advantages of a 3G pitch at your club’s home ground seem to be:

  • Fewer matches called off therefore maintaining gate receipts and food/drink sales
  • Save money hiring training facilities at schools and leisure facilities
  • The home ground used for training on by the first team, education programs and youth teams
  • Getting the community to use the home ground for matches and training for the ladies/girls, vets and multi-disability teams.
  • Hosting events and festivals for the community’s local schools and businesses
  • And in my opinion a more technical and skillful game to watch on a even surface

So what are the disadvantages of installing a 3G pitch and used regularly by adults and children. Well first there is the cost. We are talking about half a million for the installation, fencing and floodlights, although less at a ground that already as a stadium built and floodlights present. Then there is the maintenance, with the pitch requiring regular servicing and a expected life span of around 10 years. Research has also shown that players are more likely to gain injuries to the knee with studs of the boots holding one way whilst your body is moving the other way. Also with growing and developing children is the impact on the bodies tendons and ligaments going to cause more damage to the body than being on natural grass? And for senior players will there be an increase in recovering time with more aches and pains playing on a harder surface than grass – although it can be said that pitches at the beginning of the season in August and at the end of the season in May are like concrete anyway! As more scientific research is done the more will will know. Of course some research sounds alarming with some scientific claims that the rubber crumb used in some artificial pitches is linked to cancer!

In conclusion I think more clubs will go down the line of installing more 3G pitches for as it makes more financial and business sense. As for local councils changing there third rated grass pitches and facilities in place of artificial ones, I think will take a little longer unless the Football Association heavily invest and work with the councils. Schools and now called academies are building more artificial pitches and maybe clubs and councils need to work together more as a group approach to share resources. As in most debates there is often no right or wrong answer as clubs, councils, schools, leagues and footballing institutions will do what best suits them and they all have different agendas and future objectives. But for me, build them everywhere: clubs, schools, playgrounds, council pitches, the lot. The more there are, the more opportunities children and adults are getting to play and love the game and feel like a real professional. And for mums, it saves on washing muddy football kits!

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