Monday 19 March 2018

Plastic fantastic? Are artificial pitches about to make a comeback in English game

Martyn Ziegler

Artificial pitches have been banned in English football for nearly 20 years but a decision will be taken on Wednesday which could see the first step towards their re-introduction into the professional game.

Clubs in the Conference will vote on whether to allow in Maidstone United - who play on a 3G pitch - if the Ryman League side are promoted.

Artificial pitches are now common-place in Europe, including in Italy's Serie A and the Dutch top flight, but memories of the bouncy 'plastic pitches' of Luton, QPR and Preston have scarred English football since the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Supporters say that at lower-league level, income from community use would prove a huge financial benefit and that the quality of the football is much better than on many grass pitches, especially where clubs do not have the money to spend on upkeep.

Jack Pearce, a Conference vice-president and vice-chairman of Bognor Regis Town, believes many clubs still remain to be convinced but said he will approach the issue with an open mind.

Pearce said: "Personally, I would always prefer to see the game played on a good grass pitch but some of the pitches that you see are so bad that you would rather play on a motorway.

"It is also a big challenge that the Football League does not permit artificial pitches, so what would happen if a club with a 3G pitch won promotion to League Two?

"I think it is an interesting debate, and the details of how the business plan works may also swing the vote."

The Football League looked in depth at whether to allow artificial pitches three years ago but the idea was dropped.

A Football League spokesman said: "The use of artificial playing surfaces was last discussed by Football League clubs during the 2011/12 season, following a public consultation. However, there was not enough support amongst clubs for the matter to be considered further."

Maidstone have written to the Conference asking for the rules to be changed.

The club's co-owner Oliver Ash said: "The case for 3G Football Turf would be very compelling even without the strong legal case. It is now used in top professional leagues in many countries including France, Holland, Scotland and Spain.

"The Champions League allows it as does the World Cup. However, in England it is currently forbidden in the Conference, Football League and Premier League, which is absurd."

Ash said the 3G pitch allowed the stadium to be used "virtually around the clock" which helped clubs improve their finances. Attendances at Maidstone have also soared since the club installed the pitch.

The FA allowed artificial pitches in the qualifying rounds for the FA Cup from last season, but not in the first round or beyond.

Press Association

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