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3G pitch

Directors’ blog – 3G update

What’s the latest in the world of 3G? Stones co-owner Oliver Ash, who’s also a spokesperson for 3G4US, has written this update…

It’s been a while since the last 3G4US Blog. Does that mean all is well in the 3G4US world ? That what has been achieved in the last five years of lobbying for 3G is sufficient? No, unfortunately not.

Having said that lots has been achieved: more senior non-league clubs than ever before are switching to 3G pitches. In addition more and more 3G pitches are being installed at clubs further down the pyramid, schools, sports centres, everywhere in fact, where they can have a positive impact on the number of people, in particular young people, playing the game.

The Football Foundation is still supporting 3G pitches in grassroots football and bringing joy to thousands of young (and old) footballers around the country ; more and more adults and children are discovering the delights of playing on a good quality 3G surface.

These youngsters are the players of the future, those who appreciate 3G pitches and don’t raise their eyebrows in suspicion ; those who will encourage their friends and family to appreciate the merits of 3G pitches; those who will wish to see their club play on 3G pitches rather than see winter matches played on mud-baths or frequently postponed; those who realise the path to progress in skills and performance at all levels of football in England passes through a huge increase in the number and availability of 3G pitches.

However all is not rosy. We all know that English football is a very conservative institution. 3G is now allowed at the top level of non-league but it has been a hard lobbying battle to get 3G allowed even at lowly National League level. There are many reasons why we have to keep arguing the cause for 3G pitches to be promoted and embraced at grassroots level all the way up to League 1.

Firstly let’s consider the fact that one of 3G’s most influential champions Greg Dyke is no longer head of The FA. His direct approach to reform of the FA and its structures was defeated by the weight and intransigence of those very structures. Now the pressure brought to bear on The EFL and the National League seems to be waning. I believe that 3G is virtually off the agenda of the EFL for the time being at least and there is no sign that the other institutions who exert influence over it, namely the PFA and LMA, will soften their anti-3G prejudice any time soon.

Secondly we must not be fooled into thinking that 3G is now accepted in all levels of non-league. It is not. Although it is widely encouraged now at Step 3 and below of the non-league pyramid it is only tolerated in The National League as a necessary irritation. There are now five clubs playing on 3G in the NL and it is an open secret that several more have plans to install it. Nonetheless the league has seen fit to discourage ambitious clubs from installing a 3G pitch by inventing an extraordinary new rule. This rule states that any 3G club in a promotion position in the NL will suffer relegation if they refuse to rip up their 3G pitch in the event of becoming eligible for promotion ! A heavy penalty for success, no ? Surely the fact of being in a promotion position but potentially not being accepted into the EFL with a 3G pitch is penalty enough without imposing a further relegation ? This unfair and unworkable rule will inevitably discourage other clubs who are progressive from installing 3G pitches whose quality, let’s not forget, is adequate for The Champions League.

Thirdly there is the vexed question of the quality of pitches. At Step 3 and below in the pyramid, maintaining FIFA Quality (the old FIFA 1 Star standard) is compatible with fairly high intensity of use. This means that clubs will probably be able to get 60 hours or more of weekly use out of the pitch for five to eight years. This is sufficient to drive a working business model. However at the Step 1 and 2 level (NL, NLN and NLS) the required standard is now FIFA Qality Pro. This is a standard which is much harder to achieve than the old FIFA 2 Star standard over a period as long as five years and with as much as 50 to 60 hours of weekly use. The business model is therefore not as positive as it used to be. Having said this we have been talking to some of the leading 3G manufacturers and they seem confident their pitches will now be able to achieve the improved performance required by the new standard of FIFA Quality Pro and allow 50 hours minimum weekly use for at least five years.

Finally, over the past year or so there have been a few articles in the press suggesting 3G pitches may not be safe because of pollution in the rubber infill. The FA and FIFA have reacted to the various articles by quoting independant medical studies, which suggest there are no dangerous substances in 3G rubber infill or at least not at levels which could be dangerous. They maintain that there is no significant risk and that 3G pitches are perfectly safe. We accept their stance, which is based on technical knowledge and research. However it does seem possible that the quality of infill might vary depending on the source. As long as the source of rubber (in the case of rubber infill) complies with EU standards it should be perfectly safe. If you are thinking of installing a 3G pitch then I would suggest raising this question with your supplier to ensure they are taking the question seriously enough and know where their rubber infill comes from. Alternatively you could examine the natural infills being offered. All to be discussed with your suppliers and contractors.

If you are considering a project I would recommend you discuss all these issues with a few different suppliers and also with the FA. The FA will inform you of grant opportunities. They will also provide you with their framework for suppliers. This is a list of approved suppliers and contractors, whom they insist on using in FA grant-aided projects. These suppliers are not the only good ones around but they are a very reliable place to start. Alternatively you should speak to some of the clubs who have recently installed 3G. Many of our 3G4US friends will be happy to offer friendly advice – Harlow Town, Whyteleafe, Sutton United, Sutton Coldfield Town, Harrogate Town, Merthyr Town, just to name a few. Of course we at Maidstone United will also be delighted to try and advise and assist any clubs interested in learning more about 3G pitches.

Yours in Sport

Oliver Ash

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